Are you a college or university student looking to better manage your time?
Would you like to learn solid tips when it comes to making the most out of your schedule?
This may come as a surprise, but learning good time management skills is one of the most important things you can learn at school.
Besides helping you manage obvious student responsibilities — successfully balancing school assignments, projects, activities, and the like — time management tips for college students are 100% transferable to the real world.
Learning how to manage your time will help you better manage your schedule at work, at home, and everywhere in between, be it five months or five decades after your graduation date.
What’s more, the sooner you learn how to successfully manage your time, the sooner you’ll be able to reduce or even completely eliminate bleary eyed all-nighters, rampant procrastination binges, and stressful studying situations from your schedule.
And that’s a good thing, now isn’t it?
In this post, I offer a helpful collection of seventeen time management tips for college students.
Rest assured, even if you’re not a college or university student, you can still learn a lot from these tips.
As you’ll soon see, time management is all about creating smart routines and setting boundaries.
Now, let’s move on to the tips!
Use a planner or calendar.
If you don’t already use a planner or calendar as a student, you really should!
You need a solid way to keep track of all the things going on in your life, from academic classes to extracurricular clubs.
It’s completely up to you to decide whether you’ll use either a paper planner or a digital calendar. It really doesn’t matter which one you choose, so long as you like the format, and can realistically see yourself using it everyday. Need help figuring out if you’re a paper planner or a digital calendar person? Click here to take my handy planner quiz.
Once you’ve made a decision as to the type of calendar you’ll use, it’s time to start scheduling items. What are some things you can enter into your calendar?
Here’s a few basic ideas to get you started: class schedules, lectures, field trips, laboratories, study groups, extracurricular activities and clubs, meal times, study times, exercise times, and school holidays and breaks. Feel free to customize and add any items to your planner that you won’t want to forget, such as birthdays, doctor’s appointments, bill due dates, haircuts, and so on.
Add important academic dates to your planner.
Having a planner as a student is one thing, but placing important academic dates into your planner, well, that’s entirely another thing!
Visit your college or university’s website to locate the academic calendar for the coming semester or academic year. You’ll want to make sure you have all these important dates entered in your planner.
Academic date information will vary by institution, but you’ll most likely find information such as: dorm move-in and move-out dates, the first and last day of the semester, school holidays, financial aid, scholarship, internship, and job application due dates, class registration information, dining hall schedules, housing lottery, exam periods, and graduation.
Once you’ve got general academic dates entered into your planner, you can then add more detailed academic dates, such as those listed on individual department pages (e.g. English, Biology, Math, History, etc.) or facility pages (e.g. health center, fitness center, dining hall, student union, etc.).
Transfer course syllabi dates to your planner.
You may not have considered this, but course syllabi are chockfull of academic information. They commonly include key dates related to lectures and coursework.
A simple way to see your course syllabi at a glance is to simply transfer all course syllabi dates directly to your planner. This allows you to quickly compare what’s going on in one course versus another.
What dates can you add to your planner? You can get started by transferring dates for: exams, tests, quizzes, reports, laboratories, presentations, study sessions, review sessions, and office hours.
After covering the basics, work your way through each syllabus to ensure you didn’t accidentally miss any important dates.
Follow directions to the letter.
One of the easiest ways to save time, at school, or beyond, is to simply follow directions to the letter when they are given. This may seem too good to be true, but it really is that simple! Intentionally (or unintentionally) ignoring directions can lead to missed deadlines, late assignments, partial, incomplete, or lower grades, headaches, frustrations…you name it.
So, how can you follow directions as a student in your courses? All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open…
Follow the writing guidelines given by your professor for your history term paper. Follow the instructions given by your instructor during your biology lab. Listen to the expectations your drama coach has for you for the school play. Read course syllabi (see above) to understand what is required of you for each of your courses.
You’ll do well in your studies if you stop, slow down, and follow directions.
Track your time.
Here’s a pop quiz for you: how many hours did you spend studying last week? How many hours did you spend in class? How many hours did you spend at band practice, your part-time job, and going to parties with friends? If you’re unsure as to where your time is going during the day and week, you should conduct a time audit. Don’t worry, this isn’t anything difficult or complicated. All you have to do is track each of your activities, as well as how much time you spent on each of them.
