Universities are vibrant, exciting places to be, with tonnes going on and a lot of opportunities on offer. Studying is a big time commitment in its own right, and the number of students in part time work is increasing, with nearly two-thirds funding their studies in this way. With so many demands on their time, students often find effective time management a challenge. One American study, quoted in the Guardian, estimated that 70% of students engage in procrastination – indicating that many students are struggling with time management.
With so much going on, figuring out how to overcome the urge to waste time is extremely important, but it can feel like an impossible task. But there are many forms of time management that will ensure you meet your deadlines and honour your commitments.
Below, we list eight top tips for time-pressed students:
- Look after your health – The foundation for a strong work ethic and effective time management, is your health. Getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and drinking enough water are all crucial to improving your concentration, and reducing your cravings for instant gratification – cravings that will tempt you away from your desk, and prevent you from planning your day effectively. If you don’t look after yourself, keeping on top of deadlines will be that bit harder; something that will cause undue stress and will have a negative impact upon your mental health. This vicious cycle - of stress, leading to procrastination, leading to more stress – is something you need to avoid at all costs. So go to bed early, eat your greens, and swap that coffee for a glass of water.
- Take regular breaks – This may seem counter-intuitive, but taking regular breaks away from your computer or textbooks is really important for meeting those deadlines. Studying requires a significant amount of intellectual and creative effort, and the brain needs periods of rest to consolidate what it has already learned, and to come up with new ideas. Just make sure to keep your breaks brief, and regular – tying them to a specific task, like making a cup of tea or going for a quick walk is an excellent way of to achieve this. When paired with set periods of time for work – 45 minutes or so – regular breaks of 5-10 minutes can really improve your concentration levels and help you engage in far better time management overall.
- Write a to-do list – To-do lists are a really helpful way to identify and prioritise the tasks and appointments you need to juggle each day, and thus are the key to time management. Not only does putting everything down in front of you help give you an overview of how much you have to do, but there’s nothing more satisfying than ticking a bunch of items off a list. It can also help you distinguish between the urgent “have to-do” tasks, and the less pressing “want to-do” ones – without letting you forget about the latter entirely.
- Be selective – It’s the easiest thing in the world to go to the Freshers’ Fair and sign up for every society and club under the sun. This is a great way to meet new people and broaden your horizons – but it’s important not to over-commit yourself, too. If you find your time being taken up by something, ask yourself: is this really important or urgent? Does it help me meet my goals? If it doesn’t, then don’t be afraid to say no, and focus your precious time on other things. Remember: time management is not just a matter of apportioning your time between the tasks you’ve agreed to do – it’s just as much about safeguarding this precious resource.
- Build a routine – Habit is powerful, and so a great way to make sure you get everything done is to ensure that all your responsibilities have a regular, set slot in your day to do them. Once you get used to doing the same thing each day, it means that getting through your tasks will take that bit less effort. Also: the easiest time to form new habits is in a new situation. So don’t waste moving in to your new flat or halls of residence; as soon as you’ve unpacked, take the opportunity to set up the daily routine you’re hoping to keep for the year. Start with your academic commitments – reading your course calendar listing lectures, shifts, lab time, and deadlines – and work out from there. Putting habits like this in place early on will mean that time management becomes almost effortless.
- Treat yourself – When you do engage in effective time management - when you tick off all the tasks on your list for the day, for example – make sure to reward yourself. This will create positive reinforcement, that will incentivise you to do the same again tomorrow. Whether you get your kicks from going to the gym, watching the latest episode of that show on Netflix everyone’s talking about, or curling up with a good book – set time aside for these activities after a productive day of work. Also: it is widely recommended that you work and relax in different places. This reinforces the distinction between the two, and makes it easier to concentrate on the tasks in hand.
- Use your computer intelligently – With Tip 6. in mind, it’s an annoying fact of life for students that the same tool we use for work, is also one we use for recreation: our computers. When Netflix or Facebook are just a few clicks away, focussing upon JSTOR or our essays can be tricky. Fortunately, there are a host of applications, like Detox or Cold Turkey, that block distracting applications while you’re working and aid time management. Try to keep your phone out of sight as well; there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that even the presence of a smartphone diminishes concentration, as people feel the constant temptation to check their emails or social media. Some people go as far as to disable their Facebook or subscriptions to online games over the exam season in order to reduce the number of distractions they face.
- Ask for help - Most universities provide study skills sessions, or other workshops to help improve your working life – time management is one topic that is almost always covered. Friends can also be a tremendous help when managing your time. Meeting with the same group of people each day in an agreed location like a library, will allow you to encourage one another in keeping to task. Some people even choose to give their passwords (to the apps mentioned in Tip 6.) to friends; a sure-fire solution to time-wasting for even the most avid Facebooker or Twitter-addict!
Avoiding procrastination is no easy matter – but these eight tips will stand you in good stead for keeping on top of your masters workload, as well as your other commitments during your studies. Mastering time management isn’t about banishing fun, and working through every waking moment – the key to success is using a small amount of effort to structure your time, so you work and relax as effectively as possible.