Your Use of Time

Photo of a whiteboard calendar filled with handwriting

Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.

—William Shakespeare, playwright

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe time management concerns in college and identify effective steps for proper time management
  • Compare time management styles and identify tips for success for each of the four time-management personality types
  • Evaluate techniques for creating an effective schedule
  • Identify procrastination behaviors and strategies to avoid them

Uses of Time in Daily Life

As most students discover, college is not the same as high school. For many students, college is the first time they are “on their own” in an environment filled with opportunity. And while this can be exciting, these students may find that social opportunities conflict with academic expectations. For example, a free day before an exam, if not wisely spent, can spell trouble for doing well on the exam. It is easy to fall behind when there are so many choices and freedoms.

One of the main goals of a college education is learning how to learn. In this section we zoom in on learning how to skillfully manage your time. To be successful in college, it’s imperative to be able to effectively manage your time.

In the following Alleyoop Advice video, Alleyoop (Angel Aquino) discusses what many students discover about college: there is a lot of free time—and just as many challenges to balance free time with study time.


Three Steps to Good Time Management

Powerpoint slide. At the top are three circles, labeled Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 (highlighted). Title: Get better at prioritizing. Then three images: one long rectangular one labeled "procrastination," with a drawing of a person's waist, walking and holding a book. Bottom left: "Don't Let it Happen," with a drawing of a guy playing video games. Bottom right: "To You," with a drawing of a person holding his head in his hands, sitting at a desk.

There are three important steps in learning to effectively manage your time:

  1. Identify your time management style
  2. Create a schedule
  3. Get better at prioritizing

In the following sections, we’ll examine these steps in detail.

Identify Your Time Management Style

Click into the activity below and answer the questions to identify whether your time management style more closely aligns with the early bird, the pressure cooker, the balancing act, or the improviser.

Click here for a text-only version of the activity.

Assessing Your Responses

Which of the four basic time-management personality types did you select the most? Which did you select the least? Do you feel like these selections match the student you have been in the past? Has your previous way of doing things worked for you, or do you think it’s time for a change? Remember, we can all always improve!

Learn more below about your tendencies. Review traits, strengths, challenges, and tips for success for each of the four time-management personality types.

The Early Bird

  • Traits: You like to make checklists and feel great satisfaction when you can cross something off of your to-do list. When it comes to assignments, you want to get started as soon as possible (and maybe start brainstorming before that), because it lets you stay in control.
  • Strengths: You know what you want and are driven to figure out how to achieve it. Motivation is never really a problem for you.
  • Challenges: Sometimes you can get more caught up in getting things done as quickly as possible and don’t give yourself enough time to really mull over issues in all of their complexity.
  • Tips for Success: You’re extremely organized and on top of your schoolwork, so make sure you take time to really enjoy learning in your classes. Remember, school isn’t all deadlines and checkboxes—you also have the opportunity to think about big-picture intellectual problems that don’t necessarily have clear answers.

The Balancing Act

  • Traits: You’re naturally gifted with keeping things balanced. Maybe it’s a skill that you have developed over time; in any case, you should have the basic organizational skills to succeed in any class, as long as you keep your balance.
  • Strengths: Your strength really lies in your ability to be well-rounded. You may not always complete assignments perfectly every time, but you are remarkably consistent and usually manage to do very well in classes.
  • Challenges: Because you’re so consistent, sometimes you can get in a bit of a rut and begin to coast in class, rather than really challenging yourself.
  • Tips for Success: Instead of simply doing what works, use each class as an opportunity for growth by engaging thoughtfully with the material and constantly pushing the boundaries of your own expectations for yourself.

The Pressure Cooker

  • Traits: You always get things done and almost always at the last minute.
  • Strengths: You work well under pressure, and when you do finally sit down to accomplish a task, you can sit and work for hours. In these times, you can be extremely focused and shut out the rest of the world in order to complete what’s needed.
  • Challenges: You sometimes use your ability to work under pressure as an excuse to procrastinate. Sure, you can really focus when the deadline is tomorrow, but is it really the best work you could produce if you had a couple of days of cushion?
  • Tips for Success: Give yourself small, achievable deadlines, and stick to them. Make sure they are goals that you really could (and would) achieve in a day. Then don’t allow yourself to make excuses. You’ll find that it’s actually a lot more enjoyable to not be stressed out when completing schoolwork. Who would have known?