Try tracking your time for a few days. You can track your time using a small notebook, or take notes on your smart phone, tablet, or laptop. Once you complete these task, you might be thoroughly surprised at how you are spending your time! If your schedule is a looking overcrowded or overbooked, you may want to consider cutting back on the amount of extracurricular activities in your schedule so you can devote more time to your studies. For an honest look at your schedule, try asking yourself any of these time management questions for students.
Budget your studies wisely.
Part of managing your time as a student is learning how to budget your time wisely among your coursework. Now, this isn’t to say you necessarily need to spend equal amounts of time on each of your courses. What you should do, however, is pay attention, and make adjustments to your study schedule as needed during the semester.
What’s the reason for this? Some courses will simply be more demanding than others, and vice versa. This will depend on the course content, structure, level, and how challenging you find the material.
After the first several weeks of a semester, you should be able to get a feel for how your courses and classes are going. For instance, in your personal experience, you may find that Course A requires less study time than Course B. In this case, you’d want to spend more of your time studying for Course B, than for Course A.
It’s a good idea to regularly check in with yourself to see how much time you’re spending on each of your courses. This way, you can budget your time wisely when it comes to studying, writing reports, completing assignments, and the like.
Break down projects into smaller tasks.
A large project, such as a term paper, may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Breaking down your projects or assignments into smaller tasks can make your work much more manageable. Instead of stressing out pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper, you can calmly and steadily do your work over the course of several weeks.
Before jumping into a project, take some time to break your project down into smaller parts. What individual tasks need to be done to complete your project? What needs to happen, and when?
Let’s say you have a term paper to write. You might break down the term paper into the following steps: reviewing term paper guidelines, write paper outline, conduct preliminary research, write first draft, conduct additional research, write second draft, write third draft, and so on. Once you’ve come up with your term paper tasks, you can then schedule them into your calendar.
Begin assignments as soon as you receive them.
Would you love to turn in your papers, reports, and assignments on time…without pulling an all-nighter or procrastinating? The easiest way to do this is to start working on a project, report or assignment as soon as you receive it. Preferably, you should begin your work that same day.
Rest assured, this doesn’t mean you have to write an entire report, or complete a term paper in one sitting! All this means is you should plan to work on some small aspect or piece of your assignment.
What are some things you can do to get started with your assignments? You could thoroughly review the assignment instructions and take notes, do a bit of background research at the library, brainstorm a number of project ideas, start reading primary readings, or set your own deadlines for completing the assignment, and so on.
Don’t forget: once you’ve got the ball rolling, you have to keep it rolling. Work on assignments a little bit every few days, and you’ll be well on your way to completing assignments in a timely manner.
Look for windows of opportunity.
Did you know? Time can be found in the most unexpected of places. You just have to know where to look…and think a bit creatively! Check your schedule to see whether or not you are making use of all of your time, and make adjustments accordingly.
Are you not making the most out your free mornings? How about going to bed an hour earlier so you can spent your morning studying in the library when it is relatively empty? How about using that bit of free time after your class on Tuesday afternoon, but just before dinnertime, to catch up on some of your weekly readings?
Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when it comes to making the most out of your schedule.
Don’t underestimate what you can get done in five minutes.
Instead of wishing for more hours in the day, set out make use of any, and all time available to you. Don’t dismiss small bits of time (five minutes here, ten minutes there) because they don’t seem like a lot of time. Small amounts of time can quickly add up over the course of a week, month and semester!
So, what can you do in five minutes? Can you begin one problem in your math problem set? How about review your notes from yesterday’s history class? What about packing up your sports equipment for team training this afternoon? The possibilities truly are endless!
One of the very best things you can do for yourself when it comes to managing your time is to know yourself. What this means is that you are fully aware of the optimal environments, times of day, and situations, in which you can do your best work. You can make the most out of your time because you are working productively.
For instance, are you a morning person or night person? Do you do better working on math in the morning than in the evening? Do you do better with frequent breaks, or can you pull long hauls of time studying? Do you prefer working on a busy or noisy area of the library, or do you prefer minimal noise, or total silence? It’s definitely worth thinking about your personal preferences when it comes to your studies.
Begin studying after the first day of class.
The first day of class is a fresh start. It’s also a good time to start building solid time management habits that will last for the rest of the semester.
