Time management can be a common problem for any student. But throw work, children and social activities in the mix, and the web of daily responsibilities becomes even more difficult to tame. Getting your family to sit down for a meal together at home is tough as it is, so the added stress of weekly assignments to complete and exams to study for can easily become overwhelming.
You’re not alone in attempting to balance a chaotic schedule in earning your degree. In fact, according to a study conducted by Georgetown University, 40 percent of students ages 16–29 and 76 percent of students ages 30–54 years old work while in school.* As you might imagine, if you’re a student with competing priorities, it’s incredibly important to focus on time management in college.
So what can you do to better manage your time? We scoured the web for expert advice to learn some important tips for staying on top of assignments and exams in the midst of busy schedules.
7 Time management tips for college students
Whether you’re fresh out of high school or working two jobs while raising a family, these time management strategies and tips for college students will help keep you organized and your assignments on time.
1. Write down everything
You’re sitting in class ready to leave when the teacher makes an announcement. You have homework due in three days and an exam in one week. As you leave class, you make a mental note to remember those dates.
How often has that happened to you, only for you to panic the night before your homework is due because you forgot? Save yourself the late-night scramble and write everything down as you hear it.
“Even if you think you’ll remember a due date or something you have to do at work, write it down,” Rebecca Holley, a full-time student and a marketing associate at Edvisors, says. She also recommends going through course calendars and syllabi at the beginning of the semester and writing down all the important dates. Knowing what’s coming up will help you better prepare in advance.
2. Use your phone for good
With millions of apps and games at your fingertips, your smartphone can seem more of a time waster than a time manager. However, with some self-discipline, you can turn your phone into one of your best assets when it comes to prioritizing and saving time.
Your phone can serve as an on-the-go calendar and scheduler. Setting reminders can help you keep due dates and other important commitments in mind as you go through your day.
Apps can be helpful too, with project management and productivity apps like Trello serving as digital to-do lists. If you are tempted to check Facebook regularly during your study time, try one of the many apps that block social media and other distractions.
3. Stick to a routine
Getting into a routine can reduce uncertainty about when and how you will fit in homework and study time on top of school and work. Create a routine at the beginning of the semester so you can adjust to it early and then see if you have leftover time for other engagements.
Holley plans her day around work and school. “It’s not always perfect—sometimes you might have to stay up late or miss out on something fun to keep up with homework—but that’s just how it is. It won’t last forever, and crossing that finish line will make it so worth it.”
4. Be healthy
This may seem like the kind of advice you heard from your mother, in the vein of warm socks in the winter, sunscreen in the summer and daily vitamins year-round, but it can actually play a huge role in successfully managing your time while in college.
Practicing regular exercise can keep your energy levels up, resulting in a more engaged mind when doing school work. Many also assert that getting adequate sleep at night can save college students time—this not only helps you avoid the time taken for afternoon naps, but it also can increase your alertness and decrease your stress levels.
5. Stay organized
Keeping your school work organized can be a huge factor in saving you some time throughout the week, especially if you’re taking more than one class at a time. If you have separate binders, notebooks and folders for each class, you’ll quickly be able to find that sheet of notes you’ll need for next week’s test or the printed article you planned to reference for your big research paper.
Avoiding clutter isn’t just important when organizing your notes and hand-outs. Be sure to keep your computer desktop organized in a way that always allows you to locate the files you’ll need for each particular class.
6. Checklists are your friend
Printing or writing out checklists for each class or each day of the week can be a helpful way of remembering everything you need to get done. Try color-coordinating tasks by importance or subject (such as school or work) to help you better visualize what needs to get done.
“Make a checklist of all the major homework tasks for the day or week,” says Vasiliki Baskos, teacher and founder of Learn Greek Online. “Prioritize them so that in case you run out of time, the less-important tasks will remain unfinished.”
7. Find a balance
At times it may seem as though the pile of work you have is insurmountable. Work encroaches on school, and who even has time for a social life?
In times like these, it’s important to step back and take a deep breath. “Ask your family and friends to support you during these challenging times of juggling work and school, but also give them permission to confront you if they think you’re driving yourself—and them—crazy at times,” says Anita Thomas, senior vice president at Edvisors.
It’s okay to recognize when you are overwhelmed and to ask for help. Maybe that means dropping an activity or reducing your credit load. Time management means nothing if you are physically, emotionally and psychologically drained. Finding the perfect balance may take time, but it’s key to your happiness and success.
Put these college time management strategies to use
Take the advice of experts and students who have been there. See if you can calm that chaotic schedule for a stress-free college degree. Now that you know how to properly manage your time, check out how you can put those skills to good use in our article, “How to Finish College Faster: 6 Ways to Get on with ‘Real Life’ Sooner.”
*Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce, Learning While Earning: The New Normal, 2015 [Information accessed May 3, 2018] https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Working-Learners-Report.pdf.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2014 and has since been updated.