It is sometimes challenging to balance all of the demands of your studies alongside other responsibilities and demands in your personal life. By planning your time effectively, you will be able to prioritise tasks and it will be easier you reach your goal in a structured, realistic manner. You will become more flexible and have more free time to enjoy university life outside of studying.. Below you will find tips and tricks on everything from SMART goal setting to the Pomodoro Technique, a clever method to improve your productivity and help you better manage how you allocate your time.
General Time Management
Effective time management allows you to organise and prioritise your daily tasks. As a student you need to think about:
- What do spend your time on?
This includes the amount of time you spend at University, time spent with family and friends, time spent sleeping, eating etc. Basically, until you work out how much time you spend on all the different activities you have during the week, you won't be able to work out how many free hours you have in a week for studying etc.
- What are the areas you need to spend more time on?
This relates to your goals and objectives for the duration of your course at Queen's. For example your long term objective is to graduate from University. In order to achieve this goal you need to set your objectives. These objectives need to be SMART (e.g. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based). Click on the Setting Goals and Objectives section below for more information.
- What are the areas you need to spend less time on?
You will find that during your time at University, there are times when you have many deadlines to meet, and exams to prepare for. Regardless how well you manage your time, and plan in advance, you may find that there still aren't enough hours in the day to fit everything in. In situations like this you need to prioritise your activities. This involves distinguishing between important and urgent activities.Sacrifices may have to be made in order to complete any important tasks.
Once you are aware of your goals and objectives, you will find that there are a number of tasks/activities that must be completed in order to achieve them. During your time at university you may run into problems because you have a number of different tasks (e.g. assignments, group work activities etc) that need to completed in a short period of time. You may find that even with all your planning there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done.
If this happens, the most important thing for you to do is not to panic! Everyone, at some stage, will feel that they have not got the time to complete everything, which is why prioritising your work is so important. Your first starting point will be to write down all the different tasks that you need to complete (this will also stop you from forgetting something).
Once you have a list of all the activities you need to complete, you can then begin to prioritise your workload. You need to decide on which tasks are important, urgent, non-important and non-urgent. Deciding on this can be difficult, however, it may help to consider the difference between important and urgent:
Important Activities - Importance implies some assessment of the benefits of completing a task against the loss if the task is not finished.
Urgent Activities - Urgency relates to the length of time before the task must be completed.
There are various ways you can prioritise. For example, you could number all your tasks 1, 2, 3 and so on, with number 1 being top priority. Then each day you should create a plan to complete as many of the listed tasks as you can, starting with number 1. Alternatively you could use a grid and place your tasks/activities in the grid to help you prioritise.
Before you can create any type of plan for spending you time, you first need to write down your goals. It is good practice to list your overall goal for attending University and then set goals for each year or even semester afterwords. For example:
My Overall Goal for attending University (2012 - 2015)
- Graduate from University with a 2:1 Classification in my chosen degree.
My Goal for my first/second/third year of University
- Complete all my modules successful and achieve a pass rate average of 55.
Once you know what your goals are, you then need a path to follow to achieve your goals. This is when you set your objectives. You objectives can be set for a complete Academic Year, a Semester on even on a monthly basis - it is entirely up to you. The only thing you need to remember is to make your objectives SMART:
SMART objectives will mean that you are more likely to succeed. Being 'specific' with your objectives will mean that your objectives have some meaning and focus. If your objectives are 'measurable' then you will be able to know if you have achieved your objective. There is no point in setting objectives that are beyond your reach, therefore you need to ensure your objectives are 'achievable' but also 'realistic'. Setting an objective like "I will get 100% in all my exams this semester" will be extremely difficult to achieve and is not very realistic! Whereas if you have an objective like "I will aim to pass all my exams with an average of 60% this semester" - this may be more achievable and realistic for you. Finally, you need to ensure that there is a time frame on your objectives, otherwise you may achieve your objective if you have no set time to complete it!
Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique (TM) is a productivity booster and helps with time management:
- Select a task to be accomplished
- Set the Pomodoro (a kitchen timer or even the timer on your phone) to 25 minutes.
- Work on the task until the timer rings.
- Then put a check on your sheet of paper to mark where you reached.
- Take a short break (around five minutes).
- Every four 'Pomodoros' take a longer break (up to an hour)
To keep track of your 'Pomodoros' and your breaks, try this free online tomato timer
For further resources on time management, click on the links below:
Assignment Survival Kit - Type in the submission date for your assessment and then follow the suggested steps.
Open University Guide to Time Management - How to organise your time and motivate yourself to use it wisely
The Pomodoro Technique - A time management technique to help you improve your productivity
The Student Room - Time Management - Time management explained: prioritising and being effective
Study Guides & Strategies - Useful tips for organising, prioritising, and succeeding in your studies
Mind Tools - Teaches you personal time management skills
Time management guide - To show you what you can do to improve your abilities to recognize and solve personal time management problems