People begin university with already busy lives with important commitments or priorities in addition to study. Successfully managing your priorities and commitments requires an organised approach to both time and task management.
1. Reflect on your current approach to managing time and tasks
Think about how you ordinarily manage time in your everyday life. Being aware of your habits (both good and bad), preferences, strengths and weaknesses helps you to identify strategies to make the most of your time and stay motivated.
First, think about your current approach. Ask yourself:
- Do I generally plan my time?
- Do I like to be on time and have things done on time?
- Do I find it relatively easy to juggle competing tasks?
- Am I able to prioritise tasks?
- Do I use tools to plan my time?
If you answered yes for most of these, you may already be quite the time manager! This resource will still give you some fresh tips and strategies. If you answered no for most of these, that's OK, you're being honest with yourself. You will benefit from the tips and strategies in this resource.
Ask yourself how you feel about your current approach. Do you find it stressful, motivating, adequate? Are there any aspects you’d like to improve?
Keep these reflections in mind as you consider how you might implement the following strategies.
2. Identify demands on your time
The most successful students are those who have balanced lives. That means they make time each week for activities like studying and working on assignments, as well as paid work, caring duties, sleeping, exercising, enjoying hobbies, and spending time with family and friends.
Start by making a list of all of your:
- University commitments: keeping up with weekly readings and content, study time, assessments, discussion forums, webinars etc.
- Other fixed commitments: paid work, home commitments, sport, clubs
- Free time activities: how much free time do you have? Is it enough to stay healthy?
Action: Take an ‘average’ week in the semester and try mapping the above on to a weekly planner (DOC 83.0 KB) or a calendar. How does it look? Does it all fit?
Once you’ve identified the demands on your time, decide what is flexible and what is not. Try categorising tasks in order of importance and value using a simple line like the one below.
Things that are of high importance and value really should be included in your planning – chart these on the left side of the line. Low importance, low tasks go on the right.
E.g. An assessment task worth 60% of the subject mark due in three weeks is high value and important - this is a priority. Re-ordering the books in your bookshelf may give you satisfaction but is low importance, low value and is not a priority.
Activities of importance should be charted on a semester planner.
4. Break tasks down
It can sometimes be difficult to get started on larger tasks as the amount of work required can seem overwhelming. To make it more manageable, try breaking tasks down into smaller, more achievable goals.
These smaller tasks should be SMART goals:
- Specific: You know what you have to do. E.g. "I'm going to search for the databases for five potentially relevant journal articles for an upcoming assignment."
- Measurable: You can measure it. E.g. "I'll find five relevant journal articles."
- Attainable: You can actually do it. E.g. "I already know how to use the databases and how to find journal articles - I think I can find five."
- Relevant: You should be doing it. E.g. "I need to find articles for my upcoming assignment."
- Time-bound: You know how long it should take. E.g. "May take one hour for an easy topic, a few for a difficult one."
Try taking a SMART approach to your all of your study sessions.
5. Maximise productivity
It’s important to use your time studying as effectively and efficiently as possible.
- Your best peak concentration times: morning, afternoon or evening.
- The blocks of time you have available: schedule these within your best concentration times taking into account your family and home environment.
- Scheduling short, intensive study sessions rather than long, marathon ones: short, intensive periods of study means you can keep up both your concentration and quality of work. Schedule these for 1-2 hours with breaks between them. E.g.:
- Varying your study activities: whenever possible choose active learning strategies, do something with the materials you’re studying, e.g. try re-forming your notes into a flowchart or mindmap (active strategy), rather than just re-reading them (passive).
- Your learning preferences: find how you like to study and create those conditions for yourself.
6. Use planning tools
Planners help you to map out your time and tasks visually. Both online and paper versions are effective – consider which would work best for you.
- A semester planner is great for giving you an overview of the entire semester, allowing you to see when your busy periods for assessment will occur so that you can spread out the workload, instead of having to do everything at once. Make sure you input assignment submission dates in here.
- A weekly planner (DOC 83.0 KB) helps you to map out your weekly commitments (class, study and personal), consider peak concentration times, and decide when to do things.
- To-do lists are a great way of keeping on top of your daily tasks. These can be short dot-point lists of things you need to do on a given day. Tick them off as you finish them.
- Try using the assignment planner (DOC 49.5 KB) to break your assignments down into stages and to determine the timeline you need to follow to successfully complete the work by the set deadline.
7. Minimise procrastination
Often, the worst part about having a lot to do is not the work itself but the worry associated with it. If you have to battle procrastination, it may be that you have not worked out a way of managing a task.
Procrastination can be your way of saying, “I don’t know how to start”. It may not be laziness – it might be more about prioritising.
- Recognise when you’re procrastinating (extra desk tidying, playing ‘one more’ game on your phone).
- Identify why you’re procrastinating: you may not fully understand the task; you may not have a process for working.
- Break the task down into manageable chunks: split it up into smaller pieces, e.g. analyse the task, brainstorm ideas, find some readings, make notes, write a draft, edit, submit.
- Start with more manageable activities: e.g. reading a short article before a longer one.
- Set shorter, achievable times. e.g. Tell yourself you’ll work on something for 20 minutes and see if you can keep going.
- Schedule regular short study blocks of 1-2 hours (form habits) with study targets – this gives you direction and limits.
- Seek help when you need it: if you don’t understand the task, talk to someone.
- Be realistic in your goals: “In the time I have I think I can get … done.”
- Measure and celebrate your progress: have measurable targets (read one article, write 200 words) – give yourself little rewards for achieving them.
8. Maintain motivation
Many students have difficulty staying motivated at some time during their studies and their time and task management falters along with it. Sometimes this is due to lack of interest, while other times it may relate to difficulty. Lack of motivation and procrastination are often interrelated: when you lose motivation, you also find yourself interrupted by anything and everything that might take you away from study.
You won’t be equally interested in everything you study so you need to find ways to motivate yourself to study the things you’re not passionate about.
Find an angle into the topic
Try to connect what you are learning with real world situations. Figure out why the concepts or skills are relevant or useful for your future career. If you persevere in the development of this skill, will it give you an edge for future employment? Try watching video clips on the topic – different perspectives on it may give you a fresh approach to it.
Connect with others
One of the best ways to study effectively and stay motivated at university is with the support of your peers. You may find the content difficult one week but someone else may understand it well and in other weeks the opposite might be true. It’s worth taking time to connect with classmates in online discussion forums or by forming study groups, if you are able to meet.
Vary your methods
A lack of motivation can often come from doing things the same repetitive way. Try mixing things up, e.g. different study methods or locations.
9. Let other people know your timetable
Managing study tasks has to be achieved in relation to the rest of your life, which means making choices, planning ahead and communicating with the people in your life.
Sometimes this means saying “no” to friends, to family, or to overtime at work: it’s about prioritising.
Discuss your study timetable with friends and family, place the timetable on the fridge or give them a copy. This can make them aware of the demands in your life and help them to understand your priorities.
10. Develop a regular study pattern
Establishing a regular pattern of work can help get you into a routine. This allows you to feel more in control (which should help with procrastination), to fit all required tasks into the time available and to maximise your time use. A way of overcoming procrastination issues is the establishment of a routine.
Remember to keep balance in your life. Prioritise what’s important to you, and above all be realistic in the goals you set, and create separation: when you are studying, study, when you are relaxing – do that, relax!
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