10 Time Management Strategies for College Students

Time management is planning how to best use your time in an efficient and productive manner and then putting the plan into practice in order to accomplish tasks required for achieving your goals. Good time management skills include time organization, prioritization and allocation plus the necessary follow-through.

Many academic studies show a correlation between good time management and strong academic performance. For example, the research titled Impact of Time Management Behaviors on Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Performance concluded that, “Effective time management is associated with greater academic performance.” And another research published in Journal of Educational Psychology revealed that, “Students who perceived control of their time reported significantly greater evaluations of their performance” in school.

The benefits of time management start with better grades and improved GPA. Additional advantages of time management skills are reduced anxiety and stress, improved time efficiency and productivity, better confidence, more schedule flexibility, healthier balance between academics and other aspects of life, and increased responsibility and personal discipline.

In this article, we will evaluate the 10 key strategies for effective time management shown in this diagram

10 Time Management Strategies

Set Your Goals

Goal setting encourages good time management for students because you must use time efficiently in order to reach goals. The best goals have a time element to them – a time or date by which they must be accomplished. Also called SMART goals, they are specific (S), measurable so that you know when they’ve been met or missed (M), achievable rather than unrealistic (A), relevant to the ultimate goal (R) and time-bound (T).

Students that set goals get better grades compared to students that do not set goals. A study titled Developing Self-Regulation Skills shows “skilled learners engaged in self-regulatory behaviors” which include setting goals as part of effective time management leading to academic success.  

The ultimate goal of goal setting is to improve academic performance. And setting goals is one of the proven study habits that lead to academic success for college students.

Establish Priorities

Setting priorities is the process of ranking tasks in their order of importance, and then doing the most important tasks first to ensure that you have adequate time to complete them.

Establishing priorities is closely related to goal setting. The first step in setting priorities is to define and establish your goals. Once goals are chosen, priorities are set that direct the student’s activities necessary to achieving those goals.

The study entitled Procrastination and the Planning Fallacy: An Examination of the Study Habits of University Students links procrastination, a key aspect of poor time management, with the lack of effectively setting priorities and goals.

Create a Schedule

Effective time management requires scheduling priorities that lead to achieving your goals over the course of a week, month or entire semester. When high-priority tasks are placed on a schedule, it is more likely that the student will complete those tasks.

To create a schedule:

Start with tasks that must be done at a specific time, such lectures, labs, practices and study sessions with peers.

Fill in free schedule slots with your highest priorities.

A study in the Journal of Physics suggests scheduling your most demanding tasks for your best hours – when you feel the most productive.

The benefits you’ll experience when you create a schedule include:

  • Structure and organization in your daily time schedule
  • Completion of priorities directly related to your goals
  • Reduction in procrastination
  • Improved focus – and task orientation
  • Lowered stress because goals are broken down into achievable, scheduled tasks
  • Progress being tracked
  • Increased productivity and the likelihood of achieving your goals

Make a To-Do List

A to-do list is a time management tool for accomplishing priorities in the short-term. The to-do checklist is drawn from your schedule of tasks that facilitate the accomplishment of the goals you have set.

The benefits of a to-do list include visualization of the most important things you need to do next ranked by priority, effective time management aligned with goals, breaking down large tasks into smaller steps, fulfilled priorities, increased productivity, reduced procrastination, improved motivation and deepened satisfaction.

Set Reminders

Setting reminders to change or start tasks is a time management tool to ensure that your most important to-do list items and scheduled tasks are allotted sufficient time to complete. Reminders are also important for making sure you don’t forget time-sensitive tasks like getting to a study session or meeting a deadline. And they reduce the stress of being concerned about forgetting or missing them.

Additionally, setting reminders allows you to manage blocks of time throughout the day, take breaks of appropriate length, stop or avoid procrastinating, develop or maintain good time management habits.

Reminders are easily set on smartphones, digital calendars, and smart devices like Alexa devices and Google Home.

Do Only One Thing At a Time

Doing one task at a time is better time management than multitasking. The American Psychological Association reports that “doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity.” This is because it takes time to mentally switch from the objectives and scope of one task to those of another. It is also mentally fatiguing, which can reduce focus and motivation to accomplish tasks.

The negative impact of media multitasking is that it increases cognitive load and becomes a distraction. Eliminate distractions like social media, instant messaging, playing games and emailing.

Single tasking, doing only one thing at a time, allows complete concentration on the task, reduces the cognitive load on the mind and ultimately improves productivity. The quality of the work done increases, and the reduced stress and mental fatigue allows you to work harder for a longer time. Memory and deep learning improves with single tasking.  

Identify and Limit Potential Distractions

Limiting or eliminating distractions is a time management tool that prevents divided attention and wasted time. As a result, identifying and avoiding distractions improves key time management skills that include focus, concentration, and productivity.

