Properly managing your time is a skill that every successful student needs. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing ten of my most effective time management strategies. Let’s go!
1. DEVELOP THE RIGHT MINDSET
First things first, get rid of the “I just don’t have enough time” mindset. Managing your time starts with taking responsibility for conquering the challenges in your life instead of giving up and resigning yourself to accept less-than-ideal amounts of sleep and/or study. In the following activity, I’ll show you that there is absolutely a way to fit rigorous studying into a balanced schedule.
There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s see how that time might be spent:
- 40 hours at school (8 hours x 5 days) (**Post-high school students will likely only spend 12-18 hours in lectures every week!)
- 56 hours sleeping (8 hours x 7 days)
- 14 hours eating, bathing, etc (2 hours x 7 days)
- 21 hours socializing, extracurricular activities, etc (3 hours x 7 days)
- 5 hours commuting (30 minutes each way x 5 days) (**See Tip #10 to learn how you can make this time productive!)
- 3 hours exercising (30 minutes x 6 days)
Add all that time together and you get a maximum of 139 hours spent on all of the essential components of a healthy, balanced life– regular exercise, a full 8 hours of sleep per night, plenty of time for socialization and hobbies, and so on.
But that still leaves 29 hours of your week remaining, which is the equivalent of a part-time job! Nearly thirty hours a week is more than enough time to finish your homework and studying, guaranteed.
So recognize that there are indeed enough hours in the day to get everything done while maintaining your sanity! Developing this mindset will empower you to take control of the way you spend those remaining 29 hours. Make sure to check in with yourself often. Be mindful of how you’re spending your time, and regularly reevaluate to see if you’re on track to hit your goals.
2. PLAN THE NIGHT BEFORE
Each day, invest a few minutes in planning to save yourself hours in execution. While you don’t necessarily have to do this at night, I find that planning the next day right before I go to bed helps me to clear my mind, sleep better, and wake up with a purpose so I can hit the ground running in the morning. Pack your bag, set out tomorrow’s outfit and/or gym clothes, and make a few preparations for breakfast. Then, take a moment to assess the day you’ve just had. What went well? Where could you have made better use of your time? Were there any tasks you didn’t get to that have to be finished tomorrow? Using your mental reflection along with the rest of the tips in this post, create a schedule or a to-do list for the next day.
Once you’ve made a list of everything you need/want to get done, sort them by priority to help you direct your focus towards the right tasks. For students with academic obligations, there are three main ways to prioritize tasks:
- Urgency: Check the due dates for your assignments and prioritize those that are due the soonest. Study for tomorrow’s test before you practice for next week’s presentation.
- Significance: Prioritize assignments that make up a higher percentage of your class grade. If your English homework is worth 5% of your grade but the essay is worth 50%, place a higher priority on the essay.
- Potential consequences: Let’s say, for example, that you will most likely end up with a B in science– you have an 83% in the class, your test scores have been Bs throughout the year, and it’s unlikely you’ll score high enough on the final exam to end up with an A average. But maybe in history class, you’re hovering at the edge between a B and an A, and if you study hard for the final exam, chances are good that you can knock your class grade up to an A. In this case, any amount of effort spent on the science final will probably result in a B grade, whereas studying for the history final could put you up an entire letter grade. Therefore you should prioritize studying for your history final over studying for your science final.
4. GO STEADY
While you should knock out your prioritized tasks as soon as possible, also try to work on something that is important, but not urgent, every day. Start on an essay that’s not due for another month. Review your flashcards daily so you’re not scrambling to cram the night before the test. This also applies to activities outside of school; I, for example, make an effort to write a bit of a blog post daily in addition to completing my homework assignments.
Making steady progress on long-term projects will prevent you from getting stuck always rushing to finish urgent tasks (“putting out fires”).
5. BREAK IT UP
When writing your to-do list or creating a schedule (more on that later), break up your assignments and projects into small, actionable steps to make them more manageable. Avoid vague words such as study, work on, or practice when creating the actionable steps. Otherwise, you’ll drift aimlessly through your work with no clear guidelines as to what exactly you need to do or when to stop. Here are some examples of how you might break up your assignments:
- study for trig test –> watch lecture on module 4.7, complete review problems 15-35, drill unit circle flashcards 2 times through
- work on history research –> find 3 primary sources from library archives, annotate article 1, annotate article 2, annotate article 3, brainstorm possible thesis statements
- practice French –> complete demonstratives lesson on Duolingo, drill Anki deck 3 times, write 10 orignal sentences using new vocab
6. EAT THAT FROG
This tip comes from author Brian Tracy, who was inspired by the following Mark Twain quote:
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.
