Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity. You may find that time management at university is different from anything you have experienced previously.

Even in the workplace, activities and time spent on tasks are monitored by the company and its management. At university, time management is left up to you. While it is true that there are assignment due dates and organised classroom activities, learning at the university level requires more than just the simple completion of work.

It involves decision-making and the ability to evaluate information. This is best accomplished when you are an active partner in your own learning activities. You can expect to spend much more time on learning activities outside the classroom than you will in the classroom.

Most courses have a workload of 165 hours each semester. This is a workload of 10-12 hours each week needed to attend or listen to lectures and tutorials, prepare for assessments, and to read study material. Some weeks may be more intense, depending on the time of the semester and the courses you are taking.

Not only will what you do be larger in scale, but the depth of understanding and knowledge you will put into it will be significantly more than you may have encountered, previously. This is because there are greater expectations required of university graduates in the workplace.

Nearly any profession that requires a university degree has with it a level of responsibility that demands higher-level thinking and therefore higher learning.

Time Management Tips For Students

Time Audit:

The simplest way to manage your time is to plan accurately for how much time it will take to do each task, and then set aside that amount of time. How you divide the time is up to you. If it is going to take you five hours to study for a final exam, you can plan to spread it over five days, with an hour each night, or you can plan on two hours one night and three hours the next.

This approach however relies on being able to estimate time accurately. Many people are not truly aware of how they actually spend their time. To get organised and plan for the semester ahead, you will need to consider study and non-study commitments.

Conduct an audit on how much time you spend on aspects of your daily life. Include studying, working, sleeping, eating, caring for others, socialising, household chores and exercising. This will allow you to see where your time is going and where you could achieve some better balance for your life, work and study.

For example, write down all the things you think you will do tomorrow, and estimate the time you will spend doing each. Then track each thing you have written down to see how accurate your estimates were. After you have completed this activity for a single day, you may consider completing another time audit for an entire week so that you are certain to include all of your activities.

Planning Your Semester:

Now that you have audited your time and you know how much time is required in all areas of your life you can now make a plan. It is important to view your time in three different ways – semester, weekly and daily.
Semester view

  • Make a plan for the whole semester. A yearly wall calendar is useful for this.
  • Add assignment due dates and exam blocks
  • Add class or departmental/faculty, lab attendance requirements
  • Include other significant commitments, for example, work or family commitments identified in your time audit.

Weekly view

  • Consider the tasks you need to complete each week to meet the expectations of your course such as weekly readings or tutorial preparation.
  • Allocate time for exam preparation, tutorial preparation and time to work on upcoming assignments.

Daily view

  • Write daily ‘to do’ lists
  • Use time management apps on your phone to set reminders
  • Allow for some flexibility


Breaking Down Task Down:

The most difficult part of time management for students is accurately predicting how long a task will take is usually the most difficult. What makes it challenging to estimate accurately time spent on a task is that you must also account for things like interruptions or unforeseen problems that cause delays.

When it comes to academic activities, many tasks can be dependent upon the completion of other things first, or the time a task takes can vary from one instance to another. For example, if a lecturer assigned you three chapters of reading, you would not know how long each chapter might take to read until you looked at them.

The first chapter might be 30 pages long while the second is 45. The third chapter could be only 20 pages but made up mostly of charts and graphs for you to compare. By page count, it might seem that the third chapter would take the least amount of time, but actually studying charts and graphs to gather information can take longer than regular reading.

The concept behind the next strategy discussed is to break tasks into smaller, more manageable units that do not require as much time to complete. As an illustration of how this might work, imagine that you are assigned a two-page essay that is to include references.

You estimate that completing the essay would take you between four and five hours. You look at your calendar over the next week and see that there simply are no open five-hour blocks. While looking at your calendar, you do see that you can squeeze in an hour every night. Instead of trying to write the entire paper in one sitting, you break it up into much smaller components.

Time Management Strategies For Students

There are three helpful time management strategies that have been used by students successfully for many years –

  • Daily Top Three
  • Pomodoro Technique and
  • Eat the Frog.


Daily Top Three Strategy
This is an effective time management strategy for students and the idea behind the daily top three strategies is that you determine which three things are the most important to finish that day, and these become the tasks that you complete. It is a very simple technique that is effective because each day you are finishing tasks and removing them from your list.

Even if you took one day off a week and completed no tasks on that particular day, a daily top three strategy would have you finishing 18 tasks in the course of a single week. That is a good number of things crossed off your list.

Pomodoro Strategy:
The Pomodoro Strategy is another effective time management strategy for students as it allows you to tackle one task at a time with high intensity before taking a short-timed break, and then repeat this process (see Figure 8.4). The Pomodoro Strategy recommends 25 minutes of work and then a five-minute break, and after two hours of this, a longer break of 15-30 minutes (Cirillo, n.d).

Be flexible in your approach, for example, you don’t have to stop after 25 minutes if you are working well, or you may restart your 25 minutes if you get distracted. To make the most of this technique, plan your tasks ahead of time and be specific about what you want to achieve during each time block.

Eat the Frog Strategy:
Eat the frog Strategy may probably have the strangest name and may not sound the most inviting. The name comes from a famous quote, attributed to Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

How this applies to time and task management is based on the concept that if a person takes care of the biggest or most unpleasant task first, everything else will be easier after that. We greatly underestimate how much worry can impact our performance.

If you are continually distracted by anxiety over a task you are dreading, it can affect the task you are working on at the time. Not only will you have a sense of accomplishment and relief when the task you are concerned with is finished and out of the way, but other tasks will seem lighter and not as difficult.

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