According to a study conducted by Georgetown University (2015), 70-80% of college students are engaged in some form of employment, with approximately 25% of students simultaneously working full-time and attending school full-time. Although work experience can have a positive effect both on what one is learning in related coursework, and on career prospects post-graduation, the realities of balancing school and work can present significant challenges. Non-traditional students may be at even greater risk for facing such obstacles, as they often also must attend to family responsiblities.
Whether you are an adult student returning to college after some time away, or have been in school consistently over the past few years, the beginning of a new semester presents a perfect opportunity for developing a time management strategy. This strategy should allow you to clearly assess your priorities, see exactly how much time you have available in a given day (or week, or month), and help you to adjust your schedule to best achieve your goals.
The 6 tips below - along with additional resources from the College of Charleston Center for Student Learning - should assist you in developing an effective time management plan.
As you receive academic calendars, course syllabi and exam schedules, take the time to read over everything carefully, and copy important dates into a planner or calendar app.
If you have other commitments or responsibilities (work deadlines, children’s extra-curricular activities, medical appointments), make sure that these are listed as well. Being able to see important dates at a glance will allow you to schedule your time more efficiently.
In addition to formal due dates, assign due dates for each specific stage of an assignment (i.e. research, outline, first draft, etc.). An easy way to do this is to fill in the formal due date on a blank monthly calendar, and work backwards to fill in due dates for the various stages. This same technique can be applied to preparation for presentations, or studying different units for a final exam.
With this strategy, the work is spread out across a larger time frame, allowing you to work on the assignment in smaller chunks, and avoid last-minute stress. You will also have a buffer in place in case you have an emergency, run into a technical difficulty, or need to ask questions about the assignment.
Create a Study Schedule
The combination of school coursework, work schedules and family responsibilities can quickly become overwhelming; add in procrastination and before you know it, you have fallen behind.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, it can be particularly difficult to catch up with assignments. To prevent this scenario from occurring, create a weekly plan for each class, ensuring that you are doing some school work every day.
The Center for Student Learning offers downloadable calendar templates for both Weekly and Monthly planning, as well as a worksheet to help you calculate how much time you can allot to studying within an average week.
Create a list (paper or digital) of 6-8 items - a combination of personal, academic and work-related activities - that you hope to accomplish each day. When you can see your day’s tasks at a glance, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed, and more likely to complete the activities as planned. You may also feel a greater sense of accomplishment, as you see each task checked off your list.
When assigning tasks, try to set specific, realistic goals, such as, “Read Chapter 10 in Marketing Text.”
At the end of each day, transfer any unchecked items to the next days’ checklist. If you find that you are constantly moving items to the following day, you may be taking on too much.
Develop a System
Each week, set aside 30 minutes of “planning time.” This time can be used to create weekly plans or daily checklists, or to review and amend long term plans, such as monthly calendars.
Although this might not seem like an effective use of your study time, planning will actually help conserve time in the long run. If each study period is pre-planned, you will not waste time assessing your priorities.
In addition to planning, general organization is a tremendous time-saver. To avoid wasting time searching for course-specifc materials, store all syllabi, schedules, notes, and assignments in designated well-labeled folders (either paper or digital formats).
When creating your weekly schedule, you might decide that you need to devote 12 hours to school each week, since those are the hours that you expect to be in class. However, you would be failing to take into account the actual time you need for school responsibilities.
For each hour that you are in class, you should typically allow for 2 hours of outside study time. This time may be used to complete required readings and assignments or study for upcoming exams.
While it is tempting to fill every available minute on your schedule, you need to ensure that every priority has some “buffer” time included. You may need to talk to a professor after class, or get stuck in traffic on your way home. If you allow yourself some leeway, you will be less likely to be overwhelmed, and may even end up with a few much-needed moments of free time.
For more additional time management resources and guidance, please visit the College of Charleston Center for Student Learning.