Have you ever wished you could travel in time to finish all the things you need to do? To fix something, to do better on a test or an essay, to free up some time for a vacation?
Well, guess what?
You…you still can’t do that. Sorry.
But you do have another power over the minutes and hours that fill up your day, and it’s a little something called time management. And while it takes practice and a few lifestyle changes, anybody can learn to effectively manage time—even you!
What makes time management easier is that you already know your goals. These are some common reasons students want to manage their time better:
- Write a college paper
- Study for an exam (and ace it)
- Reduce stress
- Have more free time for fun
- Feel less tired throughout the day
Sound familiar? As a student or working professional, you’re probably busy all the time.
Maybe you find yourself pulling all-nighters to write papers or to study for exams, and you want to break this habit. Or maybe you’re always buried under a bunch of tasks and aren’t sure about the best way to tackle them.
So what are some things you can do to start practicing good time management skills that will help you achieve your goals and relieve some of your day-to-day stress?
Keep scrolling—in this post, I’ll tell you all about how to manage time better.
Diagnosis: Poor Time Management
If you’re reading this, then chances are you want to improve your time management skills. That said, it’s always a good idea to assess yourself first and figure out which habits you need to change in order to manage time better.
If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, then you’re probably suffering from poor time management:
- Arriving (often) late to class, appointments, or events with friends
- Turning in papers late or at the very last second
- Cramming for exams the night before
- Procrastinating on assignments that you don’t like
- Performing poorly on your assignments
- Getting only a few hours of sleep a night
- Experiencing tiredness and low energy throughout the day
- Having declining physical health and increased stress
- Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you must do
If any of this sounds like you, then you know it’s time to start making some changes. Poor time management can be draining and negatively affect your goals and progress.
So acknowledge these problems. Write them down. Then get ready to put a plan together that will help you resolve these symptoms by learning how to better manage time to perform better in school or at work and feel better, both physically and mentally.
Here is a useful time-management test to help you gauge how much you need to focus on managing your time.
Once you’ve identified your main time-management problem areas, it’s time to work on the cure. These next tips are designed to do just that!
How to Manage Time Better: The Long and Short of It
The best way to manage your time is to start creating a schedule for yourself. It may not seem very glamorous, but it’s always the right tool for the job.
If you can see what’s coming down the road, you won’t find yourself surprised when those due dates start speeding your way.
I use “schedule” as a catch-all term because it doesn’t mean you need to plan every single moment. It’s not meant to be rigorous.
Instead, it’s just a tool meant to keep all of your deadlines and major events in mind so that you can carve out appropriate amounts of time to get things done while still living your life.
Planning ahead (the long part)
Open up your phone, and navigate to your calendar app. Or use Google Calendar, and sync all of your devices to it. Or just go out and buy a regular ol’ pen-and-paper daily planner. Whatever works best for you is the way to go.
The advantages to writing down your due dates is that you’re more likely to remember them. But because you likely carry your phone around with you everywhere you go, you can really make good use of things like alerts that will keep you on track for major assignments and the like.
When you start any class, you’re usually given a syllabus that has major due dates. Otherwise, your professors will tell you when major assignments are due. Immediately record these dates in whatever system you’re using.
Putting this off is what usually causes students to miss deadlines because they forget all about them. Better safe than sorry!
In a nutshell, you should schedule everything that you know about. This includes class and work times, weekly assignments (you can set recurring instances in your calendar app, which is a handy shortcut), school and social events, and breaks/holidays.
Daily goals (the short part)
At the end of each day, you should make it part of your routine to plan the next day, starting with the morning.
Know how long it takes you to get ready and commute to and from class or work, how long the day’s events will take, and what hours you have left for homework and studying.
Plan some time for breaks to avoid burnout, and try not to let yourself work too late into the evening. It’s much harder to wind down at the end of the day and get quality sleep if you haven’t given your mind a rest.
When you commit time to writing, doing other homework, or studying, stick to it. Time management is only effective when you follow through with the daily goals you set for yourself.
Big to small
Always start with your biggest task first. If it seems too overwhelming at first, don’t be afraid to break it up into more manageable pieces that you can finish as the day (or week/month, depending on the task) carries on.
Accomplishing the most time-consuming and challenging task first will make all of the others seem like a cake walk, which is why this works so well for most students.
You’re also more likely to take breaks between completing smaller tasks. This works okay when you only have small tasks to finish but not so great when you have a larger, more challenging task ahead of you.
Failure is an option
Don’t fret if you don’t always get it right. Time management is a skill and takes practice. There may be some days when you just can’t meet all of your goals, and that’s okay.
The more you practice, the better you’ll get at understanding what steps you need to take—on a daily basis—to make sure you’re reaching those goals.
How to Manage Time Better When It’s Time to Write
Even great writers need to set aside quality time to put words to paper.
When you write an essay, as a student, you’re practicing two different skills: college-level writing (of course) and critical thinking. Many papers will also require research and well-crafted arguments, and all of this takes time.
