Five Essential Steps to Help Students Master Time Management

If there’s one challenge that seems to be universal, it’s the struggle to find time to get everything done. We are all busier than ever and juggling countless responsibilities, and we never seem to have enough hours in the day to finish our endless to-do list.

Time management is particularly important — and challenging — for adult students who often have a full plate with school, work, family, community service, and other demands on their time. Trying to keep track of everything can be overwhelming. Yet it is critical to stay organized or you risk falling behind on your course work or missing important deadlines.

Consider these five steps to make the most of your time:

Get the right tools

At the very least, you will need some sort of planner to help you keep track of your schedule. The specific supplies you need will depend on your individual work style. Some people like to go “old school” with the traditional desk or wall calendar. With so much of our daily lives happening online these days, many people find that a cloud-based calendar or scheduling app works best for them, since they can sync it with any of their other systems. Whatever you choose, make sure it is convenient and easy to use — and be sure to keep it updated. With electronic tools, take advantage of the ability to set up alerts to make sure you don’t forget anything.

Plan ahead

This is one of those things we hear so often that it probably doesn’t even really sink in anymore. But it is critical for a busy student to think ahead. Procrastination isn’t just annoying — it can have major negative consequences. You don’t want to find yourself in that nightmare scenario — suddenly realizing you have a major paper or exam next week for which you haven’t prepared when, at the same time, you have a packed week of work or family events. The syllabus or course schedule is your friend and can help you avoid disaster. Review it carefully at the start of the semester, and then make a habit of revisiting it regularly. Note the dates of major events, such as exams or big projects. Mark those in big, bright letters in your planner. Tip: to keep things from sneaking up on you, don’t just note the due dates on your calendar. Also include at least one “warning” reminder a week or two beforehand.

Keep distractions at bay

Ideally, you should have a quiet space where you can concentrate and work on school assignments. (If your house doesn’t offer such a space, try the local library.) If you are easily tempted by online distractions, consider using programs such as StayFocusd, SelfControl, or Cold Turkey to prevent yourself from using online games or social media when you should be focused on school work.

Get family and friends on board

When you are an adult student, friends and family can be your biggest cheerleaders, but sometimes they can also inadvertently add to your challenges without realizing it. By adding more tasks to your to-do list or unknowingly interrupting your studying time, your loved ones may make it tougher to manage your time. Explain why it’s important that you have sufficient time for school tasks, and make sure they are informed of your schedule and studying routine so they can give you quiet time (and perhaps even intercept potential interruptions).

Identify priorities — and weed out whatever doesn’t make the cut

This step may be the most painful for many people. If you’re like most people, you have many (perhaps too many) things on your to-do list, which probably is a mix of things you have to do, things you feel obligated to do, and things you enjoy — plus maybe even a few things you simply do out of habit. Obviously, some things such as family, school, and work must be at the top of your priority list. But after that, you need to figure out what things are worth enough to you to warrant taking up some of the precious little time you have left in your schedule. This could mean you need to make some tough decisions. Tip: figure out if there are ways you can free up time in your day by delegating or outsourcing tasks that could be done by other people. Thanks to online services like TaskRabbit and Fiverr, it is easier than ever to find people who can help with everything from errands to household repairs for an affordable price.

Learn more time management tricks from Penn State Learning.