Effective time management is such an important asset to have in your arsenal going into a new teaching period. Here are seven quick and basic tips to get started on improving your time management in terms of university study.
Think about different time management ‘levels’
There are different types of time management: time management at a broad level (such as across the year), time management at a narrower level (such as across the semester), and time management at a narrow level still (such as across the week or even the specific day).
It’s worth thinking about each of these levels of time management, and how you might approach them. Time management across the entire year, for example, might require thinking about blocking out time for regular commitments like family, work, and hobbies, whereas day-to-day time management might rely more heavily on to-do lists.
Irrespective of the specific strategies you use, it’s likely that they will differ based on the timeframe. General aspirations might work for longer time periods (“prioritise work - make sure Saturdays are free to pick up shifts” etc.), but smaller time-frames might require a greater emphasis on SMART goals.
Create an assessment timeline
This should be one of the first things you do, particularly if you’re studying more than one unit/subject at a time. Consult your subject requirements and create a spreadsheet detailing each of your assessment tasks, how much they are worth, their deadlines, and any other important details (the nature of the task, word count, other requirements etc.).
If you do this early on, you’ll have a better idea of what’s to come, and you’ll subsequently be better placed to plan ahead for busier periods.
Be meticulous in preparation
There’s not much worse than starting to get through your study for the week before realising that there’s much more to do than first anticipated. It’s quite likely that not all weeks will be the same - for example, a subject might assign one short reading one week, and then five long readings the next. To counter this, you need to look ahead to be clear on what’s coming next.
Don’t take extensions for granted
Some institutions might have loosened extension policies through the COVID period, but you may now need to submit evidence to support your extension request. Though this process will vary from uni to uni, it’s best not to assume that you will be granted the extension on every occasion - try to work to the original deadline if at all possible. This mindset also provides more of a time buffer if something does go wrong and you need some extra time.
Think about what has and hasn’t worked
If you take a little bit of time to reflect about your past study, you’ll be in a better position than anyone to identify what has and what hasn’t worked for you so far. Have you felt rushed in your study because you’ve been prioritising other things? Do you spend too long staring at your Word document without writing anything (and if so, why?)? What ways can you more clearly block out dedicated study time?
It might be the case that just a few minor tweaks to your weekly schedule could make a big difference to your study time management. If you’re struggling to reflect, try starting by answering these questions:
What are the things I get done each and every week?
What are the things I sometimes get done?
What are the things I sometimes get done, but not as much as I’d like?
Try not to get too bogged down in details
If you’re anything like me, you might not like starting a task if you’re not going to finish it properly and to a high level. But realistically, sometimes there’s more utility in finishing off a task to an acceptable level and moving on, rather than trying to get every single element absolutely perfect.
When you’re juggling several subjects at once, sometimes the demands are such that you will need to prioritise the major tasks. Getting 75% on two assessment tasks, for example, might be holistically better than getting 90% on one and failing the other.
Focus on your study strategies
At the end of the day, you can plan ahead as much as you like, but if your actual study is inefficient, you won’t make much headway. There’s no one correct way to study at university; there are many options, but it’s important that you settle on strategies that work well for you.
If you find that you’re doing all the preparatory stuff well, but you’re still falling behind, it might be the case that you just need to tweak your actual study strategy. Reduce distractions, change your study environment, try new things - do what you can to mix things up and land on a study strategy that is efficient and sustainable. It might take time, but the more things you try, the closer you are to finding the one.
Good luck for your next study period!