10 Super Useful Time Management Tips for College Students
Junior year of college, my schedule was totally packed. Between a full class load, working two campus jobs, writing for the student newspaper, and singing with the gospel choir, I had a lot to manage.
Sometime during the spring semester, I created a spreadsheet that outlined my days, hour by hour.
My goal every week (along with completing assigned readings and submitting assignments on time) was to finish my weekend homework on Saturday, so I could have Sundays totally off from school. The spreadsheet and my old-fashioned paper planner — where I kept track of every assignment and deadline — made this seemingly impossible feat possible.
I’d work in the library on Friday nights until it closed, and sometimes repeat the act on Saturdays, but Sundays were homework-free.
Time management is a challenge for many college students. But to succeed in higher education, you need to make time work for you.
That’s why we compiled 10 time management tips to help you out 😉
The Basics (and Benefits) of Good Time Management
Managing your time is like managing your money:
You have a limited amount — of cash or minutes — so you work to make the most of what you have.
This probably involves some restriction (of spending or how many extracurriculars you sign up for). Maybe you decide not to play intramural volleyball because you’re already taking tennis class and you need more time to study physics.
Or you might designate certain times for certain tasks, the way a good budget sets aside a portion of each paycheck for expenses like rent. Let’s say, you have an hour break between classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so each day, you head straight to the library to tackle reading assignments without distractions.
Think of time management as budgeting your time. You know how much time you’re working with (24 – 6-8 hours for sleep each day = 16-18 hours) and how much homework and reading you have to do. All you need to do now is assign tasks to time.
Practice discipline up front, and you’ll reap the benefits of guilt-free time that you can spend however you want — with no anxiety creeping in about that assignment you haven’t started.
10 Tips for Optimal Time Management
Before you look at our tips, make sure you’ve checked off these time management steps:
✔ Go through your syllabus from each class.
✔ Organize your assignments, deadlines, and schedule in one place, like a digital calendar or paper planner.
✔ Use color-coding or another method to distinguish homework assignments from events, classes, and social plans.
Make sure you know exactly what’s on your plate, what’s coming up and how much time you’re working with. Then, use these tips to make the most of your time:
1. Identify your time management style — and shortcomings.
Do you tend to get sucked into one project and, three hours later, realize you’ve finished one thing but have 10 other tasks still staring you down? Or do you take a more squirrel-like approach, jumping from task to task and struggling to check anything off?
Reflect on where you get stuck with time management — and use that information to strategize solutions.
If you get caught up in individual tasks, try setting a timer so you’ll know when to move on. If you’re always multitasking, try focusing on just one task for 20-45 minutes and don’t move on to the next task until after that time period (or you’ve finished the task in question).
If you have a hard time getting started, play around with the Pomodoro Technique:
The idea is to understand your tendencies (distraction, hyper-focus without completion, etc.) and then find an approach that combats those shortcomings and promotes productivity.
2. List your priorities. Then refine your list.
Is there a certain class you absolutely must get an A in? One you know will be especially hard?
Are you also juggling work and a serious relationship? Going to school while caring for kids?
Think through your priorities — in school and out of school. Make a list for: the semester, this month, and the current week. Now, organize your to-do list with those priorities in mind.
What is a must-do? What could wait until after the semester ends or after you turn in that big paper?
Making priorities on the semester, month, and week levels will help you keep the big picture in mind, while also handling any surprises that arise. One week, your priority may be to research a paper for a history class. Next, you may aim to get ahead in reading for your global literature class, so later this month, when family is in town, you’ll have extra room in your schedule to spend time with them.
Write out your priorities and keep them somewhere easy to reference. As the semester continues, revisit them and adjust your weekly and monthly priorities as needed.
Use your list of priorities to hone in on what’s important — and stop multitasking. Instead of splitting your attention between five different assignments, focus on one at a time, starting with the top item on your priority list.
- If you’re struggling in your general education astronomy class, but your accounting class (which counts toward your major) has a big exam this week, studying for your exam should be the bigger priority.
- If you’re in the middle of reading tomorrow’s assigned text for your British literature class, but you need to pick your kids up from daycare in ten minutes — put the book down and go get your kids.
The progress may feel slow when you’re only doing one thing at a time, but track your time and the tasks you accomplish, and you’ll see almost immediate improvement to your productivity.
3. Create a visual plan.
Are you more of a visual thinker? Do progress bars and illustrations mean more to you than percentages?
Then scrap the traditional to-do list — at least for bigger assignments. Instead, try a more visual approach:
- Use a bulletin board and index cards or sticky notes to show where you are in the process of researching, writing, and revising a senior thesis. You can use the same columns for all assignments (for example: Research, First Draft, Second Draft, Final) or create different columns/progress steps for each assignment. Every time you complete a step, move that assignment’s card to the next step.
- Create a Gantt chart to map out the different steps and the time needed for each step. Work backwards from your project’s due date to where you are now, giving yourself enough time to complete each task.
