A pattern of cartoon clocks.
Time Management Tips for the Busy College Student

A challenge I am constantly helping students with is the time management puzzle.What can a busy student of today do to manage their time more efficiently?

The obvious first answer is to properly keep and maintain a calendar. What’s the best choice when it comes to which calendar to use? The best calendar for you to use is the one you will commit to updating and using regularly. Personally, I found that once I started using Google Calendar, the push notifications coming straight to my phone held me accountable and helped me avoid meetings forgotten when I didn’t happen to check my calendar for an extended period. It also seamlessly integrated into my Springfield College email and allowed me to link to other people’s calendars and hold them accountable as well to meetings and appointments. As students, you may find this especially helpful for organizing study groups and meetings during office hours with your instructors. Whether you like the portability of a digital calendar or a particular wall calendar because it is adorned with adorable kittens (and who doesn’t love adorable kittens), the calendar that you feel most comfortable using that keeps you focused on due dates is the one that will ultimately work best for you. If you are new to using a calendar you may find this will serve to increase your time management efficacy across several areas in your life as well.  Life skills, FTW!

Prioritizing your time is the next step. That’s where being flexible is key. Maybe during the week when you have additional time that you can shift around; instead of meeting friends for dinner at night, you could meet for coffee in the morning while you’re out running errands so you have extra time to study during later hours. Sometimes, it may mean your rigid 10:30 PM bedtime gets pushed back two hours to give you extra time late at night, free from distractions. Maybe in some cases, the time is non-negotiable, like spending time with your family or an extra project your employer wants you to take on. Either way, it is important to prioritize and make time when you can to fit your school life with the rest of your priorities.

“But I already do both of these things. What am I missing?”

Many students do a great job of receiving their syllabi at the beginning of the term and populating the important dates that assignments are due, yet still fall short of success because of hastily completed or late assignments because putting in the dates when work is due is not enough to manage your time successfully!

Reverse or backwards planning is a good place to start. This is a process that has been successful in military and corporate sectors and leads to highly effective planning for short and long-term projects and goals. For students in school, utilizing reverse planning is a tool that can help you achieve success and have plenty of time for all of life’s priorities (and plenty of fun stuff, too). Reverse planning starts by putting in the date an assignment is due, and then fully mapping out due dates for each step along the way.

Think about a friend who is getting married who you’ve been asked to be a bridesmaid or groomsman. You know you need to “save the date” as the cute magnetic photo of the lucky couple in a romantic location you received in the mail instructed you to do, but you also need to be prepared to be a part of the other parts besides the wedding: Ordering dresses or suits, attending showers and parties, organizing last hurrah send-off events or trips (to someplace hopefully warmer than winter in Springfield), and rehearsal dinners. If we look at this in the context of writing a significant paper, this would include properly preparing for the paper by finding a topic, researching, outlining, first draft, proofreading and rewriting. Ideally, this should include a review by colleagues or your instructor at some point to see if your paper is on the right track.

Mapping out your strategy from point A to your finished assignment at point B makes a lot of sense. Think of it like using GPS for your car. Plugging in the destination is great, but if your app doesn’t give you directions (hopefully, in a celebrity voice), then it can lead to a lot of confusion and wrong turns along the way (but hopefully not an accident)! It also allows for those unexpected “life happens” moments that may occur, for example: social events, work deadlines, and family emergencies. Using reverse planning and starting a project early will ensure that you have plenty of time to prepare for any unexpected changes in your schedule. As a quick pro tip, be sure to add a checkpoint at the halfway mark when your assignment is due to see where you are at with completing your paper. Are you on pace to finish with the remaining steps in preparing for your paper, or do you need to step it up and hustle a bit more? For upcoming tests, determine how well you know the material being reviewed at your chosen point. Where do you need more knowledge?

In summation: Be sure to leave plenty of time for your tasks, and start planning your tasks for your upcoming assignment or test early. This leads to another benefit of reverse planning: When used properly, it can virtually eliminate procrastination from your vocabulary!

The other reason students may fail at being successful despite what they believe to be their best planning is that they fail to reflect on their time management and make adjustments after they are finished. Students easily fall into the trap of being so relieved at the end of a large assignment or an entire semester that they “clear the cache” entirely too quickly and move on to a new assignment or a new course and faculty in a new semester with a promise of doing even better without knowing what to improve. To paraphrase an old adage, insanity is repeating the same thing over and over while expecting the same results. If you don’t take inventory of how successful your time management was at the completion, there’s no possible way of improving! And you can’t possibly improve anything without determining what needs improvement in the first place. Simply saying “I’m going to try harder” won’t help much and will eventually lead to frustration. Not sure? Ask virtually any football team not named the Patriots!

So, when it is the best time for reflection? Immediately after your assignment is completed is the time to start. Did you have plenty of time to review the assignment and possibly ask your instructor or colleagues for some feedback before you submitted it, or did you rush to barely get it in before the deadline (or worse, were you late)? The next ideal phase for reflection is after you receive your grade from your instructor. Once you look past your joy, frustration (or relief) at your letter grade, you will notice that grades often are accompanied by some level of feedback from your instructor that provides valuable clues indicating where you can make improvements. For example, if your instructor indicates your paper lacks proper structure and flow, you know you need to improve in your outlining and proofreading. These adjustments are critical to your future success as a student and improving your time management skills.

Once you have mastered these time management strategies, you will notice that much of the stress and running around that can accompany assignments will be drastically reduced and, in most cases, this will soon lead to improved grades!

As a final suggestion, if you are new to using some of these time management strategies, it is best to err on the side of caution and leave yourself more time than you think you will need and use your reflective practices make adjustments later as you become more skilled at planning for your assignments. It is far better to leave yourself too much time than too little to complete an assignment and the tasks leading up to it. As a great medieval philosopher once said, “Time spent planning ahead now is time spent binge-watching your favorite show later”. Of course, I’m kidding about part of that (unless you consider Game of Thrones in real time a show), but the more time you allocate yourself, the greater your chances at successful planning for all of your classes in your busy lives. I wish you all luck in your time management endeavors, and happy planning towards a successful Spring 2019 semester and beyond!

About the author

David J. Renza

I spent 12 years in the military, 11 years working in higher education and 4 years as a doctoral student. Absolutely none of this has helped me understand my dogs and cat. David is the Academic Success Coach at the Springfield Regional Campus of Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies.