The key to successful time management is planning-moving from bigger goals and larger time periods to smaller goals and shorter time periods (right down to a goal for the next hour!). In order to plan successfully, you will need to identify the steps necessary to complete your projects, assess your current schedule, design a study schedule, assign goals for each study period and monitor your efforts.
Assess your current schedule
First, you will need a way to view your week - usually a table with the days of the week across the top and times arranged vertically. If you don't have a similar table in your student planner, you can use the Weekly Schedule (PDF) Here is an example of a weekly schedule (PDF) for a student taking a full courseload of five classes. You'll notice that this is a full schedule for days Monday through Friday, where you should expect to treat your schooling like a full-time job.
On your schedule, fill in blocks of time for your
- Meals (including preparation and clean-up)
- Classes, labs, tutorials
- Regular activities (part-time job, hobbies such as ballroom dancing, sports, running errands, online activities, spending time with friends)
- Time during the week when you cannot or will not study (free time)
- Study time to read your textbooks, work on assignments and projects, prepare for labs, prepare for exams, etc.
Create a daily to-do list
Each morning or evening, a great practice is to create a to-do list for the day to identify the tasks you need to accomplish for that day. A key for success is to attach a priority to each task, to create a prioritized task list (PDF). In assigning priority, identify and mark which tasks are of top priority (most critical) to complete that day, followed by tasks that need to be done but are less urgent, followed by a third set of tasks that would be good to complete but are not as time-sensitive as others.
Design your study schedule
A general guideline for providing adequate study time is to schedule two to three hours of independent study for every hour you spend in lecture. For example, if you have one three hour class a week, you should schedule six to nine hours of study time for that class. If you're taking five classes, with 15 hours of lecture a week, you should plan on spending an additional 45 to 60 hours of independent study time. You might not need all that time for every class, but it's much better to schedule it than realize too late that you need that time. (After all, you're already investing considerable resources-time and money-and you want to do your best.) You will need to schedule more time for difficult classes than you will for others.
Six to nine hours per three hours lecture time sounds like a lot of time until you realize that you have to read your text on your own and do most of your assignments outside of class. You might begin by setting aside a half hour to prepare for the each lecture, a half hour to review the notes from each lecture, and an hour to read the text and do short assignments. You will probably also need to schedule larger blocks of time for bigger assignments, sample problem sets, and preparation and write-up for labs.
For many subjects and assignments, a study period of 45-50 minutes with a 10-15 minute break works well. Classes requiring a lot of memorization lend themselves to shorter, more frequent study periods (daily, twice daily or even more often), while assignments requiring library research or writing may require a longer study period-possibly two hours.
Learn which approach works best for you, investigate different approaches, and adapt your approach to the subject material and what works for you. Initially, try to schedule a minimum of two hours of study time per class every day, and set aside two or three longer periods for research, special projects, weekly self tests, etc.
If you are able to study in a group, you may want to study with others during some of your scheduled study time. Tutoring others or even just teaching your sister, brother, mom or dad what you've learned that day is an excellent way to enhance your own learning. Teaching forces you to structure and recall information, as well as elaborate on difficult concepts, an excellent way to really learn a new topic or concept.
Assign goals for each study period
Once you have planned the steps to complete your goals (from your Project Planner (PDF)) and times for studying each subject, you will need to assign a goal for each study period.
These goals can be entered in your planner, or you can print out the Weekly Planner (PDF), enter the goals, and post it on the wall or keep it in your binder. You can also make a list of goals to complete today, using a Prioritized To-do List (PDF) list. It doesn't matter which method you use, as long as it works for you and you always know your study goal.
You will also need to identify the required materials and environment, so that you will be able to collect all the required materials and be prepared to focus and concentrate on completing the task at hand.
In developing your schedule, be sure to include times to decompress where you take a break from your studies and demands of life. You will feel rejuvinated and introduce a healthy balance into your life.