Gantt charts can be especially helpful for collaborative or group projects, where each person has different responsibilities. My junior year, I used a Gantt chart to plan and track progress on a collaborative book project, where I was working with other students to write, design, edit, and print a book over the course of the semester. Gantt charts clearly show how each step is connected to the others, and how one missed deadline has ripple effects on everything else. They also show you, at a glance, exactly how much time you’re working with.
4. Get accountability.
Some people work best alone, but others need study buddies or a group to help them stay on-task. If that’s you, seek out accountability by finding a classmate or group of fellow students to study with. You might be in the same class — or you might all just prefer to camp out in the library with company.
The key here is that your study buddy or group helps you focus and isn’t a distraction. If your BFF is always interrupting your train of thought to gossip, you might need to study with someone else.
If you’re struggling to find anyone to study with, check with your university’s academic resource center. They may organize study groups, know about existing ones — or offer some advice for how you can effectively study on your own.
5. Find out what time of day you focus best — and reserve that time for homework.
Are you an early bird? A night owl? Does your brain fire up in the late afternoon?
Use this information to your advantage and schedule your study sessions for your brain’s peak time. Block it off on your calendar and set a routine.
- Early risers might get up with the sun and study quietly at breakfast.
- Midday minds may grab a quick lunch between classes and tuck away in a corner on campus with their laptops and textbooks.
- Late-night learners might hole away in the library or residence hall lounge and take copious notes while others socialize or snooze.
Guard your prime time from competing activities. Find a place where you won’t be interrupted — and then go the extra mile and remove technological distractions.
6. Silence your phone, turn off notifications, and stay off social media.
One minute on TikTok easily turns into two hours. A quick scroll on Reddit or Instagram and you’ve completely forgotten what you’re supposed to be doing instead.
But you can make technology work for you.
Start by silencing your phone and turning off notifications from whatever social media apps you have. Then, if needed, use a tool like BlockSite or Freedom to keep yourself away from distracting websites during your study hours.
You don’t have to give up social media altogether, but consider your priorities from earlier — is scoring another follower or like on the ‘Gram really where your energy belongs? Or is your priority to ace your next test?
Embracing digital boundaries will help keep your mind focused on the task at hand.
7. Use other tools to improve your time management.
Setting a timer and installing BlockSite or Freedom on your browser is just the beginning of how you can harness tools to keep yourself focused, on task, and working efficiently.
You can also use:
- Wordtune for shortening your essay writing and editing time.
- Wordtune Read for speeding up your research process (and completing reading assignments more efficiently).
- Evernote (or Google Drive) for collecting all of your notes in one easy-to-reference place.
- Toggl Track to track your time (the app even has a Pomodoro timer built-in).
- Todoist for organizing to-do lists — and keeping lists easily accessible across your devices.
8. Turn procrastination into productivity.
You’ve been sitting at your desk for 30 minutes, chewing your eraser and flipping from window to window on your computer. You’ve made zero progress on researching your expository essay, which is due next week and is your top priority for today. It may be time to let those priorities flex.
If you’re not getting anywhere with your main task, choose a different, easier, or more interesting task from your to-do list.
Avoid things that will take a lot of time and energy. The goal here is to accomplish something in a few minutes, so you can build some momentum that will carry you into your main task.
And even if that strategy doesn’t work — you do the starter task and go right back to staring at the screen — you’ve at least checked something off your list.
9. Take physical breaks.
Working for three-hour chunks — whether on schoolwork or at a desk job — is not sustainable. Breaks are necessary for long-term productivity. And the best breaks from brain work are physical.
Instead of spending your break scrolling your phone or opening another window on your laptop:
🚶🏼♀️ Walk the hall or wander campus.
🚽 Use the bathroom.
🦘 Do some pushups, jumping jacks, air squats.
🎶 Put on some music and dance for 10 minutes.
Just about anything physical and tactile will give your brain a much-needed break from mental work, and your eyes a break from the screen or text. When you return to your desk, you’ll find you’re refreshed and more able to focus.
10. Log every completed task.
If you still feel like you’re accomplishing nothing, this little trick can show you how much you’re actually doing. Throughout the day, take note of every little task you complete — like a to-do list, except it’s a done list.
- If you organize your to-do list, write that down.
- If you do some initial research for an assignment, log it.
- If you read 5 of the assigned 20 pages, make a note.
Every little bit of progress is progress, and sometimes, just seeing that we’ve done a little bit can motivate us to do more.
Pair this with tip #8 (turn procrastination into productivity) to build that task-oriented momentum, and soon enough, you’ll be writing down the fully completed tasks that have been hanging over your head all week.
Finding What Works for You
The best time management hacks vary from person to person. Some people need a detailed calendar where everything is scheduled. Some people need visuals and task lists to keep them on track.
What works for someone else may not work for you. That’s okay — and expected!
Play around with these tips, run some experiments on yourself, and find out what does and doesn’t work for you. Then stick with what works and share the word. Who knows? You might just become your classmates’ time management guru.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.