Skip to main content

10 Tips on Time Management for College Students

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

It's all about time management.

It's all about time management.

Time Management is a Life Skill

Having gathered a few degrees myself and having taught college students since 1993, I've learned a few things about how students can best manage their time in college.

Actually, managing time in college is just like managing time in business or managing a home. So what you learn in college about managing your time will be something that will make you more effective, efficient, stress-free, and happier throughout your life.

As a busy working mom of five kids, I know it works! Here are my tips:

Time Management Tips for College Students

  • Set your own goals
  • Make a schedule
  • Prioritize your activities
  • Take time to plan your week
  • Write a detailed schedule
  • Plan breaks, fun and variety
  • Leave time for the unexpected
  • Get regular sleep
  • Avoid distractions
  • Tell others your schedule

1. Set Your Own Goals

Don't let other people set your goals for you. This is your life, your college experience. You need to make sure that it is what you want it to be. You've been spending lots of time thinking about your major and your career goals.

Set Academic Goals. You also need to set goals for what grades you want to earn in each class and whether you want to do so well that the professor would be glad to give you a recommendation later for graduate school or work. What do you want to achieve at the end of the week? The month? The year? The end of college?

Write out Career and Life Goals. Write out your goals so you know where you are going. Along with school and career goals, you might want to include clubs you want to be a part of, leadership groups you want to join or volunteer service you want to do.

2. Make a Schedule

Figure out a System. You can't keep a schedule that you don't have. One of the first things you should do if you want to start managing your time is a scheduling book or an app or a calendar (paper or electronic). You have to have a place to write things down so you can remember them.

More importantly, when you write them down, you don't have to keep them all in your head! That will reduce your stress a lot.

Look at your Schedule! Make sure you look at your schedule regularly. Get one that is easy for you to use. You might use your phone if yours isn't hard to write in information. It pays to think about what type of a schedule or plan system will work for you.

Right now, because I need to have my whole family understand our schedule, I keep it in a book, but I also write the month's schedule on a board that I post up where everyone can see it. You might like having something big and visible like that for yourself.

3. Prioritize Your Activities

First Things First. One of the most important skills taught in time management courses is that you need to prioritize everything you do to get the most important things done first. You might want to make a system of labels (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) to put on the items on your schedule, use a color code system, or just plan to put the most important things first in your schedule.

Most Important Always Gets Done. Whichever way you choose to set your priorities, make sure that you really think through what is the most important things to get done on that day or that week, and make sure you do those things first.

If you don't get the most important things done, you will come to the end of that time and feel very stressed and unproductive no matter how many other things you have completed.

4. Take Time to Plan Your Week

O.K., you have the plan book. Now you have to use it. It isn't really enough to just write down assignments and meetings. You need to take time regularly, at least once a week, to review when you are going to study when you are going to have fun, when you are going to do laundry and when you are going to talk with your parents.

Take some time out to sit and look at your weekly schedule of regular events: classes, meetings, eating, laundry, sleep, etc. Next schedule in your study time blocks. Of course, the amount you have to study can vary each week, so put on the schedule a generous block of time for studying each day, and if you finish early, you can reward yourself with something fun!

5. Write a Detailed Schedule

Make your schedule detailed. Write down that on Mondays and Wednesdays you are going to study calculus from 3-4. If you have a big test coming up, schedule several shorter study times in the week before a test rather than just one big study time the night before. You will remember more if you study in shorter spurts, and you won't be stressed the day before the test.

Give yourself enough time. When you have papers to write, be sure to give yourself time to do prewriting, outline, rough draft, and proofreading. If you have a writing lab or other writing help on campus, be sure to sign up early to get an appointment for help.

Schedule time to go and see your professors too. Usually, a professor will tell you their office hours at the beginning of the semester. Office hours are a time you can go in to talk with a professor about anything, whether that is advice about courses or information about what you could do with your major.

