First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a student.
But not all that long ago (within the context of the whole history of the world, at least), I have been through both high school and university, so believe I’ve had enough experience as one to justify saying that I think I understand the deal.
Obviously, one of the main reasons for being at school is to equip yourself with the kind of knowledge that will be useful to your future self in some way or another.
However, student life also coincides with an age when we’re discovering a lot about ourselves and want to experience new things and pursue different opportunities that present themselves.
So, when it comes to getting academic work done, there can be a lot of distractions.
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In addition to your smartphone, which let’s face it, has become an extension of the body for many people, there is also the socializing, the partying, the sports and whatever else you’re interested in.
And these distractions can make studying and completing assignments much more difficult, so it comes as no surprise that high school and college students often struggle with productivity and time management.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
With the implementation of some simple time management techniques, you can find the time to do a bit of everything you want and still be successful academically.
You can have it all!
Why is time management important for students?
The ability to prioritize tasks, plan ahead and work to a schedule is a life skill that is fundamental to success in anything you may want to do. And actually, I’d go as far to say that it can make or break you when it comes to achieving your goals.
Now you might think that sounds like a bit of an exaggeration, but I can assure you, it is not.
Time management is a crucial skill and the earlier you can learn it and apply it to your life, the more you will achieve and the happier you will be in both your professional and personal life.
Better time management can make your life easier. It can make you more confident and can help you to learn more effectively.
It can also help you to avoid the dreadful curse of procrastination, which brings with it all kinds of potential issues such as stress, poor performance and missing out on opportunities.
I had a great time at university, but with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that I left way too many assignments until the last minute that could have easily been completed much earlier if I had managed my time better.
Instead, I put myself through the stress of essay writing into the early hours of the morning to meet the 9 am deadline the next day and submitting work that could have been an awful lot better had I been more prepared and organized.
I understand the power and confidence of youth and that the younger generations rarely take heed of advice dispensed by the older generations, but take a few tips from an ‘old(er) guy’ who has made some mistakes and would get some satisfaction from knowing that his mistakes benefitted someone else.
How to manage your time as a student
Time management is actually a fairly simple concept, but for most people, the biggest barrier to success lies in implementing it.
Essentially it comes down to good planning, learning to prioritize and probably most crucially, some self-discipline.
Slacking, winging it, procrastination is the easy path, no doubt.
But do you really want to be that slacker?
Do you want to be that adult that never fulfils your potential simply because you were too unmotivated to get your arse in gear?
No, I didn’t think so.
And for that reason, I’ve put together twenty of the best and more importantly, most actionable tips to help you take control of your time and kick ass in school!
Read on and become your own kind of Time Hack Hero in no time . . .
1. Make a schedule for the week
Before you start, you need a plan. And that plan should start with a ‘master schedule’ for the week.
Most of your schedule will already be in place due to lessons/lectures/seminars you need to attend as part of your course and other mandatory activities you have each day.
Outside of that is “your own time” which you need to divide into blocks that include study (essay writing, research and reading), exercise, eating, the pursuit of hobbies, socializing and sleeping.
You won’t always be able to stick to the schedule exactly, because in life and especially at college, spontaneous stuff can happen that will throw things out.
That ‘quick drink’ with friends that turns into an all-nighter and you wake up later than planned with a killer hangover and you’re already behind on your schedule before you’ve even got dressed.
It that happens, don’t beat yourself up over it – we’ve all been there.
But, if you have a framework, it is much easier to get back on track whenever things get derailed.
Remember also that a schedule does not have to be Monday to Sunday, meaning that you do the same activities on each day each week.
You can also use a Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 . . . type of schedule.
I used to be into competitive running and when I set out the sessions that I needed to do to improve, I realized that a 7-day week schedule would not allow me to get in the sessions I wanted to do. So, I used a schedule that ran for 8 days before repeating.
You can do the same thing for studying, so don’t feel constricted to the 7-day week.
Check out this post: How To Create A Schedule >>>
2. Prioritize your tasks
Once you have a schedule outlined, you then need to prioritize your time and allocate the right amount of time to each activity. The quickest and easiest way to do this that I have found is to use the Eisenhower Box.
You can find out how to use it in this post. Go check it out!
Check out this post: What Is The Eisenhower Box? >>>
3. Use To-Do Lists
To-Do Lists are the foundation of good time management. It doesn’t really matter what medium you choose – digital, bullet journal, diary, etc. – as long as you have one in place.