This means that you should work on your most dreaded task first, when your energy and motivation levels are highest. Your frog doesn’t necessarily have to be the hardest task, just the one you’re looking forward to the least.
Don’t sit there looking at the frog and cringing. Just eat it. Take action. If you can get the most horrible assignment out of the way first thing in the morning, the rest of your to-do list is downhill from there!
7. USE ENERGY-BASED TASK MANAGEMENT
On a similar note, it’s a good idea to plan your entire day around your energy levels, not just the frog. I call this technique energy-based task management, and it can be summarized in three simple steps:
- Determine which time(s) of day you have the most energy. Are you a morning bird? A night owl? Do you hit a slump after lunch?
- During your high-energy times, work on the difficult, thought-intensive tasks such as brainstorming, writing, annotating, and active studying.
- During your low-energy times, take care of the menial things that have to get done but don’t require a lot of energy, attention, or skill. This includes tasks such as creating flashcards, cleaning the house, exercising, and running errands.
Energy-based task management helps you make the most out of your energy potential instead of wasting your peak productivity times on easy, mindless tasks.
Click here to read my full post on energy-based task management!
8. BOX YOUR TIME
If you’re someone who needs a bit more structure than a simple to-do list can provide, timeboxing may be exactly what you need! Timeboxing is simply allotting tasks to certain periods of time. I’d recommend using a digital task manager to do this (Plan is my tool of choice), but you can also use a table or spiraldex.
Here are some guidelines for using timeboxing to schedule your day:
- Schedule your fixed times first. These are all of the events you’ve already committed to, such as appointments and rehearsals. It also includes the absolute essentials such as times for sleeping, eating, and taking breaks.
- Use your priorities (Tip #3), frog (Tip #6), important-but-not-urgent task (Tip #4), and general planner/calendar to create a rough list of things you need/want to get done the next day.
- Estimate how much time each task will take you. When starting out, you are likely to actually need more time for tasks than you estimated, so add some wiggle room to prevent throwing off your entire schedule. As your estimates become more accurate, try scheduling slightly less time than you think you need in order to challenge yourself to get things done more quickly.
- Use energy-based task management (Tip #7) to place high- and low- energy tasks in their respective places on your schedule.
- Batch tasks whenever possible. Group similar items together so you’re not constantly switching between unrelated things.
- Schedule your downtime. Putting fun activities on your schedule will motivate you to stick with the plan and get your work done faster.
Timeboxing is such a big topic that I’ll most likely make an entirely separate post about how I timebox, so stay tuned for that!
9. LEARN TO SAY NO
However tempting it may be, don’t take on every opportunity that arises. Don’t let others pressure you into signing up to take all the hardest classes and joining a gazillion extracurriculars. Turn down parties and social obligations with people who are negative, draining, or simply incompatible with you. Reject activities that don’t bring you real happiness, such as TV, social media, or games on your phone. Watching your favorite show is a great way to unwind, but consider if your time spent scrolling half-heartedly through Instagram could be better spent hanging out with friends.
Know when to stop working. Particularly when it comes to organizing and other mindless tasks. Your supplies are never going to be 100% neat and your notes won’t be perfectly pretty. Let go of perfectionism. In my experience, the amount of studying required increases exponentially as your goal grade rises. While I always believe in working hard, the blunt truth is that at a certain point, straining yourself to get a certain score makes no difference. So don’t spend 10 hours studying to get a 100% if you can spend 5 hours to get a 95%. And learn to settle for “good enough.”
10. FILL THE GAPS
Look for little gaps of time throughout the day during which you can work on tiny tasks.
Take advantage of:
- downtime at the end of class
- breaks between classes
- waiting in line/in a waiting room
- workouts on a treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, or similar
- commute time (if you’re driving, please be careful to focus on the road!)
The above are great times to:
- start doing homework
- drill flashcards
- brainstorm new goals or ideas
- listen to recorded lectures
- listen to an audiobook or podcast
- check/edit a completed assignment
- update your planner
- mentally rehearse a presentation
- read a bit of an easy text
You can also put some homework in a clipboard and carry it around, filling out a bit whenever you get the chance.
A few minutes here and there may not seem like much. But even doing a couple homework problems at the end of class will make it easier to finish the rest when you get home, since you’ve already started. Plus, since the time quickly adds up but seems short and spread out, you can get a lot of work done without feeling like you’ve done any.
That’s all for today! I’ve got lots more advice to share, but hopefully these ten tips will send you on your way to becoming a time-management ninja!