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2023-2024 Student Guide: Time management guidelines

Time management guidelines

Managing your time responsibly is a skill that will benefit you throughout your life: it will help you be successful, allow you to focus your efforts on what’s most important, and relieve a good deal of stress that typically comes with feeling that “there’s never enough time”. Below are some suggestions for steps you can take to improve your time management skills as a student, which are especially relevant this semester as you will have a great deal of flexibility in how you spend your time.

Step 1: Take responsibility

The first step to learning good time management is to recognize that you are responsible for how you spend your time. While there are definitely elements to your schedule that are outside your control (e.g. synchronous class activities, family responsibilities), you get to decide how to best spend the vast majority of your time.

Step 2: Establish priorities

Think of all the things you need to fit into your schedule: synchronous and asynchronous class activities; homework assignments and readings; studying for tests and writing essays; seeing friends and family (virtually or in person); extra-curricular activities and hobbies; you might have a part-time job, as well as family and community commitments; and you definitely need to sleep, eat, and spend time exercising and relaxing.

Because the time you have in a day is limited, you have to decide how you’re going to divide your time between all your activities. This is why it’s important to prioritize: to decide what’s most important to accomplish on a given day or a given week, and to determine how much time you need to allot to each of your priorities.

While school should definitely be at the top of your priority list, it is important to strive for “balance” in your life (which means making sure you have enough time for all the things that are important and necessary for you) so that you feel fulfilled, energized, and healthy. However, what constitutes “balance” will be different from week to week, and from semester to semester. This is perfectly normal and it’s not something to stress out about. Focus on the idea of having balance in your life overall, knowing that your school work (and other activities) will take up many more hours in some weeks than in others.

Remember also to distinguish between what you should do and what you’d prefer to do. After a long day of studying, you might prefer to stay up late watching a movie, but what you should do is go to bed so that you’ll have the energy to get through the following day. Consider whether you might be better off getting enough rest now and waiting until another time to enjoy some downtime. You have a responsibility toward yourself to be rested and well-prepared for school.

Step 3: Optimize your time

Plan to study and do assignments at times when you’re most alert and have the most energy, and save your lower-energy times for activities that don’t require you to concentrate as much. And don’t wait until you have a block of several hours of free time to start studying: several 30 minute or 1-hour study sessions amount to a lot of study time over the course of a semester! Moreover, we’re often able to get more done over the course of several shorter periods of time than we are during an equivalent larger block of time, when it’s easier to maintain concentration.

Step 4: Record it

Do not rely on your memory to know what you have to do when; not only is it fallible, but there is no reason to use up mental energy trying to remember what you have to do or when your assignment is due when it’s easy just to record it. You can use this weekly planner to help you plan this semester.

Plan out your study time on a daily basis. Although the required amount of time for a given task is not the same for everyone, estimate as best you can and adjust accordingly. It’s better to give yourself too much time than not enough time to complete your work, and you’ll get better at estimating how long it will take to write your paper or study for your exam the more you do it. See the “Creating a study plan in a remote learning context” section of this guide for details on how to plan out your schedule each week and for the semester.

Step 5: Stick to it! … But be adaptable

A schedule isn’t of any use if you don’t stick to it. So even when you don’t feel like it, remember that it’s important to stay on top of your responsibilities. Procrastinating will only lead you to feeling overwhelmed and anxious, and you probably won’t be able to complete your best work if you’re rushed.

As much as it’s important to follow the schedule you’ve set out for yourself, you also have to accept that not everything goes according to plan – we get sick, computers break down, we experience ups and downs in our personal lives, etc. The ability and willingness to adapt to changing circumstances is an important skill to develop, so try not to pack your schedule so much that it’s impossible to change anything around should something come up. It’s also best not to leave things to the last minute so that it’s easier to accommodate a forced change of plans.

A note about healthy habits

Good sleep habits (i.e. going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, and sleeping long enough), a healthy, balanced diet, and sufficient physical activity are extremely important factors in determining how rested and alert you are, your ability to deal with stress, and how well you are able to concentrate. Having good time management skills won’t help you a great deal if you can’t stay awake during the day or can’t focus on your work without drifting off! Be sure to consult a counsellor and/or a health professional if you need more information on establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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