How Effective Time Management Can Help You to Succeed in School (and Life)

What is time management?

Time management is the process of organizing and planning your time so that you can be more productive and efficient.  There are many different ways to manage your time, and the method you choose depends on your personal preferences.  Some people like to use good old pen and paper, such as a notebook or an agenda, while others prefer to go the digital route and use their computer or smart phone.  It doesn’t really matter HOW you manage your time, as long as you DO it. 

Why is time management so important?

Time management is extremely important and can help students to stay on top of their studies. Whenever a student comes to see me for help with improving their study skills, I ALWAYS start with time management first, no matter what they think their issues may be.  The reason I do this is because in my opinion, if you are not managing your time well, nothing is getting done anyways.  So it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to read your text book or make good study notes, you first need to make a specific plan as to exactly WHEN you will be able to do those things.  If you have a plan, then you are much more likely to actually get things done. 

Effective time management also leads to many positive outcomes.  If you manage your time well;

  • You will make better decisions– When you practice good time management, you allow yourself more time to prioritize and determine which choices to make. When you do not manage your time well and rush to decide, you’re more likely to jump to conclusions and not fully consider the different options; leading to poor choices.
  • You will make fewer mistakes– When you manage your time well, you are able to get more done in a shorter period of time. This can result in more time to edit and go over your work in order to make necessary adjustments and corrections.  This will result in fewer mistakes and higher quality work.
  • You will feel less stressed– Have you ever heard the saying “I have so much to do and so little time”?  Managing your time effectively can reduce the feeling of being rushed, which in turn leads to less frustration and stress.
  • You will get more done– With good time management, you will have a much better idea of how much time you actually have and how long it will take to get things done.  Because of this, you can accomplish more, and have more free time.  Bonus!
  • You can get better grades– Cramming is very common and in my opinion, it is 100% ineffective.  Cramming forces you to rely solely on short term memory.  Which means as soon as you are finished writing your test, you will forget everything you studied! If you make a plan to start studying earlier, then you can get in a lot more studying over a longer period of time, which will ultimately result in better grades.
Why do we struggle to manage our time?

There are many reasons why students have a hard time managing their time.  Here are the 4 most common Time Management Troublemakers:

  1. Too many distractions. We live in a day and age where many of us are addicted to our cell phones.  Whether it’s social media, games, or Netflix, if you know that you are addicted to your phone, then you need to take some decisive action to decrease its ability to distract you.  I often recommend that during a study session students should turn off their notifications, use an app that will temporarily block certain functions, or simply put their phone in another room and only check it during scheduled study breaks.  You have to remember the bigger picture and ask yourself, is being distracted by my phone worth causing me to fail a course?  Is it worth me losing time and money that I won’t be able to get back?  Likely not.
  2. The Planning fallacy. According to this phenomenon, you often underestimate how much time it will actually take to complete tasks, which results in decreased productivity. Get in the habit of tracking how long certain tasks take to complete.  This will help you to set more realistic goals when planning in the future.
  3. Not taking breaks often enough. The average person’s attention span is approximately 25 minutes, yet many students continue to force themselves to study for long, drawn out periods of time, even after they have lost their ability to concentrate and focus.  This is not helpful and leads to ineffective study sessions.  Essentially, you are just wasting your time as your brain will not be able to retain the information that you are trying to learn.  I suggest taking short breaks every half hour or so, when you notice that you are feeling antsy or can no longer pay attention.
  4. Giving up too easily when things don’t go as planned. Life happens.   And sometimes things do not go as planned.  I’ve met with many students who tell me that they have tried to be organized and plan their time, but something always comes up.  Whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE UP!  I often recommend scheduling a few blocks of “catch up time” during the week, so that if something comes up, you have some back up time where you can still get stuff done. 
My top tips to get organized and stay organized

When I was in school, I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to manage my time, I had to figure it out on my own.  Lucky for you, many colleges and universities have supports in place to help you be successful.  If you feel that you have some serious time management issues, then it may be beneficial to meet with an Academic Counselor or Learning Strategist to help you create an individualized plan and teach you some time management strategies.  If your time management skills just need a bit of tweaking, then here are my top tips to help you take control of your time:

Tip #1. Decide what time management method you will use and start using it.  If your school gives out free agendas, get one!  If you want to use your phone or computer, get familiar with the calendar functions. The best time to start is NOW!

Tip #2. Plan to be productive earlier in the day vs later as your motivation and willpower are depletable resources and are higher earlier in the day and then decrease as the day goes on.

Tip #3. Use your course outline (syllabus) as a guide to determine what you should be studying.  Most course outlines do a great job of telling you when things are due and what you should reading when.

Tip #4. Use the stop light system to help you prioritize what you will be working on.  Using your course outline, place a red dot beside concepts that you do not know well, a yellow dot beside concepts you know somewhat, and a green dot beside concepts you know really well.  Then start studying your red areas first.  Then move to your yellow areas.  Then if you run out of time (which you likely will), you already knew the green concepts anyways!  Basically, the stop light system ensures that you do not waste time studying stuff you already know.  Spend more time on your weakest areas to maximize your knowledge in the amount of time you have to study.

Tip #5.  Just get started.  Often the hardest part is simply getting started.  Many students tend to procrastinate as they feel like their study session will be painful.  Yet once they finally start, they realize that it isn’t so bad after all.  Once you get started, something called the Zeigarnik effect will take place.  The Zeigarnik effect causes a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that keeps telling you to finish something that you have begun.  Use this to your advantage…just get started to get things done!

Tip #6.   Take frequent breaks.  Some students are able to focus for longer periods of time than others.  No matter what your attention span is, it is not helpful to force yourself to continue working when you are feeling less focused and unable to concentrate.  This will only result in wasted time.   Taking frequent breaks can help you to remain focused and motivated.  I have had a lot of students experience success with something called The Pomodoro technique.  The Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to help you maintain focus.  There are many variations of the technique, but the basic premise is to set a timer for 25 minutes (which is the average person’s attention span, but you can set it for longer), and work on one specific task.  When the timer goes off, you have earned your break.  You can google Pomodoro technique to learn more about it and figure out how it can work best for you. 

For more information on time management, be sure to visit The Learning Portal.   The Learning Portal is an excellent resource created in collaboration with all Ontario colleges.  There is a study skills hub with an entire section devoted to time management!  Check it out for some more time management tips and tricks.

And remember, good time management is not something you can excel in overnight, it takes time to explore different options and take steps towards the system that will work best for you.  The good news is, the more you practice effective time management, the easier it will get.  Make it a part of your daily routine and soon you will wonder how you ever got by without it!

Happy Studying!

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