Use these time management tips to stay productive and manage stress throughout the term. Book an appointment with a Peer Success Coach for personalized help figuring out how to improve your time management.
Strategies for strengthening time management skills
Strengthening your time management can help you make effective decisions about how and where you spend your time. If you don't currently practice time management in any form, you may have more success by picking one or two new habits from the list below to incorporate into your routine.
Organize your term
Plot all of the important dates in your term on a monthly calendar. This includes assignment due dates, midterms, exams and appointments.
Be specific about what time you're going to start studying, where you're going to study and what you're going to study.
Make use of small blocks of time
You may surprise yourself with how much you can get done by using the time you spend on the bus, between classes, waiting for a ride or waiting for your laundry to dry.
Make to-do lists for each day
Create a prioritized to-do list (PDF) at the beginning of your day, or before you go to bed for the next day, to know what needs to be done first.
Develop a reward system
What do you usually do instead of your work when you’re procrastinating?
Whatever your answer is, use that activity as your reward for completing a set time of academic work. For example if you finish your assignment before 7 p.m., you can reward yourself by visiting your friends.
Expect the unexpected
Plan to complete your assignments, essays, projects or exam reviews a few days early. This type of planning will allow for time to edit an assignment and provide extra time in case something unexpected comes up.
Complete more difficult or less exciting tasks first
Students usually procrastinate working on more difficult or time-consuming homework. Getting these tasks done first will help alleviate feelings of guilt and anxiety that procrastination tends to cause.
Know when you tend to be most productive in a day
When are you most alert in the day? Are you a morning person or a night owl? If you don’t have a time of day when you’re most alert, consider getting more sleep and choose to study in the morning. Research has shown that the morning is the time of day when most people are most effective.
Spend time on each of your courses every week
Success may require you to dedicate several additional hours outside of class for every course in your schedule. Cramming, or studying the night before a test, is stressful and often ineffective in university. The most successful approach to learning is to spread it out throughout the term.
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Seven common time management mistakes
Do you sabotage your own efforts to manage your time wisely? Positive time management habits can be difficult to incorporate into your daily routine. When possible, try and avoid these common mistakes:
- Giving up before you even begin: Many students try various time management strategies but struggle to achieve the results they want. They start to assume they’ll continue to struggle even if they continue to try new strategies. You can’t predict the future and different strategies work for different people.
- Leaping from no schedule to a heavy schedule: It can be very challenging to make drastic shifts in how you manage your time. Start small as you begin to incorporate time management strategies into your routine. It takes time to change your routine, so take one step at a time.
- Giving up when you're unable to follow a set schedule: It’s important to remember that life happens. You’ll accomplish more by following part of your plan than by not following your plan at all.
- Paying more attention to your mistakes than your successes: Setbacks are a part of growth. Try your best to learn from mistakes and focus on what you did do well.
- Failing to prioritize: If you don’t prioritize your tasks, you’re more likely to choose to accomplish items with high desirability/low priority and ignore more important tasks. Prioritization is a huge part of successful time management. It’s important not to put off less desirable tasks because that’s when procrastination will start to creep up on you.
- Not seeking support from others: It can be difficult to ask for help, but everyone benefits from support. Find someone who can encourage your efforts and hold you accountable to your goals during your time at university. Check-in with a friend daily to let them know what you plan on accomplishing in that day.
- Not establishing boundaries: Prioritizing academics at peak points in the term is vital for your success in university. It’s important to learn how to say “no” to your friends and peers when necessary.
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Organize your time for the term
Follow these steps and use our time management templates to get organized for the term ahead.
Create a master schedule for the term
The first thing that you should do when you're enrolled in a new class is look at the course schedule to find out what your responsibilities and the important dates are (e.g. assignment deadlines, quiz dates, etc.). Use this information at the beginning of the term to identify busy weeks across all the courses in your term. It’s important to write these dates down in one or more of the following templates:
Create a weekly and/or daily schedule
To organize your time effectively, create a regular schedule that includes your course deadlines, as well as all of your other commitments (e.g. classes, labs, extracurricular activities). It will be important to set a block of time aside for each course and to treat these time blocks as regular weekly commitments to allow you to stay on top of your coursework.
You should also set aside time to study and/or complete assignments. Reference this schedule regularly and keep it up to date. There are many ways to structure your time, from an hourly schedule to a daily to-do list. Check out the following templates to see what type of weekly/daily schedules would work for you:
There are also many apps and platforms that can help you manage your time. Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar are great resources for keeping track of your schedule.
It’s important to remember that studying across multiple, spread out sessions results in better learning than studying in longer, less distributed sessions. In other words, whether your class is face-to-face or online, you should avoid cramming when studying.
