Learning to manage your time at university is probably one of the biggest challenges you face as a student – well, that and eating healthily!
During my second year, studying 6 modules (each comprising individual assignments, group projects, presentations and final exams – probably much like everyone else), I soon found that I needed to be self-disciplined in order to get the work done. With the benefit of hindsight, I have identified some of the things that worked for me and I hope that some – if not all – of my tips will be effective for you too. Once you have mastered the key skill of how to organise and manage your time you will find yourself in possession of a marketable attribute that prospective employers desire.
1. Prioritise your tasks
Some tasks may be urgent, others may be important. Learning to identify which is which helps you to rank tasks according to priority. Implementing an A-B-C or a red-amber-green rating system is one method of helping you to gauge the order in which you need to do things. Once this is established you can start to plan ahead.
2. Plan ahead
Work backwards in your calendar and figure out how much time you need to write an assignment, how much time you’ll need to research it, and how much time you’ll need to pick your topic. Don’t forget to identify activities which require you to meet with others. Allow plenty of time – they are not always as efficient or organised as you want them to be! Applying the Gantt Model, representing each task as a bar, reflecting the start date, duration and end date of the activity as a visual representation indicating your deadlines, allows you to be realistic how you schedule your workload.
3. Personal timetabling
The student day can seem endless when the lecture timetable is sparse, but how easy it is to let it slip away – an hour on Facebook, a coffee with a friend, a hangover to recover from. Taking time to plan can appear a chore but getting organised makes studying more efficient and saves time in the long term. Combine short term and long-term planning, making a general plan for an entire semester and a more specific plan for two or three days at a time.
4. Don’t get sidetracked
If you find yourself wasting time on unimportant activities, stop, check your personal timetable and get back to what’s at the top. For example if you are being distracted by text messages try turning your phone off whilst you spend a defined time studying. If you ‘lose’ a couple of days, don’t be hard on yourself – work out what you’ve missed and fit it in. Get back to your timetable as quickly as possible!
5. Take breaks
Studying for hours without a break is inefficient! It can cause you to become bogged down in a cycle of repetition where you go over and over the same material; it can mean you lose your concentration and start to daydream or will overload your memory so you retain less information. This often results in students becoming uptight or stressed and this will show in your work. It is important to take time to get a drink or some fresh air or grab a nap.
6. Give yourself incentives
Having something to look forward to after your study session will help to motivate you. There’s a saying: ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’. We all need time out to fit in those additional activities that make us the interesting people employers are looking for. Go to the gym, the pub, contact your mates etc; you’ll have the time to be sociable, to fit in your work and manage unexpected events if you have planned your time well.
7. Define your vision
Keeping the big picture in mind helps to drive your motivation, as does the success you accumulate along the way. What class of degree are you aiming for in three years’ time? What jobs do you want to apply for? What shape do you want your future career to be? Plot the milestones you want to reach to help you gain the momentum of success.
Being at university is fantastic fun! Chances are you’ll make lifelong friends as well as have the experiences and take the type of opportunities that will shape the adult you will become. That experience will be all the more fulfilling and rewarding if you leave with the achievement you are looking for. To make the most of it, make planning your time your first priority.