If you’re new to the college environment, time management is one of the most vital skills for you to master. It can help you balance your academic, professional, and personal responsibilities, make sure you complete your assignments efficiently, and reduce your stress. On top of that, learning time management skills early in college can follow you throughout your academic life—and well into your professional career.
However, if you’re not used to managing your time autonomously, establishing good habits can be challenging. This guide can help.
Use Apps—But Cautiously
Initially, you’ll likely be tempted to use one of the many productivity and time management apps available on the market. These can be incredibly valuable in helping you understand how you spend your time and encouraging you to form better habits. However, it’s important to be cautious and conservative in your app adoption.
Too many new students download multiple apps simultaneously, believing each one to contribute positively to their time management skills. Eventually, they end up jumping between apps or juggling so many apps that they spend more time on app management than anything else. Start with just one or two apps, and try to perfect how you use them before you try to adopt something new.
Be Mindful of Your Time
One of the most powerful tools in your time management arsenal is simple: awareness. Understanding how you spend your time can lead you to much more efficient time management habits almost immediately. If you notice something is taking up several hours of your time every week but it isn’t helping you in any way, you can make serious cuts. If you notice your grades slipping in line with a declining time expenditure for studying, you’ll know to spend more time on your academic work.
The trick is finding a reliable way to log your time. There are many apps that can help you with this, or even automate the process. You can also invent your own system. As long as you’re accurate and consistent, you can use the data to improve yourself.
Establish Your Priorities
Nobody can tell you what your priorities are, exactly, but it’s important to set firm priorities, and use them when making a decision. Oftentimes, you’ll be stuck choosing between two or more options, with a finite amount of time that prohibits you from accomplishing both. For example, should you work on your Chemistry homework due in a few days or start researching your History paper due in a few weeks?
One of the best approaches to set priorities is to use an Eisenhower box (or Eisenhower matrix). This system forces you to categorize your action items in terms of both urgency and importance. In the preceding example, your Chemistry homework has relatively high urgency, since it’s due soon, but low importance, since it’s probably a small percentage of your final grade. Your History paper has relatively low urgency, since it’s not due for a while, but very high importance if it significantly impacts your final grade.
It’s also helpful to establish your high-level priorities in terms of the categories of your life. For example, how important are things like grades, socialization, family time, and employment hours when compared to each other? Would you risk losing your job to ensure your academic success?
Plan Your Day and Week
Always put together a plan for how you’re going to spend your time. This plan may not come to fruition (either because something new came up or because you failed to estimate things accurately), but you can still use it as a general guideline for what to do next.
Each week, set goals and deadlines for yourself so you know what your highest weekly priorities are. This is helpful for multiple reasons, ensuring you get your most urgent work done first and allowing you to avoid stressing about things that aren’t due for a while. Each night, set a rough timetable of how you plan to spend the next day. Ideally, you’ll break this down by hour, detailing when you’re going to attend class, study, work, sleep, and so on.
Optimize Your Productivity
It’s also worth spending time and effort optimizing your working hours so you can get the best benefits for each hour of work. For most students, this means getting enough sleep, taking frequent breaks, taking good care of your health, and following good nutritional habits. These can be hard to manage with your other responsibilities, but they can multiply your productivity and make every hour more worthwhile.
Time management is something you may need to grow into. The more you practice good time management habits, the more easily they’re going to come to you. Stay consistent, and don’t be afraid to change up your strategies if they aren’t working in your favor.