Some of these approaches to studying might seem time consuming or difficult, but they're worth the effort. The more effort you put into studying, the greater improvement you'll see in your long-term learning.
Stay on schedule and evaluate your progress
Consider using checklists, as well as your calendar, to keep track of course tasks (e.g. readings, assignments, etc.). This will make it easier to determine what you've already completed, what you need to complete and where you might be falling behind. There are free checklist applications that you can use, like Microsoft To Do, Evernote , Todoist, and Trello.
Remember that developing time management is a process that involves trial and error. There isn't one correct way to do things.
- Use a prioritization matrix (PDF) to help you balance tasks and stay on schedule.
- Complete the Staying on Track template (PDF) to create a plan for holding yourself accountable.
- Reward yourself for completing tasks and meeting deadlines! This will help motivate you to complete all of your tasks, even the ones that seem overwhelming or tedious.
Once you've created your schedules for the term, move onto backwards planning for deadlines below. Planning your time for tests, exams and assignments is essential to building a schedule that won’t overwhelm you in busy weeks.
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Backwards planning for deadlines
Backwards planning is a method of planning your time for large assignments or studying for exams. It allows you to break down course content or assignment components and then create a plan to study/complete tasks ahead of the due date. Creating a backwards plan for all of your larger tests and assignments can help you to manage multiple due dates and help you maintain balance in your day-to-day schedule.
Follow the steps below to create your backwards plan. You can use our backwards planning worksheet (PDF) or write it out in your own notebook. Use the Library’s Assignment Planner tool to break down research and writing projects into smaller steps based on the due date.
Starting with your due date or test date, plan out what you need to do, estimate how long each task will take AND then plan out when you're going to do it.
Step 1: Fill in the dates
- Deadline - At the bottom of the sheet, write the test date or assignment due date.
- Final review - Above the deadline, write the date before your test or assignment due date. This is also a back-up day, in case things don't go exactly as planned. If you're planning to complete an assignment, then this day can be used to make any last minutes changes or edits, complete a final review or fix formatting and references.
- Practice - Designate the day before your final review to spend time writing a practice test or completing sample exam questions. Allowing yourself time to practice test questions, or test yourself on material, can help make sure you're able to recall the information you need to know for the test. If you're completing an assignment, this day will be for wrapping up the final steps of an assignment or getting feedback on what you've done.
Step 2: Get organized
Consider whether there's anything you need to do to get organized before putting your plan into action. Examples might include:
- Go to your instructor's office hours for help or to follow-up on questions
- Get missing lecture notes
- Finish assigned readings
- Create study aids like cue cards, mind maps, review notes or cheat sheets
- Finish an assignment before beginning to study for the test
Step 3: To-do list and review material
Use a to-do list to identify the major steps you'll need to take to study or complete the assignment. Create another list outlining the content you'll need to study or review to feel prepared.
What are the main sections or steps you need to consider to complete the assignment? Examples could include:
- Researching, checking references, etc.
- Setting a time to meet with teammates for group projects
- Writing the introduction, conclusion, body paragraphs, etc.
- Reviewing concepts and/or methods in preparation for problem-solving assignment questions
Review the course syllabus to identify what chapters, topics or modules will be on the test. Make note of the main topics of the course including:
- Key words, definitions, explanations
- Important diagrams, charts, maps
- Skills (formulas, procedures, exercises)
- Examples, issues and case studies discussed
- Pay attention to instructor hints and emphasis on topics from your lectures
Step 4: How long will it take?
Estimate and record how much time you think it will take you to do each item in your backwards plan. Be sure to always:
- Double-check that each estimate is realistic for the task. Consider times when you have completed similar tasks - how long did it take?
- Overestimate how long a task will take. We know things come up or distract us, so always create a plan that gives you more time than you think you might need.
- For tests: If you're reviewing an entire chapter, then you might need to think about the process you use to study a chapter. We all have our own process(es) for studying and reviewing content for a test. Be sure to give yourself enough time to do it all for each chapter or module. When you study for a chapter, do you:
- skim the chapter,
- read through the chapter,
- write out notes as you read,
- create a shortened summary or concept map of the chapter to review again later, and
- practice problem-solving questions?
Step 5: When will I do it?
Starting from the due date or deadline, work from the bottom up and estimate the date when you'll complete each task.
Step 6: Schedule
Once your backwards plan is complete, add the tasks to your daily, weekly or monthly calendar. Then check if the amount of work fits along with other daily/weekly tasks you have to do. How many hours do you have available each day for school work?
Step 7: Review
Want to improve for next time? As you work through your plan, track the time that each task actually takes you to complete. Review how accurate your estimates were (or weren't) to improve how you plan your time and tasks in future backwards plans.
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