In his best-selling book, Getting Things Done, David Allen recommends that tasks should be written down as “next actions”, rather than partial reminders of things that are unresolved.
I will be reviewing this book soon. Subscribe if you would like to receive email notifications.
Check out this post: How To Write A To-Do List – Properly! >>>
4. Be realistic
When you’ve decided to get a grip on your time management and you’re writing up your weekly schedule, it’s easy to get carried away and over-estimate what you can get done in any given time.
There’s only so much time in a day and you can’t do everything.
Be realistic about what you can achieve and beware of the ‘planning fallacy’.
5. Start early
Find out your “in-the-zone time” – what time of day are you generally the most productive?
Some of us are more productive in the morning and others more so at night. You need to do some experimentation to work out when you are at your most focused and utilize that time to to take care of the most intense study and ‘deep work’.
Check out this post: Tips For A Great Morning Routine >>>
My advice though would be to get up earlier either way. If you don’t particularly like mornings, maybe you can use the extra time to do some of the things that need doing, but don’t require you to be wide awake, e.g. laundry, exercise, administration, etc.
6. Break it down
Sometimes the size of a project can be intimidating and that can result in procrastination or inefficient use of time trying to get to grips with it.
But it doesn’t matter what it is, everything can be broken down into bite-sized chunks.
Breaking things down into individual tasks within a project not only makes the project more manageable but also helps you to order tasks by priority.
For example, you may be tasked with an essay that requires some research, the compilation of data, the acquisition of images, a survey of opinion, a critical analysis, as well as an introduction and a conclusion.
Breaking the whole thing into a series of smaller tasks (that can be scheduled individually) may help you complete everything much quicker than trying to attack it as one big piece of work in a linear way from start to finish.
Read: How To Break Projects Down Into Tasks >>>
7. Identify and remove distractions
There are plenty of well-known time-wasting activities – but the biggest culprit is almost certainly your phone.
My biggest ‘problem area’ is YouTube and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in this scenario:
Take measures to limit distractions.
This might involve using a social media blocker or turning off your phone (I know, the horror!) for the periods when you need to focus.
Check out this post: How To Focus At Work And While Studying >>>
I’ve covered dealing with internet distractions in this post.
In the meantime, here’s some great advice from the very excellent Mr Jordan B. Peterson.
8. Review your performance
This is an important part of time management as it allows you to really understand what is working for you and what is not.
Take the time to record your progress and if you are feeling ambitious, you could even go as far as auditing your time to fully understanding how you are using it currently and where you can improve.
Check out this post: How To Audit Your Time >>>
9. The Power of ‘No’
I would class the ability to say “No” as a life skill.
Saying “Yes” when we actually want to say “No” is a common affliction. We might fear that saying “No” offends, disappoints, comes across as selfish, rude or difficult. We don’t want to jeopardize relationships with friends, family or co-workers.
So we say “Yes” instead.
And if you always say “Yes” to everything, there is no way you will ever be able to prioritize your time properly.
So start saying “No” more to people that want your time to serve their own agenda and protect your precious resource. It might take practice and will probably feel uncomfortable at first.
But don’t feel guilty about it.
READ: How To Say ‘No’ >>>
10. If you’re not feeling it . . .
If you sit down to start writing an essay and you just don’t feel you’re in the right mindset, don’t beat yourself up about it.
It happens to everyone sometimes.
Simply switch the time block with something else. For example, go do some exercise and then get back into the essay writing when you were supposed to do the exercising.
Of course, you don’t want to use this as a form of procrastination. I often used to find washing the dishes and cleaning the apartment quite appealing when I had an essay dealing looming or some exam revision to get done.
You can also consider introducing plenty of microbreaks into your day. This can sometimes be enough to get you back in the right frame of mind.
11. Make use of ‘dead time’
There is a lot of ‘dead time’ in our lives. Time spent queuing, waiting for appointments, commuting, for example, are all activities that waste our time.
While the smartphone is generally an awful distraction, it can also be an incredibly useful tool to help us make the most of our time.
Listening to audible books or exam revisions notes can save us time, reading notes, researching online, even drafting essays can all be done on the phone while we’re travelling to a destination on public transport or waiting to see the doctor, etc.
Don’t just use the time to watch crappy TV shows, check your Facebook likes or who has had the audacity to unfollow you on Twitter.
12. Work in blocks
Working in blocks is a great way to enable you to give your full focus and attention to one task at a time.