How can you make the most out of the first day of class? It’s deceptively easy, and oh-so effective: after class, spend a few minutes reviewing your notes.
This tip may seem deceptively simple, but it will do you a world of good. By taking just a few minutes to review your notes, you’ll keep information fresh in your mind, and prevent the need for cramming sessions. This way, you’ll gently review, digest, learn, and remember information every day.
If you want to take things up a notch, you can review your notes, rewrite them, or read them aloud to yourself.
Get enough sleep.
Keeping to a regular sleep schedule during the week will help you succeed as a student. It allows you to make the most of your time because you are fully-rested, awake, and ready to learn and study.
Begin by choosing a reasonable bedtime for yourself during the school week…and stick to it. If you need to, schedule your bedtime into your planner. It’s important to make sure you’re getting a restful sleep, so do everything you can to make sure you can sleep in peace and quiet. Turn off the TV and room lights, and power down or set your computer, tablet, and laptop to airplane mode before heading to bed.
Aim to arrive five minutes early to classes.
One great time management skill to hone as a student is punctuality. Make arriving on time to your classes a top priority. Not only will you make a good impression on your professors and instructors, but you’ll have developed a solid skill that will help you throughout life.
The easiest way to arrive on time to any appointment or meeting is to simply count backwards from your desired time, and then plan your day accordingly. Let’s say you want to arrive at a classroom at 8:25 a.m. for an 8:30 class. You know it takes you at least an hour to bathe, groom, dress, eat breakfast, and travel to class. In this case, you’d want to wake up no later than 7:15 a.m. See how easy that was?
For more tips on arriving on time to class, check out my post on arriving on time to school here.
Uncover your preferred learning method(s).
We all know everyone learns in different ways. But are you making the most out of your natural learning preferences?
You can save yourself a lot of wasted time and energy by figuring out how you best learn and study. Using your natural strengths to your advantage makes sense because it makes things that much more comfortable for you. What’s more, probably get your work done faster because of it.
Just how do you uncover your preferred methods of learning and studying? Well, it’s all about trial and error, as well as paying attention to your individual experiments. You have to be open to experimenting with different ways of learning.
For example, some people prefer listening to information, while other prefer reading it. Some people prefer using flash cards to remember facts, while others do well writing information over and over again by hand. Some people learn best by doing hands-on work, while others prefer to watch.
Whenever you settle down to study, think about which methods you’d like to try out. When in doubt, try them all and see how you feel. Once you’ve identified a few key study methods, you can take things to the next level by using and modifying them for each of your courses and subjects.
Study first…and play later.
This tip is an oldie, but it is a goodie! It’s important to complete whatever schoolwork you have, be it projects, assignments, problem sets, laboratories, or reports, before enjoying leisure time activities. Yes, it may seem like fun to head off to the movies before finishing your organic chemistry problem set for tomorrow, but you’ll only be prolonging the inevitable. Adding some self-discipline to your studies will really help you make the most out your time.
Completing your studies first allows you to put all your energy towards getting the work done. What’s more, when your work is finished, that’s it…it’s finished! You no longer have to wrack your brain and waste time worrying about your work, let alone trying to find time to finish it.
Your work will be finished and is no longer a concern. You are 100% free to enjoy whatever leisure activity tickles your fancy: heading to the movies, hanging out in the student lounge, playing a game of soccer on the campus quad, or going out for a rewarding run. And that’s a great way to work and play, wouldn’t you say?
Be choosy when it comes to selecting study buddies or groups.
Have you ever tried studying with a classmate who is more interested in watching videos on their smart phone than actually studying? Maybe you attended several study sessions where the group is less interested in hitting the books and more interested in gossiping about your classmates? If so, then it may be time for a study buddy evaluation…
Your time at school is limited. And spending hours with people who joke about or waste time will make it more difficult for you to complete your school work in a timely fashion. The solution? You must be choosy when selecting study buddies and groups.
Make sure your potential study buddies are serious about getting together to study and completing their schoolwork. If not, you may need to look for other study buddies who will truly respect the time you spend together.
How about you? Are you a college or university student? Which of these tips are you going to try out this semester to help you better manage your time? Join in the conversation and leave a comment below!
A version of this post appeared on the blog in 2015.