Effective Time Management
Managing your time well is key to success in college and also in life! Many college students find themselves with more unstructured time than they had in high school. Of course, unstructured time and free time are not the same thing, and learning how to create structure for yourself can require patience, practice, and persistence.
Using calendars is key! Students tell us that using a semester calendar and a weekly calendar helps them:
- make (and keep) semester-long goals,
- stop wasting time by finding hidden time and using a “work-day” approach; and
- be more prepared and organized.
The semester calendar should be used to map out important due dates and events all in one place, and the weekly calendar can help you plan out how you will spend your time during a week.
Download semester and weekly calendars (pdf, word, excel) here. Hard copies of the calendars are available on the 4th floor of CCC – stop over between 8-4:30 to take one from the display in the hallway. To learn more about using the calendars you can read on below and self-enroll in our Canvas module on Time Management.
Watch: LSC’s Mike Chen explains how to get set up with a good routine for the semester
Getting the big picture: The semester calendar! This provides an overview of the semester. Fill in all significant events and due dates. This includes: papers, exams, presentations, organizational meetings, job or internship interviews, etc… Filling in this information will give you a sense of when the “crunch” times are likely to be, allowing you to plan ahead. It will also ensure that you know when papers are due, the dates of exams, and when major projects are due. If you know when your crunch times are, you can plan ahead and start preparing/working early.
Tip: Watch this and fill our your semester calendar!
Watch: LSC’s Mike Chen explains how to get set up with a good routine for each week.
Think about the hours of the day that are not flexible or available for work. Write these down on the weekly calendar: class times, meetings, standing appointments; eating, sleeping, exercising; work, organizations, church, volunteer activities; family time, social time.
Determine how many hours each class takes in study / preparation time. List each class and estimate how many hours you need to devote each week (a good rule of thumb is to allow for 2-3 hours outside of class for every 1 hour spent in class). Of course this can change once the semester gets started, but set aside time from the beginning. Some classes will take more time and others will take less. Make sure you build in some time for all your classes — even if one class needs a lot of time, you still need to do work and study for your other classes!
Now you can begin filling in the available study time until you have accounted for all of the hours you estimated for each class. Keep in mind the principles of time management on the previous page, and create a weekly schedule for yourself
Tip: Watch this and fill our your weekly calendar!
Guidelines to Keep in Mind
- Plan a schedule of balanced activities, including sleeping. College life has many aspects that are very important to success. Some have fixed time requirements and some are flexible. Common “fixed” time requirements include sleeping, eating, classes, work, religious/spiritual practices. Common “flexible” time requirements include recreation, study, relaxation, and socializing. Make sure you build in time for sleep!
- Study at a regular time and in a regular place. Establishing habits of study is extremely important. Knowing what you are going to study and when saves a lot of time in making decisions and retracing your steps to get necessary materials, etc. Avoid generalizations in your schedule such as “study”. Commit yourself more definitely to “study history” or “study chemistry” at certain regular hours. (Learn more about what “studying” means!)
- Study as soon class as possible after class. One hour spent soon after class will do as much as several hours a few days later. Review lecture notes while they are still fresh in your mind. Start assignments while your memory of the assignment is still accurate. (Learn more about what “studying” means!)
- Find “hidden” blocks of time Scattered 1-2 hour free periods between classes are easily wasted. Planning and establishing habits of using them for studying for the class just finished will result in free time for recreation at other times in the week.
- Limit your blocks of study time to no more than 2 hours on any one course at a time. After 1 1/2 to 2 hours of study you begin to tire rapidly and your ability to concentrate decreases rapidly. Taking a break and then studying another course will provide the change necessary to keep up your efficiency. You should take breaks while you are studying, too. Consider a short 5 min break after 25 min of work.
- Eat well-balanced meals and get regular exercise. Take time for good meals and exercise. Healthy eating and exercise can dramatically improve your concentration, mood, and increase your energy level.
- Double your time estimates. Most people tend to underestimate how much time a particular activity / assignment will take. A good rule of thumb is to estimate how much time you realistically think something will take and then double it. More often than not, this doubled estimate is accurate.
- Watch out for “multi-tasking!” People often thin
k they are “multitasking,” but in reality they are “microtasking”. This means they are switching back and forth rapidly between tasks–NOT doing both tasks at once. Learn more about the perils of multitasking and find out how to avoid this common trap.
Student recommended apps and tools to keep track of classes, due dates, exams, and quizzes
There is no one-size-fits-all and there are so many different tools and apps to choose from as you organize your time, assignments, due dates, prelims, etc. Here are some ideas from other Cornell students:
- Google Calendar (available through G Suite and you can see things in a list and calendar format)
- Canvas Calendar (just make sure that you add things that your instructors haven’t put into the Canvas calendar)
- Apps: Egenda App, Notion, & Trello
- Physical options: Paper calendar or whiteboard on your wall
Check out our resources on managing stress or explore strategies to study for and take exams.
Would you like to learn more?