A tried-and-test method for doing this is the Pomodoro Technique. Essentially, this is a focusing strategy where you work in blocks of 25 minutes with a 5-minute break in between.
For me personally, I have always found that 25 minutes is too short and I can usually maintain focus for about 35-40 minutes with a 10-minute break, but it depends on what the task is.
Either way, I find it is a more productive way of working than simply sitting at my computer for hours at a time without a proper break
You can use a similar strategy according to your own preferences and inclinations. Read more about time blocking here.
Check out this post: What Is The Pomodoro Technique? >>>
13. Sleep is important
Late nights and sleeping in is all part of college, right?
Well, yes, but if you want to manage your time well, you need to make sure you’re getting sufficient sleep.
Late nights are to be expected on a weekend but try to have a more regular sleeping schedule during the week to compensate. As a student, you’re more likely to be able to use time during the day for a nap, so don’t feel guilty about doing so on occasion.
READ: How To Beat The Snooze Button >>>
READ: Tips For Productive Evening Routines >>>
14. Work out your own deadlines
When you have exam dates and assignments due, look at the hard deadline and then make your own personal deadline a day (or two) earlier. Then work backwards from this new deadline to the present time to calculate how many hours you have available to spend on it.
This type of strategy will also help to prevent you from becoming a victim of Parkinson’s Law.
READ: What Is Parkinson’s Law? >>>
Just because you have a heavy schedule does not mean you should ditch the exercise regimen.
Exercise does not actually have to take a lot of time and there is evidence that intensive 10-minute workouts are every bit as effective as longer steady sessions.
If you’re using the Eisenhower Box for your daily/weekly tasks, make sure that exercise is in Quadrant II.
16. Change the scenery
It’s crucial to get your work environment right. Personally, I cannot work if my desk and surrounding areas are untidy and cluttered.
Everyone will have their own idiosyncrasies and preferences. You may like to work with music, without music, surrounded by others or all on your own.
There will also be times when your regular environment is not doing it for you, so don’t be afraid to switch it up a little.
Nice day outside? Try sitting under a tree to read.
Try a different room.
Try the floor.
Try a coffee shop.
You get the idea.
Sometimes you just need a new environment to get yourself back and focused.
17. Beware perfectionism
Striving for perfection in whatever it is you do is a noble goal. However, it can be counter-productive and you should make sure it’s not derailing your productivity and causing tasks to take up way more of your time than they should.
There is a famous quote by General Patton that is worth keeping in mind.
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”General George S. Patton
By all means, aim to deliver high-quality assignments to the very best of your ability, but if you feel that your desire to deliver perfection each time is causing stress and resulting in tasks taking an excessive amount of time, you might want to rein it in a little.
READ: Time Management Tips For Perfectionists >>>
18. Don’t hang out with party animals
Some people just want to party all the time and never really get down to business when it comes to studying.
That’s all well and good, but if you get sucked into this lifestyle, you ain’t gonna achieve your goals.
Sure, you can party and have some fun – that’s all part of college life. But don’t do it every night. Everything in moderation.
I don’t know of any truly successful people who just spent their whole educational careers partying. You’ve got to put in some work if you want results.
Not much good stuff comes for free, unfortunately.
19. Do not multi-task
Some people claim to be great at multi-tasking.
What they don’t realize is they’re actually terrible at multi-tasking.
Sure, it is perfectly possible to juggle several tasks at a time, but you’re going to end up with loads of half-baked results, rather than focusing on each task individually and smashing each one out of the park.
There are plenty of studies that show multi-tasking is not generally as effective as focusing on one task at a time, so do yourself a favour and don’t try to juggle too much at once.
Read more about multi-tasking here.
20. Reward Yourself!
Many people forget to do this, but you should reward yourself for sticking to a plan. Committing to a schedule and executing a plan is no mean feat and you deserve to reward yourself when you meet or exceed your targets.
Use whatever motivates you – beer, chocolate, watching a movie, new clothes – whatever you’re into.
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
Don’t try to ‘wing it’ all the time.
Sure, there will always be times when unexpected stuff comes up and derails your schedule, but if you can get it the habit of being organized, it will serve you well not just during your educational life, but also in your future work life.
Those who can manage their time well are usually the most successful.
Really successful people are not the unprepared, last-minute, blagging-it-all-the-time, cobble-it-together types when it comes to working. Instead, they are almost always the ones who manage their time better than everyone else.
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