Limit potential distractions by identifying common distractions in your environment such as your smartphone, social media, noise, interruptions by people and your own distracted thoughts.

Preventing distractions requires establishing a location where schoolwork and related tasks are the primary activities. Let friends and family know that when you are in that location, you prefer not to be interrupted. Discipline your mind and body to stay focused and block out unavoidable distractions like noise.

Use Short Breaks Wisely

Take periodic short breaks as a reward for good time management practices.

Tips for effective short breaks include these: Be physically active, avoid screens such as your phone or a tablet, eat a healthy low-sugar snack, hydrate, and practice mindfulness, prayer or meditation.

One proven time management tool for using short breaks wisely is the Pomodoro Technique. It involves studying for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. When 4 cycles have been completed, a total of 2 hours, then taking a longer break of up to 30 minutes is recommended. The Pomodoro Technique has been shown to be effective for reducing procrastination.

Take Time Off

Taking a few days off during the semester can be good time management when other methods are not accomplishing their goal of improved academic performance.

It might be wise to take time off if necessary to avoid mental and physical exhaustion. When you return to school, you might have increased focus and productivity, better creativity and improved mental and emotional health. Taking time off also improves problem-solving and long-term motivation. And it facilitates learning and personal development in many students.

Develop a Healthy Mindset For Time Management

A time management mindset is one that embraces time management strategies like setting goals and identifying priorities because they provide a proven pathway to success.

First, keep your academic goals in mind – they will motivate you when things get tough. Next, make learning opportunities a high priority such as classes, study sessions, practice tests and class reviews, keeping the mindset that these yield the best return on your time investment.

Develop perspective – tell yourself that you’re intelligent and that by using the academic skills and tools available, you can maintain a high GPA.

Keep in mind that failure isn’t final. Learn the lessons it teaches, and adjust your approach in order to succeed the next time and beyond.

What Are the Best Apps and Tools for Time Management?

The best apps and tools for time management for students are digital calendars, time management tools, task management tools, note-taking apps, to-do list apps, Pomodoro technique apps and focus tools that enhance productivity.

  • Digital calendars: A calendar is the most basic time management tool a student must use. The best are Outlook Calendar, Google Calendar, Calendar.com, Apple Calendar and Any.do.
  • Time management tools: Tools like Toggl, Clockify and Harvest are time tracking and project management tools that show students how they use their time and where time might be wasted and better spent. Workflowy is excellent for listing and tracking progress on key priorities.
  • Task management tools: The best tools and apps are Todoist, TickTick, Trello and Asana. These apps help you organize entire projects and break them down into manageable tasks. Trello and Asana are especially helpful for managing group projects so that each group member understands their responsibilities.
  • Note-taking apps: There are many good note taking apps and tools including OneNote, Evernote, Bear, and Notion. Their features include note organizing, to-do lists, reminders and collaboration.
  • To-do lists: Todoist, TickTick, Trello and Microsoft To Do help students set priorities, track tasks and manage your day-to-day schedule.
  • Pomodoro technique apps: Pomodone and Focus Booster encourage strong focus for periods of 25-30 minutes followed by short breaks, usually about 5 minutes. The Pomodoro is a proven focus and productivity technique, and these tools assist in its application.
  • Productivity tools: In addition to Pomodoro apps, Focus@Will, Any.do and ClickUp Docs are time management tools designed to increase getting more done in a shorter time frame, which leads to better productivity. Freedom is a tool that blocks sites and apps that pose distractions.

Why Time Management is More Important for Part-time Students than Full-time Students

According to a research page titled Strategies for Success in Education, “the positive benefits of time management are stronger for part- versus full-time students.”

Time management is a greater predictor of GPA for part-time for several reasons.

First, part-time students are more likely to be employed full-time, and part-time students cite lack of time as their primary barrier to academic success.

Secondly, factors not related to cognitive ability or intelligence, such as time management, play a larger role in academic achievement for part-time vs full-time students.

How Does Time Management Reduce Stress in College?

A range of studies on stress and time management have shown that “stress levels are decreased among students that manage their time well.”

Good time management skills reduce stress in college by giving students better control over their schedules, helping them organize and wisely allot time for studying and other academic tasks, and reducing procrastination.

Time management skills give students the sense that they are keeping up with academic demands, which lowers stress while the feeling that they are falling behind increases stress.

Ultimately, effective time management is a proven stress management tool because it improves academic performance. Good grades and a high GPA definitely lower a student’s stress level.  

Does Time Management Help Improve GPA for College Students? 

Yes, most students that practice proven time management strategies improve their college GPA, as studies have shown. This is because time management helps them to set goals and priorities, stay organized, overcome procrastination, allot appropriate time blocks to each task, meet deadlines, stay focused and concentrate on the task at hand without being overwhelmed.

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