4.3 Time Management Strategies

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
– Michael Altshuler

Questions to consider:

  • What strategy helps me prioritize my top tasks?
  • How do I make the best use of my time when prioritizing?
  • How do I make sure I tackle unpleasant tasks instead of putting them off?
  • What’s the best way to plan for long-term tasks?
  • How do I find time in a busy schedule?

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the basic principles of time management and planning.
  • Use a calendar planner and daily to-do list to plan ahead for study tasks and manage your time effectively.
  • Explore time management tips and strategies.

What is Prioritization?

It is an act of allocating time where it is most needed and to assign specific time for tasks based on their identified need or value. For example, if you have a paper due tomorrow and a quiz in three weeks. What do you prioritize? The paper, as it is due first. It is critical for students to identify their priorities in order to successfully manage time.

How to identify your Priorities?

Make Certain You Understand the Requirements of Each Task

One of the best ways to make good decisions about the prioritization of tasks is to understand the requirements of each. If you have multiple assignments to complete and you assume one of those assignments will only take an hour, you may decide to put it off until the others are finished. Your assumption could be disastrous if you find, once you begin the assignment, that there are several extra components that you did not account for and the time to complete will be four times as long as you estimated. Or, one of the assignments may be dependent on the results of another—like participating in a study and then writing a report on the results. If you are not aware that one assignment depends upon the completion of the other before you begin, you could inadvertently do the assignments out of order and have to start over. Because of situations like this, it is critically important to understand exactly what needs to be done to complete a task before you determine its priority.

Make Decisions on Importance, Impact on Other Priorities, and Urgency

After you are aware of the requirements for each task, you can then decide your priorities based on the importance of the task and what things need to be finished in which order.

To summarize: the key components to prioritization are making certain you understand each task and making decisions based on importance, impact, and urgency.

Using The Eisenhower Method to Prioritize

One way to help you identify your priorities is with the “Eisenhower Box,” a tool to help evaluate urgency and importance. Items may be placed at more precise points within each quadrant.

The “Eisenhower Method” stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

Using the Eisenhower Decision Principle, tasks are evaluated using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, and then placed in according quadrants in an Eisenhower Matrix (also known as an “Eisenhower Box” or “Eisenhower Decision Matrix”). It is important to understand the difference between urgency and importance. An urgent item needs to be dealt with immediately. An item that is important needs to be dealt with but may or may not needs to be dealt with immediately. Tasks are then handled as follows:

  1. Important/Urgent quadrant items must be taken care of immediately. Examples include:
    • Crises like accidents
    • A flat tire
    • A screaming baby
    • A broken water heater
    • Last minute deadlines
    • Pressing problems
  2. Important/Not Urgent quadrant items need to be accomplished but have an end date or due date that isn’t urgent or pressing. Examples include:
    • Homework
    • Studying for an upcoming exam
    • Exercise
    • Planning an upcoming trip
    • Time with friends, family, and relationships
  3. Unimportant/Urgent quadrant are items that can often feel urgent but they really aren’t. Although they may feel like they need to be attended to immediately, they are not very important and can actually wait. Examples include:
    • Text messages
    • Social media alerts
    • Some phone calls
    • Junk mail
  4. Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant are are your time wasters, things that are not important and not urgent. Examples include things like:
    • Television
    • Video games
    • Hanging out with friends (not planned social events)
    • Web surfing


Table that displays tasks marked with either Urgent or Not Urgent, and Important or Not Important. See long description for full image text.
View Figure 1 Long Description

As you can see, the Urgent/Important category (#1) needs to be attended to first and should top your list of priorities, followed by the Not Urgent/Important category (#2). You can imagine that the Category #1 is a stressful place, with emergencies and crises, and one you would like to avoid. Life will bring you plenty of Category #1 items so try your best to keep things out of that category. Work productively in Category #2 so items don’t unnecessarily end up being urgent. For example, a paper or a test shouldn’t be urgent, as they aren’t last minute crisis.  The more you focus on Category #2, the more you accomplish with less stress.

Use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix template to prioritize the following tasks:

Learning How to Complete Tasks On-Hand

Another important part of time management is to develop approaches that will help you complete tasks in a manner that is efficient and works for you.

Knowing What You Need to Do

It is important to know that many learning activities have multiple components, and sometimes they must occur in a specific order. Additionally, some elements may not only be dependent on the order they are completed, but can also be dependent on how they are completed.

To illustrate this we will analyze a task that is usually considered to be a simple one: attending a class session.

In this analysis we will look at not only what must be accomplished to get the most out of the experience, but also at how each element is dependent upon others and must be done in a specific order. The graphic below shows the interrelationship between the different activities, many of which might not initially seem significant enough to warrant mention, but it becomes obvious that other elements depend upon them when they are listed out this way.

