time management skills

How to Master Your Time Management Skills in College in Just 5 Steps

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Time Management Skills

One of the things newer college students struggle with the most is mastering their time management skills. It’s often the first time they are on their own and in full control of how they spend their time. That’s why I wanted to help you become a time management skill master in 5 simple steps.

There are 32 individual, time management skills tips on how to make that happen, but you certainly don’t need to use all of them. If you’re feeling like its all too much to do at once, I suggest just dipping your toes in verses jumping in head first. Try a few new things at a time and get a handle on them before adding more to your lifestyle.

Step 1: Lay the Foundation for Success, Get Organized

Make Organization a Priority

Organization is a major key to success when it comes to time management. It becomes easy to know exactly where you are in life when everything has been clearly laid out. When you make being organized important in your life the rest will start falling into place.

Use a Planner

Start off by using a physical planner or an app to keep track of due dates, class schedules, club meeting, vacation plans, social outings and more. Get in the habit of planning. When you know what’s coming up in the next few days you can quickly tell what you need to prioritize. Planning your week, or month, ahead of time is a great way to stay focused on your studies without the added stress of not being sure exactly when tasks need to be accomplished by.

Choose a planner that you will actually use, one that won’t be too cumbersome for you to use each week. That could mean using a small planner that is easy to carry around or a minimalist style one that takes minutes to fill out.

See all the best student planners.

Keep Your Planner With You

Once you’ve done the work of writing down your plans, you’re going to want to keep that planner on your person. Take it with you even when you’re not attending classes; its all too easy to forget that early morning class the next day when spending an evening with friends. If you need to make an adjustment to your plans or add in something new, it’s really convenient to have your planner on hand verses having to write on your hand so you don’t forget.

Look at Your Planner Daily

What’s the point of a planner if your’re not going to use it? Start your mornings by taking a look at what needs to be done that day. It can be very stressful to realize that you need to be at a class half way across the campus in 5 minutes. Remove that type of stress from your life by referencing your planner at least daily.

Pick a Day to Write in Your Planner

Whether you decide to plan ahead weekly or monthly, choose a day that you will set aside time to write it all down. You can plan big important events all the way down to smaller reminders like when you said you were going to Skype call your parents. Staying consistent will ensure that your organization goals won’t fall apart.

Use To-Do Lists (Daily or Weekly)

I love to use to-do lists to boost my productivity. There’s just something about checking off those boxes that feels so right. Using a daily or weekly to-do list is a way to easily improve your time management skills. You get everything you need done in a timely manner and with no risk of forgetting something.

Sometimes, looking at a long list assignments that need to be done that month can feel overwhelming. A short to-do list feels a lot more manageable and will help you to avoid the feeling of drowning in expectations.

Use a Whiteboard or Cork Board

Another way to stay organized is to have a white board where you can write down extra reminders. Keeping it hung on the wall by the door is a simple way to make sure you don’t forget anything important. Pin assignments that aren’t finished to a cork board. If it is constantly in your view it will be harder to avoid.

Set Up Reminders on Your Phone

Your phone is almost always with or near you, so it makes sense to set up reminders on it. If you are extra forgetful or just want to be 100% sure you won’t miss an important date, use calendar entries as a last line of defense. It is certainly difficult (if not impossible) to miss a notification on your screen.

You can use the calendar that is already installed on your phone or choose an app that better suits your needs. See a list of the 10 Best Calendar Apps (Android & iOS) here.

Keep Your Syllabuses

Your classes syllabuses are an outline of what you can expect in the upcoming semester. Generally it will include class location, required reading and when assignments are due. A syllabus can tell you nearly everything you need to know about a course. Import stuff, right?

Avoid losing it, and keep in your specific class binder or folder. Check out this post under the ‘How to Annotate Your Syllabi’ section for extra organization help.

Color Code Classes/Due Dates/Assignments

At the start of a new semester assign a color to each class. When writing out your planner use the corresponding colors for due dates; you can use colored pens or simply highlight over pencil. Use binders or folders that are colored correctly to keep your class papers in.

Color coding will save you time and save you from writing so much. Instead of having to write “Math Test at 1:00 pm”, you can write “Test 1:00 pm” in red (or whatever color you decide to use). Make sure to keep a key so you don’t confused about which which color is for what.

Track Your Assignments

An easy way to make 100% sure that all your class work gets done is to write it down. You can track what the assignment is, when its due and if it was turned it it. Being organized has major perks when it come to developing good time management skills.

There is a printable assignment tracker you can use in my free resource library.

Keep Your Desk Mess Free

Is this really necessary? Yes! A clean desk means less time you have to spend looking for the stapler or blue highlighter. Have a place for everything, keep what you use most on top and what is used less often in the drawers. Target has some really cute, gold desk organizers. Or you can use something that’s simple, but gets the job done.

If  you put things back where they go after you use them, keeping a mess free desk will be simple. A clean desk will boost productivity by reducing stress and time wasting. It’s easier to focus on the task at hand when there aren’t random papers brushing up against your hand.

Keep Your Living Areas Clutter Free

If a clean desk is good for productivity it only makes sense that having a clean room is, too. Keep things off the floor and you’ll find you feel better when you’re not tripping over shoes that were left by your bed. If you’re already living in a cluttered space, you don’t have to clean it all up right now. Break up the work and clear one area at time, maybe start by just putting dirty laundry in a hamper and clean clothing in the appropriate locations.

Organize Your Inbox

If you’re like me and you receive 5+ emails a day, it can quickly get out of hand. An email inbox that has hundreds of unread emails is overwhelming; what’s junk mail and what’s important? If that sounds like your inbox, I want to encourage you to take the time to purge it. Time management skills can be improved with an organized inbox.

