Time Management for College Students: Tips and Tools
The 2020-21 academic year, the second year of my master’s program, and the sixth year of my college education, brought with it a tremendous personal milestone: my first successful use of a day planner.
It could be chalked up to the lonely hours of quarantine, or maybe to the aesthetically pleasing cover I chose—deep blue with vibrant cacti—but at least some of my success is owed to discipline and my general exhaustion with forgetting appointments, sweating bullets, and careening from assignment to assignment.
I share this anecdote to indicate two things: first, time management skills do not come from experience, but from effort, and second, they begin with a learner’s desire to change.
These notions are important to keep in mind, as time management for college students is vital to a happy, healthy college experience.
What Is Time Management for College Students?
Time management begins with the recognition that time is a finite resource and an especially easy one to squander.
For those with crowded schedules—and this certainly applies to college students—it’s important to allocate time carefully, deciding which tasks and activities need to be prioritized. In many ways, time management strategies for college students are not so different from those used to plan a trip or balance a budget.
Why Is Time Management a Problem for College Students?
Attending college will present your student with a range of new responsibilities, distractions, and challenges. While they may receive mentoring from instructors and administrators early on, the task of navigating these variables will soon be theirs alone.
Maybe for the first time, they will be completely free to determine how their day is organized. Needless to say, time management is both necessary to make the most of this environment, and among the easiest skills to neglect.
With so many new places to explore and people to meet, it can be tempting to put off work until the last minute, coasting on inconsistent study habits and the patience of instructors. Of course, just because students can get by like this doesn’t mean that they should.
Let’s say your student requests and receives a week-long extension on one of their assignments. Their first instinct may be to bask in relief; after all, they have an extra seven days to finish up, but is this really the case?
If they pause to factor in eating, sleeping, their full roster of classes, other assignments, and any extracurriculars they have committed to, they may find that the new deadline approaches quickly.
And what about routine downtime? Unfortunately, many students do not pause to deliberately rest, instead of adapting to a procrastination cycle that alternates between overlong break periods and unpleasant, all-night study sessions.
This cycle is unwieldy enough on campus, where students’ meals are prepared for them and classes are within walking distance, but students who eventually move off campus will be forced to juggle schoolwork alongside grocery shopping, preparing meals, routine cleaning, and maybe even caring for pets.
How Do You Manage Your Time as a Student?
The internet is full of time management tips for college students, some of which clash in specifics. This is reflective of the fact that, like so many other aspects of the college experience, time management can and should be tailored to individual needs.
Below are a few ideas to help your child get started:
- Plan ahead and write it down. A physical day planner is the classic route, but there are digital options as well. Even the most sophisticated planner is useless if it lays forgotten in a backpack. Write down deadlines as soon as they’re known and make checking the planner part of a daily routine.
- Schedule carefully. It may seem appealing to leave hours-long gaps between classes, but this can be a poor choice for students who struggle to stay on task. If your child thinks—or knows from experience—that they’ll spend these gaps on their phone or socializing, schedule courses in back-to-back blocks instead.
- Work intelligently. Try to wrap up the day’s most important tasks early on instead of putting them off until last. Starting small is acceptable, even advisable, when students are stressed and overwhelmed, but keep in mind that few things soothe nerves faster than wrapping up a to-do list. If your child struggles to balance downtime with work on their own, consider adopting a regiment like the Pomodoro Technique.
- Be consistent. College may not always allow for this, but strive for consistency when and where possible. Does your child study best when the sun is rising, or setting? When do they want to eat, or go for a daily walk? Whatever works, try sticking to it. Consistency in a routine will help your child avoid wandering aimlessly and wasting time.
- Avoid distractions. Few people are as good at multitasking as they think. If your child is uncomfortable with shutting off their phone for an hour, consider apps like RescueTime for tracking online time usage (and wastage), or apps like Freedom and Forest for blocking or discouraging access to certain digital distractors.
What Is the Importance of Time Management for Students?
It might seem like time management activities for college students are primarily geared towards productivity and academic success, but there are other good reasons to manage time wisely.
Not only are last-minute, late-night work and study sessions less likely to result in lasting knowledge, they are bad for student health. Speaking from personal experience, a successful procrastinator may have solid grades, but their mental well-being and self-esteem will eventually suffer as their lives become more complex and laden with responsibilities.
Time management does not mean sacrificing all social time and rest, or behaving as a model student every minute of the day. What it does mean is learning how to properly allocate time so when your student is dining with friends, or settling in to watch their favorite show, they can truly relax without undone assignments churning at the back of their minds.
Time management allows us to make the most of both work and play.
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