Many of your learning activities are dependent on others, and some are the gateways to other steps.

The elements or task needed for success and the tasks it depends on are grouped under "Pre-class prep," "During class," and "Post-class". See long description for full text.
View Figure 3 Long Description

Knowing How You Will Get It Done

After you have a clear understanding of what needs to be done to complete a task (or the component parts of a task), the next step is to create a plan for completing everything.

This may not be as easy or as simple as declaring that you will finish part one, then move on to part two, and so on. Each component may need different resources or skills to complete, and it is in your best interest to identify those ahead of time and include them as part of your plan.

What follows is a planning list that can help you think about and prepare for the tasks you are about to begin.

  1. What resources will you need?  Resources are not limited to physical objects such as pen and paper but also include information, it can be a critical resource as well. In fact, one of the most often overlooked aspects in planning by new college students is just how much research, reading, and information they will need to complete assignments.
  2. What skills will you need? Poor planning or a bad assumption in this area can be disastrous, especially if some part of the task has a steep learning curve. No matter how well you planned the other parts of the project, if there is some skill needed that you do not have and you have no idea how long it will take to learn, it can be a bad situation. An example could be using a specific program to create a video for an assignment , or using a computer software to create a poster.
  3. Set Deadlines  Of course, the best way to approach time management is to set realistic deadlines that take into account which elements are dependent on which others and the order in which they should be completed.
  4. Be Flexible It is ironic that the item on this list that comes just after a strong encouragement to make deadlines and stick to them is the suggestion to be flexible. The reason that being flexible has made this list is because even the best-laid plans and most accurate time management efforts can take an unexpected turn. The idea behind being flexible is to readjust your plans and deadlines when something does happen to throw things off. The worst thing you could do in such a situation is panic or just stop working because the next step in your careful planning has suddenly become a roadblock. The moment when you see that something in your plan may become an issue is when to begin readjusting your plan.

The Importance of Where You Do Your Work

A large part of ensuring that you can complete tasks on time comes to setting up conditions that will allow you to do the work well. Much of this has to do with the environment where you will do your work. This not only includes physical space such as a work area, but other conditions like being free from distractions and your physical well-being and mental attitude.

  1. Right Space
  2. Distraction Free
  3. Working at the Right Time

Analysis Question: Student Survey on Work Environment

Analysis: Take the time to think about where you will do your work and when. What can you do to help ensure your working environment will be helpful rather than harmful? What do you know doesn’t work for you? What will you do to prevent those adverse conditions from creeping into your work environment?

Below is a quick survey to help you determine your own preferences in regard to your work space, the time you work, and distractions. Rank each option: 1–4, 1 meaning “least like me” and 4 meaning “most like me.”

I like my workspace to be organized and clean.
There are certain places where I am more comfortable when I work.
I prefer to be alone when I work on certain things.
I find it difficult to read with other sounds or voices around me.
There are certain times of the day when I can be more focused.
My moods or emotions can interfere with my ability to concentrate


Go to Unit Activities and complete activities #1 and #2.

Reflect on the following questions

  • What is my time management style?
  • Where does my time go?

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00G0b8si6qA&t=99s


Establishing A Time Management System

Now that you’ve evaluated how you have done things in the past, you’ll want to think about how you might create a schedule for managing your time well going forward. The best schedules have some flexibility built into them, as unexpected situations and circumstances will likely arise during your time as a student.

For every hour in the classroom, college students should spend, on average, about two to three hours on that class reading, studying, writing papers, and so on. Look at the following scenarios to get an idea of how many hours you should be spending on your classes outside of class time.

  • An 8 hours a week course over a 14-week semester = 8 hours a week in class + 16-20 hours outside of class each week
  • A 3 hours a week course over a 14-week session = 3 hours a week in class + 6-10 hours outside of class each week

You can use this formula to estimate the number of study hours you will need in class and out of class  for each course you take in the semester. Look back at the number of hours you wrote in Activity 2 for a week of studying. Do you have two to three hours of study time for every hour in class? Many students begin college not knowing this much time is needed, so don’t be surprised if you underestimated this number of hours. Remember this is just an average amount of study time—you may need more or less for your own courses. To be safe, and to help ensure your success, add another five to ten hours a week for studying.

Creating a Planner

Now that you know what you need to be spending your time on, let’s work on getting it put into a schedule or calendar. The first thing you want to do is select what type of planner or calendar you want to use. There are several to choose from.

Check out the samples here and then  use the templates to create your own plans:

Download the Planner and Weekly Schedule templates from the Centennial College Library Guide here:

Establish A To-Do List

People use to-do lists in different ways, and you should find what works best for you. As with your planner, consistent use of your to-do list will make it an effective habit. Use a digital tool or pen and paper to create your daily to-do list.

