A Student's Guide to Making the Most of Your Time
Even if you've developed a system for managing your time, students can squeeze out even more time-management efficiency using these simple techniques.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Even if you've developed a system for managing your time, you can squeeze out even more time-management efficiency through these techniques:
Explore the amount of available time and allot a portion to schoolwork: Ever wish there were more hours in the day? How many hours are available, anyway? Of the 168 hours in a week, 84 are used for such necessary activities as sleeping, eating, bathing, primping, and commuting, says Brian Poser of New York University. That leaves 84 hours. Professors recommend two to three hours of out-of-class study time for each hour of class time -- up to 45 hours a week of study time for 15 hours of classes. Similarly, some suggest that students equate their college education to a full-time job -- 40 hours a week minus actual class time, resulting in 25 hours of study time for a 15-credit-hour load. You must then decide how to divide up that available study time -- and then determine how to fit in extracurricular activities, sports, socializing, and "me time." Will you spread out your study time over five days, six days, seven days, or some other configuration? Stephanie, one of the students consulted for this article, says, "I distribute all my assignments throughout the week based on how much time I'll have left after class, activities, and other obligations. Usually, I try to leave room for surprise assignments so that I have some flexibility in case something pops up that I didn't anticipate."
Laura knows that on some days, she has no time for anything but schoolwork. "I know that on certain days I do not have time to run errands or hang out with friends even," she says. "Each minute of each day is used for something. Knowing what I have to do every day helps me plan out my week and my days. If I know that I don't have time on Tuesday, I will try to get more things done on Monday or Sunday."
Don't forget about school holidays and breaks. While these are largely for relaxing and recharging your batteries, you may want to schedule at least some schoolwork during times of no classes. At the same time, you'll want to make choices about your free time based on your school obligations, as Adrianne advises: "If you are aware of your study commitments, you won't overbook yourself with social events," she says. "Knowing not to schedule a weekend away in the big city with friends next month because that Tuesday, a final 10-page paper is due is a wise choice."
Examining the available time is a good way to determine how much time you can devote to a job. Deduct the time you'd need for a job from your free time rather than from your study time. If you're unwilling to give up that much free time and you don't absolutely have to have a job, you may decide against getting one. Or you may look for techniques to help you manage both school and work. Cayla, for example, tries to get the same work schedule each week "so that I always know when I have to work and am able to plan my homework and other responsibilities into the time I have." Morgan, who has worked up to 45 hours a week while taking 15 credit hours, says, "I try to do my homework at night and in the mornings. Since my weekends are spent working, I tell myself that I will do all my assignments for next week during the current week."
Identify your most productive times: Once you've calculated exactly how much time you have available for schoolwork, determine the days of the week and times of the day when you are at your best and most productive. You may discover that your best day is simply the one with the most available time, but it may be more a matter of mood or mental attitude. For example, many students do a lot of work on Sundays while others aren't in the right frame of mind on Sunday because they dread Monday. And do you do your best work in the morning, in the evening, or in the middle of the day? Many find the early part of the day to be the most productive -- with the added psychological bonus of clearing your decks of the rest of the day. "If I know that on a particular day I don't have any time at all," says Jessica, "then I will wake up earlier and get in some studying time then. I also know myself enough to not schedule studying for late at night since I won't be able to stay awake." You must determine what time works best for you and plan to capitalize on the days and times when you an get the most done.
Determine your concentration span: How long can you realistically study before your attention fades? Twenty minutes? Fifty minutes? Track your concentration span. You may need to schedule studying in relatively small chunks of time to ensure that you continue to absorb the material. Another option is big study blocks with short breaks and rewards built in to help you recharge, such as Renee gives herself: "I always reward myself. If I don't let myself watch my favorite television show or something, then I get easily distracted while studying. I can't study for great lengths at a time, so I make sure to take little breaks."
Capitalize on waiting times, break times, and travel/commuting times: You will encounter numerous situations in college life when you are waiting around -- waiting in line, waiting for a bus, waiting for your next class to start. Use those times to best advantage. Always have at least one textbook and some class notes with you to read anytime you find yourself in a waiting situation. Do you take a bus or train to classes? Read or study then. If you drive, you can record notes to listen to on a tape player or mp3 player (may require a microphone accessory). See if any of your required texts (especially novels that you might be assigned in English and literature classes) are available as audiobooks that you can listen to while waiting. Apply these same techniques to longer trips, such as flights or drives home on breaks from school. Consider even making productive use of the time you spend in the bathroom; read in the tub or on the commode.
Conduct before-class, after-class, and weekly reviews of course material: Conducting regular reviews of your notes and readings keeps you from having to cram, but doing so also helps you manage your time by ensuring that free time surrounding your classes is productively spent. Review your notes before each class when pockets of time allow, and review notes for all of a day's classes at the end of the day. Earmark a timeslot over the weekend to review all your notes from the previous week.
Avoid distractions, especially of the electronic variety: If you track the time you spend checking e-mail, searching the Internet (including checking up on MySpace and Facebook), instant-messaging, and texting your friends, you might be horrified at how much time you spend on these electronic distractions. Discipline yourself to pursue these activities for limited periods just a few times a day. These are excellent activities to use as rewards for reaching your study goals. To minimize temptation, unplug your computer's network cable or disable its mechanism for connecting to wireless networks. During intensive study periods, turn your cell phone off. Non-electronic activities can suck time, too, as Nicole relates: "My time management secret is not to take naps during the day or waste time," she says. "I get most of my work done in between classes and during the day so my nights can sometimes be free."
Final Thoughts on College Student Time Management
You might just be amazed at how much more you can get out of your time by monitoring your productivity and using every block of time more efficiently. The best students have mastered the art of making the most of each minute.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for EmpoweringSites.com, including MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She curates, crafts, and delivers compelling content online, in print, on stage, and in the classroom. Visit her personal Website KatharineHansenPhD.com or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)astoriedcareer.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.