Time management

Why is time management necessary?

As a student the importance of managing your time can often be overlooked. Being a student is only one element in your life. You will also have other responsibilities which will demand some portion of your time: family, friends, work, sports and parental duties will be an issue for many.

The purpose of this web page is to assist you in managing your time more effectively by giving you some practical strategies. Managing your time can be broken down into three major areas:

  1. Planning your year
  2. Planning your week
  3. Planning your work

Planners and forms

1. Planning your year

The yearly planner (PDF, 1mb) will provide you with an outline of important dates and deadlines, both academic and social. It will also act as a good visual aid that clearly identifies periods of time in which you have commitments and free time.

Your planner should include:

  • Term dates
    When does the academic year start and when are the semester and term breaks? Record the periods you will be involved with classroom activities.
  • Assignment due dates
    When are laboratory reports due? Dates for essay submission? Do you have regular tests? Check your course outline for details. This will show how your workload is distributed and enable you to schedule activities to ensure assignment tasks are completed on time.
  • Examination times
    When are the exams? This will allow you to set up a study timetable that is specifically geared towards your examination schedule. Don't forget to include exams on your year planner.
  • Personal events
    When are the important dates on your social calendar (eg. birthdays, weddings, religious festivals and observances etc.)? This may seem unnecessary but it will enable you to plan other activities (eg. purchasing gifts) around these dates as you fine-tune your timetable.
  • Expect the unexpected
    You may have to attend a conference during the year, or have regular work or sporting commitments.
  • Beware of the winter blues
    Be mindful of unanticipated problems like catching a cold or getting sick.

Add all these major commitments to your yearly planner. Display your year planner in your study area so it is prominent and can be regularly updated as new commitments arise. Cross items off as they are completed or the date is passed and give yourself a sense of achieving your goals.

Plotting your year should not be seen as the end of planning. You need to use your yearly planner to break down and plan for tasks that are specific to each week of the current month.

2. Planning your week

The weekly planner is intended to bring the activities listed in the yearly planner into focus.

  • Each of your study commitments will require preparation and an allocation of time to complete specific tasks. For example, writing an essay requires time for choosing your topic, research, organising information, writing drafts, typing etc. Each of these activities can be allocated a time slot based upon your best guess of the time necessary to complete the task.
  • Over-estimate the time required, as things can tend to take longer due to the possibility of interruptions to your schedule, or unexpected changes to the parameters.
  • To illustrate, schedule activities like "Visit library and prepare reading list for essay on polypeptides", or "Study biology notes on cell reproduction for weekly test" etc., in a particular week. If activities have fixed deadlines (eg. hand in essay, sit a test) it is useful to work backwards from the due date to determine the latest starting date that will guarantee the work is completed.
  • Itemise every task required to complete the work and allocate a time estimate against each.
  • The total time, calculated by adding each estimate, will enable you to schedule these tasks into your working week using a time line.

3. Planning your work

What's available? In order to calculate what time is available to you for study you need to work out what time isn't available for study.

  • Your currently scheduled classes
  • Travel to and from university
  • Time for preparing and eating meals
  • Time for sleep
  • Time for shopping and domestic activities
  • Time consumed in employment
  • Time for parenting
  • Regular recreation activities (eg. sport, visiting friends, going out)

How much of my time is fixed?
Using the weekly planner (pdf, 143kb), print and fill in all of your committed time. Total the number of fixed hours and add to this the time allocated for sleep. Enter this total in the space allocated (ie. A). Do not include your private study time. A reasonable estimate is three to four hours of study per course per week outside the classroom. For example, if you are taking five courses, then expect to spend between 15 and 20 hours per week doing private study. Note that these estimates are only a guideline! You need to determine how much time you will really need.

How much study time do I need?
Using the weekly planner, fill in your estimation of the number of hours you need to maintain your workload. Try to find out (eg. from lecturers, mentors, the course outline) the amount of time you should allocate. Enter the estimates for each subject into the table. Calculate the total and write this in the space provided (ie. B). The amount of time you need will depend on current course work and your level of understanding of course material. This varies from person to person. Similarly, your work commitments will fluctuate throughout the year, so anticipate busy periods and quiet ones.

What's left?
To determine how hectic your life will be, add the number of committed hours (A) to the time estimated
for study (B). Enter this total in the space allocated (ie. C). Subtract the total in C from 168 (there are 168 hours in a week) and place the result in D. The total number of hours remaining (ie. D) tells you what free time is available for other activities outside of your fixed study allocation. If this figure is less than 10 to 15 hours then you really don't have much choice about when you study – you will probably have to be goal-orientated to ensure your study is done. If you are a full-time student and this figure is greater than 10 to 15 hours then this means you have some flexibility in how you assign your workload and when you prefer to study.

Allocating your study time
There are two distinct (yet very different) approaches to organising your study time:

  • Goal-orientated: This approach requires you to schedule exactly when you intend to work in advance. Allocate your study time into the free areas of your timetable. Be aware of your study habits, ie. do you study better in the evening or the morning? Choose study times to incorporate your preferences.
  • Procrastinating: Procrastinating means putting work off until tomorrow or perhaps the next day, or the next instead of today. Most people procrastinate about doing things that are boring or difficult, and sometimes things don't ever get done. Procrastinators may prefer to approach the problem another way: Do not allocate any time at all to study.

Record study time as it is completed and record only in half-hour blocks. This allows your study to be performed in chunks and will provide you with a record of the work that you have really done. The key to this approach is to actually start working and to reward yourself afterwards for the study you did perform.

Regardless of the approach you choose to adopt, it is important to monitor your progress. If you are not sure which approach suits you best, then experiment with both. It may be worthwhile to keep a log of all your activities over a fortnight.

Use your log to evaluate:

  • How good were your predictions?
  • Were your goals realistic?
  • How hard was it to maintain your schedule?
  • What differences did having a schedule make to your study patterns?

Although getting this information might seem like a lot of trouble, recording how you really use your time will give you more confidence in approaching new tasks because you will better understand how long it takes to complete specific activities.

Use what you learn through observation and reflection to improve your time management. Be realistic. Don't set impossible goals (e.g. six hours of continuous study without a break), and reward yourself for your efforts (e.g. watch your favourite TV show, ring a friend). The skills you gain from learning to manage your time will always be useful to you as a student as well as in other aspects of your day-to-day life.

Time-saving tips

  • USBs frequently malfunction, and students often lose their work. Back up your work on hard disk or CD.
  • Expect things to take x2, x3, x4 or x10 longer than expected. Plan with this in mind and start early.
  • Keep an ongoing note of all books and journals etc, for use as references.
  • Sign up for library info sessions on EndNote. It is software that will cut down the time spent on referencing.
  • Network with students doing the same units either in study groups or by using Moodle
  • Plan time to enjoy your friends and family. By being relaxed and maintaining a balanced lifestyle, your time at university will be more efficient.