Top tips for managing your time better

One of our learning skills advisers, Bei-En Zou, has some suggestions to help you sort out your week, if you find studying at uni a bit of a juggling act.

Between studying, writing assignments, managing a part-time job, catching up with people, and keeping up with those essential but pesky ‘life admin’ jobs like cooking and cleaning, it’s hard to feel like you’re always on top of everything! But time management is something that everyone struggles with, and it’s definitely a skill that you can get better at!

Here are our top tips! 

1. Understand yourself 

When students don’t get stuff done on time, they usually think it’s because they’re lazy or disorganised. But there might be other reasons that you’re procrastinating. Here are some things that students have described to us:

  • I feel overwhelmed. The assignments are too big and too many and there’s too much to do. 
  • I feel like I haven't prepared enough and I haven’t done my best, so it's not good enough to hand in.

We can give you lots of strategies to improve your time management, but they won’t be useful unless you identify what’s driving you. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, maybe you need to break the task into smaller chunks that are more manageable, and aim to do a little bit each day. On the other hand, if you’re fearful about submitting ‘imperfect’ work, maybe you need to check whether your expectations are realistic.

2. See the big picture

The first thing to do is work out what you need to do, and when you need to get it done by. Make a list of all your assignments and other commitments and mark them out in a semester/year-long planner. For big assignments or exams, work backwards to decide when you’ll need to start working on the particular assignment. How much time would you need?

Once you’ve filled in your planner, you’ll be able to see what tasks you’ll need to be working on from week to week. You can also see when you’ll be particularly busy, and might need to focus on study and reduce time spent on other activities.

 3. What to do with all the ‘free’ time?

One of the hardest things about university life is figuring out what to do with all the unstructured time. Most of the study and learning happen outside of scheduled class time, so it’s important to know how to use those times well.

An organisational tool that will help you is a weekly timetable. In your weekly timetable, block out not just your classes, but also other non-negotiable things that you have to do, like paid work, sleep, meals and travel time. Then add in activities that you’d like to do. For example, going to the gym, seeing friends and family. Now look at the time that you have left - that’s time that you can use for study. Ask yourself: have you left enough time? Maybe you need to rethink your priorities.

Now identify your key study blocks, when you will get the bulk of your work done, as well as smaller blocks of time that might be perfect for doing some quick research in the library, reading over your notes after a lecture, or preparing for a tutorial.

4.  Prioritising and goal setting

Now that you have a big picture of what you’re doing with your time, you need to break down the things you do in order of priority. What do you want to achieve at the end of the semester? What would you need to do each week to achieve that goal? In the list of tasks you need to do, which ones are the most important?

Convert these big picture goals into weekly and daily to-do lists. These will keep in on track over the long-term. Also, don’t be fooled by tasks that look urgent, but are not important.

5.  Expect the unexpected and remember to have some fun

Finally, allow some flexibility in your plan. Unexpected things like illness or someone crashing into your car will happen. Sometimes you will simply need a break from study to attend to other things, and you shouldn’t feel guilty. The key to good time management is experimenting until you get the balance right for yourself - everyone is different! Don’t forget to relax and have some fun as well!

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