I like to use a bunch of different labels to sort my email, labels like: to-do, saved and needs response. This way I can quickly find an email I saved for future reference. If you use gmail this is a nice tutorial for how to organize your inbox for maximum efficiency. Check your email daily to keep it from piling up and you’ll never have to deep clean it again.

Step 2: Establish Consistency

Keep a Chore Schedule

The laundry can’t pile up too much if you pick a day to do it every week. Keeping a consistent schedule of when you will do certain chores will keep them manageable. Another option is to clean a little each day.

How does this play into time management skills? If you keep up with your cleaning then you won’t have a day where a thousand things need to be done. When there are dishes to wash (they’re all dirty) and laundry to do (no clean underwear) on a day where you need to finish a paper, it really sucks.

Structure Your Days

It’s pretty easy to waste an entire free day watching Netflix and I’ll admit I’ve done it before a few times. Having a routine even on days where you have no responsibilities will help you stay productive on days where you do need to get things done. You don’t need to structure your days down to every last hour, but sticking to a schedule will make you more efficient once you have it down.

Wake Up & Go to Bed at The Same Time Every Day

Sleep is important! Getting enough sleep every night will do yourself a huge favor when it comes to productivity (which is great for time management skills) and your health. Pick a time, for going to bed and waking up, that works for you. I know I prefer staying up late verses getting up super early.

Step 3: Be Prepared

Write Down Office Hours/Tutoring Hours

Office hours for different classes never seem to be at the same time. Save yourself the trouble of trying to remember it all by writing down the hours on a sheet of paper. Keep the paper with your individual class binders/folders or stick it in your planner. You’ll have a better chance of being successful in college if you know exactly when you can get help.

Use an External Hard Drive or The Cloud

Have you ever had a laptop crash or break down completely while you were in the middle of writing an essay? It’s terrible! Set up an external hard drive or a cloud to back your computer and avoid big headaches. You’ll be glad you did when something goes wrong. I like to type documents in my Google Drive because I can access them from any computer and it automatically saves what I write often.

Set Out Your Outfit for the Next Day

I don’t how many times I’ve found myself looking into my closet unable to decide on what I want to wear. A big part of mastering your time management skills is finding out where you waste time and how you can fix that. I find that by laying out my clothing the night before I can be more productive earlier in the day.

Keep Your Backpack Ready

On that note, having your backpack packed and ready to go with everything you need is always a good idea. Its hard to take notes in class when you forget a pen or your laptop. If you have to hurry to make it to a class on time, it’s just one less thing to worry about.

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Step 4: Make the Best Use of Your Time

Get Assignments Done Ahead of Time

One college student stress management technique is to simply stay on top of things.

It’s tremendously relieving when you don’t need cram the night before a big test and you can actually catch enough Z’s.

Remove loads of stress from your life when you get essays, reading, homework, etc. done long before its due. Putting off things to the last minute is a big no-no when it comes to good time management skills.

Set personal deadlines for when you want to accomplish tasks by and treat them like a plane ticket. You wouldn’t miss a flight, now would you?

Work in Short Bursts

Our brains have trouble focusing on a single task for long periods of time, most people will start to lose focus and concentration after about 20 minutes. I like to study for 20 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. This helps me accomplish more in less time; I know it sounds a bit contradictory but it works!

Everyone is different, though. If you feel you can stay productive and on task for an hour at time, then do it. Find out what works for you.

Know Your Weaknesses

If you know that listening to music while you work is really distracting to you, avoid doing that. Distractions only make class work take longer to accomplish. Improve your time management skills by avoiding them at all costs.

When You Take a Break Avoid Screen Time

The internet has so many interesting aspects to it; its no wonder that it’s so easy to lose track of time when surfing it. Spend breaks away from working doing something a little more productive than scrolling though Instagram. A 10 minute break would be a good time to wash dishes or check the mail.

Remember That the First Draft is a Rough Draft

When writing an essay, don’t sweat the first draft. Putting all your thoughts down on paper is the hard part, keep going until you’re done. After all, there will be several editing stages the paper goes through.

Take Notes in a Way that Makes Sense to You

Use a note taking system that works for you. There are lots of different types of note taking: handwritten, digital, bullet style, outlining and more. Taking notes you can understand means you won’t have to waste any study time trying to decipher exactly what you meant or searching through a textbook for an answer you need. Here’s a helpful note taking guide.

Whatever You’re Working On Finish It

There’s nothing worse than thinking you finished your homework only to notice you didn’t do the last two questions right before you hand it in. When you start a paper or begin a study session, make sure to finish the task. Finishing it will save you from having to spend more time on it later. A partial answer is almost always better than a blank answer.

Focus & Save Multitasking for a Different Time

Multitasking sure does sound efficient when it come to time management skills. But, I often find it to be counter productive, so I just focus on thing at a time and I get done more quickly. When working on a computer try to only keep tabs that you need open for the work at hand. Remember, the less distractions the better!

Step 5: Practice Self Care

Balance Work, School, Rest, Socializing

Balance is a big part of mental health. Too much work and not enough play can really wear on your mind. Make sure you spend enough time away from school work doing more enjoyable activities like going out with friends.

Know Your Limits

If taking 4 classes in a semester and being part of a club is too stressful, don’t do it. Respecting your personal limits when it comes to work load is key to mastering time management skills. Don’t spread yourself too thin and run the risk of under performing in all your classes.

Treat Yo’ Self

Lastly, reward yourself for all of your hard work every now again. Whether that be a movie marathon, a spa day or some really good sushi, do something you can really look forward to! Even if you don’t feel like you’ve been doing your best, relaxing is one of the best ways to renew motivation and stay on track (or get back on track).


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