The good news is that you usually are given an adequate amount of time to write those papers. And there’s a tried-and-true process to getting them done on time and producing quality work.
And you guessed right—it involves scheduling. But let’s break it down into the step-by-step process it takes to get you from start to finish.
The four-week breakdown
This method allows you to split up an essay assignment into manageable pieces and gives you plenty of time to review and edit your work before turning it in for a grade.
The “four-week” part of it works best when you actually have four full weeks to turn in an assignment, but this may not always be the case.
Say you only have 20 days to complete an essay assignment. No prob—just divide 20 by four, minimizing each “week” into five days to complete each task, and so on.
Week 1: Brainstorm, research, and outline
Immediately record your essay due date in your calendar, and set aside at least a couple of hours during the week to brainstorm ideas on what you’ll write about.
If your essay requires research, then this is also the time to start finding out more about your topic. Quality research can take some time, so be prepared to add a few more hours to this step if need be.
Week 2: Write the rough draft
Write, write, write! Get from point A to point B. Then look at what you’ve written. It’ll be far from perfect. You should not intend to turn in this draft as-is. In fact, you may have to rewrite it several times.
Writing is a process. Maybe you have to add details or trim the fat, so to speak. Sometimes you’re not entirely satisfied with what you’ve written, and you scrap half your paper in order to change direction. This is totally normal.
Want to know more about rough drafts? Check out this post from the Kibin blog!
Week 3: Edit
Now that you’ve written a rough draft, it’s time to review it. Look over your work to make sure that your message is clear and that you’re saying exactly what you want to say to the reader.
Does the essay accomplish its goals? Why or why not? Are there any grammar or spelling errors? Request an appointment with your professor ahead of time to help you with your essay if you’re struggling.
Have a classmate or friend look over your work to help you spot any inconsistencies, and be open to criticism—any advice you get is meant to help, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.
You can also take your work to your campus writing lab or have Kibin review it for you.
Week 4: Add finishing touches
By this week, you should be finished writing your paper, and it should be as perfect as you can make it. Having your paper finished at this point still gives you a small window of time to add any final changes/edits and get it proofread one last time.
This time also helps you gain some distance from your work, which is helpful because you can return to it after a day or two with fresh eyes. Sometimes that’s all it takes to spot where you might need to tweak your writing to make it even stronger.
Just don’t wait until the night before your paper is due to have another look!
You might be wondering if there’s anything else you can do to manage time better, and there is! Developing good habits that are good for your overall health will help you manage your time better and feel less stressed.
Get a good night’s sleep
This one may seem obvious, but sleep loss is one of the most prevalent problems that college students face. Not sleeping enough can make it difficult to focus and complete tasks, which negatively affects your ability to manage time.
Sometimes it’s tough, but try to give yourself enough time to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Avoid screens at least an hour before bed, and try to limit your caffeine intake to the mornings.
Exercise is another simple habit that is really easy to forgo when you’re busy. But even if it’s just 20 minutes a day, light exercise can keep you healthy, allow for better sleep, improve your mood, and energize you.
The next time you take a break from homework or studying, think about going for a brisk walk or doing another activity that gets you moving instead of going straight for your phone. It’ll give you an extra boost of energy to finish your work when you return.
Eat and drink wisely
A healthy diet can also contribute to your energy levels, which directly affect your ability to manage time better. So keep the fast food to a minimum and go for more fruits and vegetables to ensure you’re getting plenty of nutrients.
Skip the energy drinks, and consume plenty of water instead. It’ll make you feel better. I love coffee, but everything in moderation!
If you’re in college, you’ll probably party to blow off steam and connect with friends, and that’s totally fine. But try to limit your alcohol consumption because—apart from the known dangers of overdoing it—hangovers are time management’s worst enemy.
Alcohol also negatively impacts the quality of your sleep.
Set aside time
If you know you’re going to be busy, you should still set aside some time for fun. Not taking any breaks can be just as bad as procrastination. Getting some rest or hanging out with friends can recharge your system, making the work easier to finish.
Learn to say “no”
You can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t try.
If you have committed to finish a paper or study for a big test at a certain time, stick to your schedule, even when your friends try to get you to go out, etc. Tell them you’ll catch them next time—there is always a next time!
Find a mentor
Okay—so you can’t just go out and “find” a mentor, but sometimes your own ideas and self-motivation aren’t enough to get the job done. So develop positive relationships with your professors, advisors, and anyone you trust who is in a position to help you succeed.
Many educators will go the extra mile for students who are willing to do the same, and this usually means scheduling office hours, taking an interest in your work, and seeking help.
These individuals can and will guide you, and that’s definitely something to take advantage of during your college career.
There are plenty of ways to manage your time, and it all starts with taking that first step.
If you’re looking for extra help, you can even put your phone to good use. Here’s a blog post with a lot of great time-management-related apps that can be just what you’re looking for.
Managing your time takes effort, but keep practicing those good habits. Soon enough, you’ll know how to manage time better than ever before!