The Improviser

  • Traits: You frequently wait until the last minute to do assignments, but it’s because you’ve been able to get away with this habit in many classes.
  • Strengths: You think quickly on your feet, and while this is a true strength, it also can be a crutch that prevents you from being really successful in a class.
  • Challenges: As the saying goes, old habits die hard. If you find that you lack a foundation of discipline and personal accountability, it can be difficult to change, especially when the course material becomes challenging or you find yourself struggling to keep up with the pace of the class.
  • Tips for Success: The good news is you can turn this around! Make a plan to organize your time and materials in a reasonable way, and really stick with it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for help, but be sure to do it before, rather than after, you fall behind.

Create a Schedule

Powerpoint slide, with three circles labeled Step 1, Step 2 (highlighted), and Step 3 at the top. Title: Create a Schedule. Three panels appear in the middle, labeled "Manage and Implement." On the left, a close-up drawing of a person writing on a wall calendar; in the middle, the same scene zoomed out to show the larger calendar on the wall, while she still writes on it; final scene, she stands in front of the calendar staring at it.

Now that you’ve evaluated how you have done things in the past, you’ll want to think about how you might create a schedule for managing your time well going forward. The best schedules have some flexibility built into them, as unexpected situations and circumstances will likely arise during your time as a student.

Your schedule will be unique to you, depending on the level of detail you find helpful. There are some things—due dates and exam dates, for example—that should be included in your schedule no matter what. But you also might find it helpful to break down assignments into steps (or milestones) that you can schedule, as well.

Again, this is all about what works best for you. Do you want to keep a record of only the major deadlines you need to keep in mind? Or does it help you to plan out every day so you stay on track? Your answers to these questions will vary depending on the course, the complexity of your schedule, and your own personal preferences.

Your schedule will also vary depending on the course you’re taking. So pull out your syllabus and try to determine the rhythm of the class by looking at the following factors:

  • Will you have tests or exams in this course? When are those scheduled?
  • Are there assignments and papers? When are those due?
  • Are there any group or collaborative assignments? You’ll want to pay particular attention to the timing of any assignment that requires you to work with others.

You can find many useful resources online that will help you keep track of your schedule. Some are basic calendars like Google calendar, iCal, or Outlook, and some calendar apps like iHomework are specialized for students.

We all have exactly 168 hours per week. How do you spend yours? How much time will you be willing to devote to your studies?

Questions and Answers About Schedules:

Student 1: Do I really need to create a study schedule? I can honestly keep track of all of this in my head.

Answer: Yes, you really should create a study schedule. Your instructors may give you reminders about what you need to do when, but if you have multiple classes and other events and activities to fit in, it’s easy to lose track. A study schedule helps you carve out sufficient time—and stick to it.

Here are ways to plan time (semester, week, days) from Ohio University’s Academic Advancement Center. Ohio University uses a quarterly system (11 weeks); you may need adapt their schedule to reflect your academic needs.

Student 2: Realistically, how much time should I spend studying for class?

Answer: This is a good question and a tough one to answer. Generally speaking, for each hour of class, you should spend a minimum of two to three hours studying. Thus, a typical three-hour class would require a minimum of six to nine hours of studying per week. If you are registered for 15 credits a semester, then you would need to spend 30 to 45 hours each week studying for your classes, which can be as much time needed for a full-time job.  If you think of college as a “job,” you will understand that it takes work to succeed.

One important college success skill is learning how to interact with the course materials.

Think about learning a sport or playing a game. How do you learn how to play it? With lots of practice and engagement. The more you play, the better you get. The same applies to learning. You need to engage with the course material and concentrate on learning.

Access The 168-Hour Exercise—How Do I Use My Time Now? from Ohio University’s Academic Advancement Center. It can help you understand how you use your time now and decide if you need to make changes.

Student 3: Aside from class time requirements, should I account for anything else as I draw up my schedule?

