Written by Dominic Giuliano
Every student is familiar with the grind of managing a study load, social and family life, gainful employment, health and fitness, and other hobbies.
How do you fit it all in while maintaining your mental well-being?
A good time management strategy can be the key to success. Each person’s time management strategy will differ depending on their lifestyle choices and demands.
Nevertheless, there may be some common tips and tricks that can be useful for anyone trying to live a full life while at university.
Here are five ways to get the most out of your time!
1. Time Audit (The Baseline)
You cannot manage your money if you don’t have a budget. Not knowing your incomings and outgoings can cause financial problems.
Thankfully, managing your time is less complicated than managing your money – everyone only gets 168 hours every week!
Doing a time audit is a way of finding out where your hours are currently allocated.
What do you spend most of your time doing? Are you spending too much time doing x and not y?
A time audit can help you map where your time is spent so you have a reliable baseline. It might look something like this:
This can show you exactly where your hours are spent each week. This might be useful for competitive students trying to improve their grades, for learning a new habit, or to simply develop your time management skills.
Start by creating a list of relevant categories (i.e., sleep, exercise, work etc). Then each day keep a log of how much time you spent roughly doing those tasks. It doesn’t need to be perfect – an estimate is good enough.
For the aficionados, use a stopwatch on your phone to track your time and add it to a spreadsheet (i.e., excel).
Once you’ve tracked your average week – create a chart and voila!
You now know roughly where your time is spent. This can then be used to make projections and set goals.
For example, you might want to increase study to 20 hours a week, or reduce overall social media time. Where you want to increase or decrease hours spent is totally up to you.
The benefit of this tool is it gives you a way to measure your time expenditure in a visual way. If nothing else, it helps you try to find a reasonable balance across your core life functions.
Once you’ve got a baseline, you may be interested in improving your usage of time. After all, life is time. Do the math, someone that lives 80 years (80 years X 365 days X 24 hours) = 700,800 hours or 29,200 days. This is assuming you were born today and live a long and healthy life!
When you see it portrayed this way, you become sensitive about where your time is spent and how you want to spend it.
Now you know where your time is spent, let’s explore strategies for managing it better.
We can look at time management from seconds to minutes, hours to days, weeks to months, and finally, year on year.
2. Pomodoro (Seconds to Minutes)
For those looking to amp up performance in shorter time spans (seconds to minutes) – look no further than the Pomodoro technique.
This technique is particularly good for students doing long blocks of reading and writing. It also improves performance within study blocks by reducing the amount of time spent focusing on a task.
The Pomodoro Technique involves the following:
- Choose a task to be accomplished.
- Set the Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on the task until the timer rings.
- Take a short break (5-10 minutes).
Overall, the idea is to improve how you dispose of your attention during the “on” period. It gives your mind a small goal to focus on (or sprint towards), and then a moment to rest.
This may be linked to better memory retention and maintained mental alertness throughout the day.
After every fourth Pomodoro, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).
There are free apps to help with the timing of these periods – like Forest. The Forrest app plants a virtual tree when you start your 25-minute period.
If you stay on track for the 25-minute block it plants a tree. If you leave the app, your plant dies. After doing multiple 25-minute blocks, you will have built a virtual Forrest.
TOP TIP: Find something enjoying or interesting to do in the break.
Go for a walk, listen to your favourite track, grab a coffee, or even simple house chores.
Whatever it is, don’t let it go beyond the 5-minute break – stick to your timer if you can. But try to make it rewarding.
The benefit of this is it makes you happy to be working for yourself.
Afterall, going to university is like employing yourself to work for yourself. You are both your own manager and employee.
When you (the employee) do 25 minutes of solid work, the manager in you should offer a reward (music is my little dopamine hit).
With Pomodoro, you are never working to exhaustion. Rather than hitting your effort ceiling after hours of sustained attention, then finding other (longer) distractions and diversions, you are only ever doing what you can in the shorter block.
That way you stay relatively sharp and can perform at your best throughout the day rather than sharply declining.
