Time Management

Time management is perhaps the single most important and challenging skill to develop as a student. In an environment in which nobody will hold your hand, or tell you precisely what you should be doing and when, the art of managing and meeting personal deadlines – both social and academic –must be mastered sooner rather than late. 

Some people like to plan things early in fine detail so that everything is ready in plenty of time; others positively thrive on the pressure of meeting a last-minute deadline. Whichever kind of person you are, you will need to keep on top of a range of different tasks at the same time, so you will need consciously to manage your time one way or another.

Beating procrastination

Procrastination, or putting off tasks which need to be done, is a major challenge of time management that can have a major impact on our levels of stress and anxiety. Rather than simple time-wasting or laziness, procrastination is a genuine psychological response to workload demands, and is particularly common at university.

Defined as a form of voluntary, irrational delay that has negative consequences on the procrastinating individual, procrastination is a habitual form of postponing action to a later date. Procrastination happens at different times for different people, and depends on where you struggle to convert your intentions into actions (Pychyl 2010). Some students find themselves procrastinating at the start of the essay writing process, distracting themselves with research and reading in order to put off sitting down to write the essay. Other students might start essays early, but struggle to meet deadlines that are far in the future, while their classmates might prefer to leave everything to the last minute, in the hope of using the pressure of a close deadline as motivation.

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If procrastination is something that you are struggling with right now, or you’re keen on preventing it, the first step towards beating procrastination is reflecting on why you tend to procrastinate. Procrastinators come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s worth trying to spot where you might go wrong now, so you can try and prevent it.

Have a look at the Beating Procrastination worksheet to identify some ways to beat the habit. Think specifically about how your lifestyle as a university student contributes to your procrastination. For example, how do you deal with large gaps in your timetable for independent study? Are you often distracted by housemates or social commitments?

Frog'Eat the frog'

Often there is a single simple task that gets in the way of all others: email your tutor; meet your supervisor; compile your bibliography. Mark Twain once said: 'Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.' Try tackling your most unpleasant or awkward task first thing in the morning and the rest of the day will seem much easier!

Top Tips
  • Don’t panic. Studies suggest that at least 70% of university students procrastinate at some point during their time at university. Procrastinating is a habit but, like all habits, it can be broken.
  • Spend some time reflecting on when and why you procrastinate. Be honest with yourself, and see if you can pinpoint triggers for procrastination.
  • Once you’ve identified when you procrastinate, note down how you procrastinate: cleaning, social media, TV box sets, making another cup of tea… This can help you to identify where work and play overlap, and where you might begin to divide your time more strictly.
  • Break large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. Try and ease yourself in with easier parts of the essay writing process, for example, rather than starting with something too difficult or ambitious.
  • Structure your time around deadlines and revise this regularly as new tasks are added to your ‘to do’ list. Prioritise urgent and important tasks, and keep a checklist to track your progress.
  • Plan rewards and incentives to help keep you motivated.
  • Keep going. Habits are hard to break, but if you can work on a task you’ve previously been putting off for just an hour a day, you’re making progress.
Want to know more?



  • The Ultimate Guide to Motivation’: An in-depth guide to motivation, how to find it, and how to sustain it.
  • Common time wasters, UNSW: This website offers examples and brief solutions for common time wasters. The ‘long and short term planning’ section is also useful for students whose procrastination might be the result of difficulties with time management.
  • Assignment Survival Kit, University of Kent: This website calculates how many days until your essay deadlines, and offers a guide on how to structure your writing time.
  • Procrastination Research Group
  • TED Talk, ‘Why We Procrastinate’: Vic Nithy looks at how two competing cognitive systems can make it hard for us to get on with work.
  • Learn High Time Management with sections on Dealing with Distractions and Overcoming Procrastination.