Answer: This depends on how detailed you want your schedule to be. Is it a calendar of important dates, or do you need a clear picture of how to organize your entire day? The latter is more successful, so long as you stick with it. This is also where it will be helpful to determine when you are most productive and efficient. When are you the most focused and ready to learn new things? In the morning, afternoon, or evening?

Here is a time management calculator for first-year students at the University of Texas El Paso.

Student 4: My life and school requirements change on a week-to-week basis. How can I possibly account for this when making a schedule?

Answer: Try creating a variable schedule in case an event comes up or you need to take a day or two off.

Student 5: I’m beginning to think that scheduling and time management are good ideas, but on the other hand they seem unrealistic. What’s wrong with cramming? It’s what I’ll probably end up doing anyway . . .

Answer: Cramming, or studying immediately before an exam without much other preparation, has many disadvantages. Trying to learn any subject or memorize facts in a brief but intense period of time is basically fruitless. You simply forget what you have learned much faster when you cram. Instead, study in smaller increments on a regular basis: your brain will absorb complex course material in a more profound and lasting way because it’s how the brain functions.

Get Better at Prioritizing

Powerpoint slide, with three circles labeled Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 (highlighted) at the top. Title: Get Better at Prioritizing. Four panels in the middle: top left, "Today" shows a hand-drawn calendar with the date of the 3rd circled. Top right: "This Week" shows the same calendar, zoomed out to circle the whole week. Bottom left: "Month" shows the same calendar, zoomed out to circle the month of September. Bottom right: "This Semester" shows the calendar with August, September, October, November, and December circled.

Due dates are important. Set your short and long-term goals accordingly. Ask yourself the following:

  • What needs to get done today?
  • What needs to get done this week?
  • What needs to get done by the end the first month of the semester?
  • What needs to get done by the end the second month of the semester?
  • What needs to get done by the end of the semester?

Your time is valuable. Treat it accordingly by getting the most you can out of it.

Above all, avoid procrastination. Procrastination is the kiss of death, because it’s difficult to catch up once you’ve fallen behind. Do you have a problem with procrastination? Be on your guard so that it doesn’t become an issue for you.

Procrastination Checklist

Do any of the following descriptions apply to you?

  • My paper is due in two days and I haven’t really started writing it yet.
  • I’ve had to pull an all-nighter to get an assignment done on time.
  • I’ve turned in an assignment late or asked for an extension when I really didn’t have a good excuse not to get it done on time.
  • I’ve worked right up to the minute an assignment was due.
  • I’ve underestimated how long a reading assignment would take and didn’t finish it in time for class.
  • I’ve relied on the Internet for information (like a summary of a concept or a book) because I didn’t finish the reading on time.

If these sound like issues you’ve struggled with in the past, you might want to consider whether you have the tendency to procrastinate and how you want to deal with it in your future classes. You’re already spending a lot of time, energy, and money on the classes you’re taking—don’t let all of that go to waste!

Strategies to Combat Procrastination

Below are some effective strategies for overcoming procrastination:

  1. Keep your studying “bite-sized.” When confronted with 150 pages of reading or 50 problems to solve, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Try breaking it down: What if you decide that you will read for 45 minutes or that you will solve 10 problems? That sounds much more manageable.
  2. Turn off your phone, close your chat windows, and block distracting Web sites. The best advice we’ve ever heard is to treat your studying as if you’re in a movie theater—just turn it off.
  3. Set up a reward system: If you read for 40 minutes, you can check your phone for 5 minutes. But keep in mind that reward-based systems only work if you stick to an honor system.
  4. Study in a place reserved for studying ONLY. Your bedroom may have too many distractions (or temptations, such as taking a nap), so it may be best to avoid it when you’re working on school assignments.
  5. Use checklists: Make your incremental accomplishments visible. Some people take great satisfaction and motivation from checking items off a to-do list. Be very specific when creating this list, and clearly describe each task one step at a time.

In the following video, Joseph Clough shares key strategies for conquering procrastination once and for all.


Check Your Understanding

Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the previous section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade in the class, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.

Use this quiz to check your understanding and decide whether to (1) study the previous section further or (2) move on to the next section.