3. Prioritisation/Job stacking (Hour to Hour)
There is no shortage of things that could be done in a day. We can also run the risk of spending too much time doing things that are minimally important (i.e., spending 5 hours cleaning an oven trying to make it perfect – it’s time to move on).
Choosing to manage your time better means choosing to spend it doing things that are both important and urgent.
Items that are neither important nor urgent should be delegated, delayed, or dropped altogether. That way you focus on your priorities.
Building a priority list involves writing down all the things to be done in a day (or week) in no particular order.
Think: what would have the worst outcome if it was ignored, or, what would produce the greatest sense of accomplishment – these items seem to be important.
Urgent items are things that must be done before others or have an imminent deadline (like that assignment you haven’t started).
These items can be prioritised, whereas others can be demoted to the “later” box.
You may then like to group similar items together and blast them out in one session. I do this for emails and communications wherever I can.
This means I do all my email responses in a small block and then close them, so I am not distracted. I may check them at the end of the day to make sure I haven’t missed anything.
You may find this works well with some of your social media use as well – to segment all usage into a period and then leave the app.
This could be used in conjunction with apps like “Freedom” which allows you to set your own limits on social media use so you aren’t continuously distracted by TikTok and Instagram pings.
4. Replace the menial for the meaningful through automation (Week to Week)
This approach may not be for everyone – particularly parents with children or people that cook obsessively. When I’m in study session – I don’t have time to do everything. I want to focus on the things that matter.
I love cooking, but it’s a low-reward, high-cost job. All the effort in going grocery shopping, organising meal plans, 1-2 hours a day cooking – it’s too much. I leave that for holiday time.
During session, I outsource my meal prep. Apps like BeFitFood or MuscleChef can be great. The food isn’t world famous, and it isn’t any cheaper. But by my maths, $10-12 a meal which takes 3 minutes to reheat may save me 2 hours between grocery store, daily meal prep, worrying about portion control and nutritional value.
Instead, I’ll leave it to the experts, pay the delivery fee and focus on what is important.
While this strategy may not be for everyone, it reflects an idea that may still be useful.
Are there things that are taking time that can be outsourced? Maybe your groceries can be delivered to your door? Can you set up recurring subscriptions that reduce your need to spend time doing meaningless things? Can you automate social media posts so you spend less time scrolling?
The goal is to replace the menial for the meaningful. This may clear significant time in your week to dedicate to more important things.
P.S. Some people may like menial tasks as it gives them the chance to get out of the house, let their mind wander, or be out in public – and that is totally fine too!
If it serves a function or adds value to your life – it is probably worth it.
5. Create a vision board (Year to Year)
You may not have life all figured out – who does? But maybe there are some things that, if you did them, would make it slightly better or a little less bad. It could be saving a certain amount of money, planning an overseas holiday, or learning a new skill.
A vision board can help you establish the kinds of things you think would make your life better year on year. You can also make them visually appealing by using images if that suits you.
The vision board is a visual representation of what your year might look like if you had a great year and everything went to plan.
Imagine for a moment: what things would you like to have done, accomplished, acquired, learnt, or experienced by this time next year? What memories would you like to embed into your mind that may stay with you for life?
They belong on your vision board.
To create a vision board, simply go on the internet and find pictures that represent the things above.
If you prefer written goals (like me), you can simply write them down. Stick them onto a board and display it in your office, bedroom, or kitchen space – anywhere you can frequently refer to it and check things off as time proceeds.
A key benefit of vision board development is it establishes the broader goals that may take time to complete (e.g., get a degree).
By setting the vision board up, it can make it easier to set weekly and monthly targets for yourself.
Knowing the things you want to do makes it easier to decide where to spend the majority of your time.
It may be unsettling, as it may put pressure on you to do a whole bunch of things, but if they are things that matter, there may be some fun in doing them!
Well, there you have it. Five time-management techniques from the smallest increment to the largest. How does this compare with your own?