Professors have met with lots of students like you and have some good advice to give you. Moreover, when you are getting ready to ask for recommendations, it often helps get a good one if the professor knows you by name.

Time Management

6. Plan Breaks, Fun, and Variety

Plan Short Breaks. It is always a good idea to give yourself a ten-minute break every hour or so of studying. You have that when you go from class to class, so give yourself that time during your study breaks too.

Plan Fun. If your football team has a game that weekend, then put that down in your planner. Or maybe your favorite director has a movie preview on Saturday, write that down too. Make sure that you do put down fun things in your schedule. Those breaks will help you make it through the tough work times.

Plan Variety. You might really be able to do 8 hours of study time during a Saturday if you put in some variety. Plan a time to go outside and study or study with a friend. Study French for 2 hours and then switch over to Biology. Anything you can do to make your work time different will help you keep awake and focus.

7. Leave Time for the Unexpected

Don't fill your whole schedule up. There are always unexpected things like cars breaking down, catching a cold, printers that don't work, study partners who don't show up, or unexpected work hours.

So leave some space in your schedule for the unexpected. If this ends up being free time, you might just want to take a nap, walk outside, or call a friend (maybe even text your parents to tell them how you are doing!).

Stop by your favorite fudge shop when you meet your goals!

Stop by your favorite fudge shop when you meet your goals!

8. Get Regular Sleep

Sleeps Helps Memory. Studies have shown that your brain organizes information while you sleep. During sleep, your brain gets rid of the information you don't need (the words of an advertisement you saw on the way to class) and makes pathways that help you remember what you do need (the formulas for your math test).

That means pulling an all-nighter to study can be self-defeating. Without sleep, your brain might not have the pathways to help you remember what you studied.

Good sleep multiplies your time. If you are living in a dorm, you may find it hard to get the right amount of sleep, but don't make it harder on yourself by not having a good plan for your sleeping time. The problem with not getting enough sleep is that it tends to wear down your body, which makes you more prone to get sick and more prone to feel stress.

Make your sleep schedule with roommates. A good plan to make is to agree on a time when lights need to go out. Make plans for what to do if someone needs to do work after that time. You have the right to be able to get the sleep you need to be able to do your best in college.

If your roommate is not cooperative, then enlist the adult supervisors in your dorm. Move rooms if you have to. There's no issue that's more important in college than getting enough sleep.

9. Avoid Distractions

Recognize what distracts you. Other people can distract you, but the worst distraction is ourselves. We often start to worry or think about something else rather than concentrating on the task at hand. Unfortunately, that usually just makes us more anxious and worried!

Plan to handle distractions. Come up with a system for recognizing when you are being distracted and dealing with that. You may have to use earplugs, shut off your phone, or turn off the music or computer. Maybe you will even need to find a place where you can be alone. That could be a bookstore, a park, the library, or a secret spot you find on campus.

Reward yourself when you stay on task with something you like, like a cup of coffee, a chat with a friend, or extra workout time.

10. Tell Others Your Schedule

Enlist sympathy and help. One of the biggest problems with keeping a schedule can be friends and roommates who don't have a schedule. You can help yourself keep your own time management goals by communicating your schedule with other people. That's where having a whiteboard for people to see might help.

Hide if you need privacy! Furthermore, you may need to find a secret place on campus to go to study if your friends don't want to help you keep your goals. It isn't always easy to be the person who is heading in the right direction when everyone else wants to party, but keep your goal in mind.

You are at college in order to get a degree so that you can have the career you want. No one has the right to take your best effort away from you. So don't let them!


Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 19, 2011:

I agree that many of these tips apply to settings outside of college. Great life tips for everyone!

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 18, 2011:

Thanks--you are exactly right. In fact, I got some of the ideas for these strategies from looking at time management for businesses--then I started thinking how that works for my job as a mom! Guess I need to write another hub about that!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 18, 2011:

The previous comment is my thought exactly. These time management strategies are good for everyone. Voted USEFUL.