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.
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.
How do you self assess your procrastination habits?
If procrastination is something that you struggle with, it's likely that you are not alone. Vote in our poll to see how students across the University feel about the challenges of procrastination:
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?
For more information, ideas and strategies to manage your time and meet your deadlines, read more below:
Building good habits
Time management is not just about beating procrastination, it is also about understanding your workload, being able to organise your work, and building good working habits around your schedule.
The first step towards building good habits is to understand your workload. It is a good idea at the beginning of term to map out all your modules and course work into a rough schedule. List the amount of contact hours you will have over the term, how much independent study you are supposed to do, prep time for your lectures/seminars/lab work, the amount of reading/exercises/reports you'll have to submit, as well as all of your end of term assignments and exams. Listing all the tasks you are expected to complete over the term into a single sheet will give you a more realistic idea of the amount of work you'll have to complete. Use the week planner template as a starting point.
A simple list of everything you have to do can look scary, but organising you workload is the next step that can help you manage all the tasks you need to complete. Think how much time do you need to complete each task (for instance if you need to read three articles for each seminar, how long will this take you), and how high priority each task is. You might want to use our Urgent-Important Matrix to think about the relative importance of each task and how to prioritise it. This will give you a better idea of when to start working on each task, how much revision time you'll need, etc. You can then start adding some mini deadlines to your diary, to-do list, google calendar, or what ever works best for you.
Finally, you'll need to find the time to complete all your tasks. A good idea might be to do a weekly schedule for yourself, first adding to it your contact teaching, hobbies, meal times, social events, and free time, and all other times you know you won't be able to work on course work. After this you will start to see all the times you have available in your schedule on a weekly basis that you can use for independent study, prep work and revision. working backwards from your mini deadlines you completed earlier, start adding tasks to your weekly schedule that will get you on your way to meeting those deadlines.
Use Google Calendar
Using Google Calendar? If not, why not try it as a way to improve your forward planning and organisational skills. Google Calendar is available to all students via MUSE My Services and is a great way to manage your time and remind yourself of important appointments and tasks. For tips on how to use Google Calendar, visit Lynda.com for tips and training.
Keeping up momentum
You will also need to keep up momentum in your studies that can be hard when you also want to have free time and a social life. Below are some ideas for making sure you can stay on top of your schedule and mini deadlines.
When am I most efficient? Some people are morning people and some are night owls. Try to identify when you work most efficiently and try to work on your "thinking heavy" tasks around those times. This would mean working on essays, assignments, and other more research heavy tasks that require a lot of concentration. Think also when you need to have information fresh in your mind. For instance, do some prep work for your lectures right before they take place and that way the information is fresh in your mind and you can immediately ask questions about content you're not sure about.
Can I keep up this working style long-term? Your degree is a long-term effort, so make sure you develop a schedule and working style that is sustainable. For a short period we might be able to work 10-12 hours a day, but this is not a sustainable way of working and runs the risk of burn-out. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that working more that 8 hours a day will decrease your efficiency and focus. Building a steady and sustainable schedule will get you making progress every day without overworking yourself, and helping you stay happier and more focused.
What about hobbies and free time? Hobbies, time away from studies, and socialising are imperative to having a good and happy time at university. Developing an efficient and sustainable schedule for yourself will enable you to have a better and healthier time at university, and will enable you to enjoy your free time without that nagging feeling that you should be working on an essay or an assignment. Try to make sure you build in 1-2 hours of free time every day into your schedule, and take at last 1 day off every week. This time off from your studies will help reset your energy and motivation.
'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!
Study Skills Hacks: The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique recognises the limitations of our powers of concentration by alternating intensive bursts of focused activity (for example 20 minutes) with short breaks (e.g. five minutes). Repeat the cycle several times throughout a period of independent study time to keep up your focus and attention throughout. Find out more about the Pomodoro Technique on its Wikipedia Page here and watch our short video, which will introduce you to its principles.
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