Here are some more tips for effectively using your daily to-do list:

  • Be specific: “Read history chapter 2 (30 pages)”—not “History homework.”
  • Put important things high on your list where you’ll see them every time you check the list.
  • Make your list at the same time every day so that it becomes a habit.
  • Don’t make your list overwhelming. If you added everything you eventually need to do, you could end up with so many things on the list that you’d never read through them all. If you worry you might forget something, write it in the margin of your planner’s page a week or two away.
  • Use your list. Lists often include little things that may take only a few minutes to do, so check your list anytime during the day you have a moment free.
  • Cross out or check off things after you’ve done them—doing this becomes rewarding.
  • Don’t use your to-do list to procrastinate. Don’t pull it out to find something else you just “have” to do instead of studying!

YouTube Playlists

Visit The Learning Portal’s YouTube channel for playlists of videos that can help you develop your study skills.

Visit the Learning Portal College Libraries Ontario for additional Time Management Resources

Time Management Tips for Students Who Work

  • If you’re both working and taking classes, you seldom have large blocks of free time. Avoid temptations to stay up very late studying, for losing sleep can lead to a downward spiral in performance at both work and school. Instead, try to follow these guidelines:
  • If possible, adjust your work or sleep hours so that you don’t spend your most productive times at work. If your job offers flex time, arrange your schedule to be free to study at times when you perform best.
  • Try to arrange your class and work schedules to minimize commuting time. If you are a part-time student taking two classes, taking classes back-to-back two or three days a week uses less time than spreading them out over four or five days. Working four ten-hour days rather than five eight-hour days reduces time lost to travel, getting ready for work, and so on.
  • If you can’t arrange an effective schedule for classes and work, consider online courses that allow you to do most of the work on your own time.
  • Use your daily and weekly planner conscientiously. Anytime you have thirty minutes or more free, schedule a study activity.
  • Consider your “body clock” when you schedule activities. Plan easier tasks for those times when you’re often fatigued and reserve alert times for more demanding tasks.
  • Look for any “hidden” time potentials. Maybe you prefer the thirty-minute drive to work over a forty-five-minute train ride. But if you can read on the train, that’s a gain of ninety minutes every day at the cost of thirty minutes longer travel time. An hour a day can make a huge difference in your studies.
  • Can you do quick study tasks during slow times at work? Take your class notes with you and use even five minutes of free time wisely.
  • Remember your long-term goals. You need to work, but you also want to finish your college program. If you have the opportunity to volunteer for some overtime, consider whether it’s really worth it. Sure, the extra money would help, but could the extra time put you at risk for not doing well in your classes?
  • Be as organized on the job as you are academically. Use your planner and to-do list for work matters, too. The better organized you are at work, the less stress you’ll feel—and the more successful you’ll be as a student also.
  • If you have a family as well as a job, your time is even more limited. In addition to the previous tips, try some of the strategies that follow.

Time Management Tips for Students with Family

Living with family members often introduces additional time stresses. You may have family obligations that require careful time management. Use all the strategies described earlier, including family time in your daily plans the same as you would hours spent at work. Don’t assume that you’ll be “free” every hour you’re home, because family events or a family member’s need for your assistance may occur at unexpected times. Schedule your important academic work well ahead and in blocks of time you control. See also the earlier suggestions for controlling your space: you may need to use the library or another space to ensure you are not interrupted or distracted during important study times.

Students with their own families are likely to feel time pressures. After all, you can’t just tell your partner or kids that you’ll see them in a couple years when you’re not so busy with job and college! In addition to all the planning and study strategies discussed so far, you also need to manage your family relationships and time spent with family. While there’s no magical solution for making more hours in the day, even with this added time pressure there are ways to balance your life well:

  • Talk everything over with your family. If you’re going back to school, your family members may not have realized changes will occur. Don’t let them be shocked by sudden household changes. Keep communication lines open so that your partner and children feel they’re together with you in this new adventure. Eventually, you will need their support.
  • Work to enjoy your time together, whatever you’re doing. You may not have as much time together as previously, but cherish the time you do have—even if it’s washing dishes together or cleaning house. If you’ve been studying for two hours and need a break, spend the next ten minutes with family instead of checking e-mail or watching television. Ultimately, the important thing is being together, not going out to movies or dinners or the special things you used to do when you had more time. Look forward to being with family and appreciate every moment you are together, and they will share your attitude

Key Takeaways

Following are some strategies you can begin using immediately to make the most of your time:

  • Prepare to be successful. When planning ahead for studying, think yourself into the right mood. Focus on the positive. “When I get these chapters read tonight, I’ll be ahead in studying for the next test, and I’ll also have plenty of time tomorrow to do X.” Visualize yourself studying well!
  • Use your best—and most appropriate—time of day. Different tasks require different mental skills. Some kinds of studying you may be able to start first thing in the morning as you wake, while others need your most alert moments at another time.
  • Break up large projects into small pieces. Whether it’s writing a paper for class, studying for a final exam, or reading a long assignment or full book, students often feel daunted at the beginning of a large project. It’s easier to get going if you break it up into stages that you schedule at separate times—and then begin with the first section that requires only an hour or two.
  • Do the most important studying first. When two or more things require your attention, do the more crucial one first. If something happens and you can’t complete everything, you’ll suffer less if the most crucial work is done.
  • If you have trouble getting started, do an easier task first. Like large tasks, complex or difficult ones can be daunting. If you can’t get going, switch to an easier task you can accomplish quickly. That will give you momentum, and often you feel more confident tackling the difficult task after being successful in the first one.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed because you have too much to do, revisit your time planner. Sometimes it’s hard to get started if you keep thinking about other things you need to get done. Review your schedule for the next few days and make sure everything important is scheduled, then relax and concentrate on the task at hand.
  • If you’re really floundering, talk to someone. Maybe you just don’t understand what you should be doing. Talk with your instructor or another student in the class to get back on track.
  • Take a break. We all need breaks to help us concentrate without becoming fatigued and burned out. As a general rule, a short break every hour or so is effective in helping recharge your study energy. Get up and move around to get your blood flowing, clear your thoughts, and work off stress.
  • Use unscheduled times to work ahead. You’ve scheduled that hundred pages of reading for later today, but you have the textbook with you as you’re waiting for the bus. Start reading now, or flip through the chapter to get a sense of what you’ll be reading later. Either way, you’ll save time later. You may be amazed how much studying you can get done during downtimes throughout the day.
  • Keep your momentum. Prevent distractions, such as multitasking, that will only slow you down. Check for messages, for example, only at scheduled break times.
  • Reward yourself. It’s not easy to sit still for hours of studying. When you successfully complete the task, you should feel good and deserve a small reward. A healthy snack, a quick video game session, or social activity can help you feel even better about your successful use of time.
  • Just say no. Always tell others nearby when you’re studying, to reduce the chances of being interrupted. Still, interruptions happen, and if you are in a situation where you are frequently interrupted by a family member, spouse, roommate, or friend, it helps to have your “no” prepared in advance: “No, I really have to be ready for this test” or “That’s a great idea, but let’s do it tomorrow—I just can’t today.” You shouldn’t feel bad about saying no—especially if you told that person in advance that you needed to study.
  • Have a life. Never schedule your day or week so full of work and study that you have no time at all for yourself, your family and friends, and your larger life.
  • Use a calendar planner and daily to-do list.

Image Long Descriptions

Figure 1: Table with two columns and two rows of data. Column headers are Urgent, Not Urgent. Row headers are Important, Not Important. Column 1 row 1 Urgent & Important: Crying baby, Kitchen fire, Some calls. Column 2 row 1 Not Urgent & Important: Exercise, Vocation, Planning. Column 1 Row 2 Urgent & Not Important: Interruptions, Distractions, Other calls. Column 2 Row 2 Not Urgent & Not Important: Trivia, Busy work, Time wasters.

Figure 2: Table with two columns and two rows of data. Column headers are Urgent, Not Urgent. Row headers are Important, Not Important. Column 1 row 1 Urgent and Important. Column 2 row 1 Not Urgent but Important. Column 1 row 2 Urgent but Not Important. Column 2 row 2 Not Urgent and Not Important.

Figure 3: Table with two columns, one header row, and six rows of data. Column 1 headers are Element or Task needed for Success, Task it Depends on. Row 2 spans Column 1 and 2: Pre-class Prep. Row 3 Column 1 Element or Task Needed for Success: Completing previous homework, Reading appropriate material for lecture, Taking notes on areas that need clarification. Row 3 Column 2 Task it Depends on: Understanding homework assigned from previous class, Making certain appropriate reading material is identified, Reading appropriate material for lecture. Row 4 spans Column 1 and 2: During class. Row 5 Column 1 Element or Task Needed for Success: Understanding lecture, taking notes, asking questions for clarification, taking part in class discussion, receive assignments for next class. Row 5 Column 2 Task it Depends on: Reading appropriate material, understanding lecture. Row 6 spans Column 1 and 2: Post-Class. Row 7 Column 1 Element or Task Needed for Success: Understanding homework assigned, making certain appropriate reading material is identified, ask questions for clarification, reviewing and rewriting notes. Row 7 Column 2 Task it Depends on: Receive assignments for next class.

Attributions and References

This chapter contains adaptations from:

Bruce, L. (2016). College Success. Provided by: Lumen Learning.
Book URL: https://www.coursehero.com/study-guides/collegesuccess-lumen/
Section URL https://www.coursehero.com/study-guides/collegesuccess-lumen/your-use-of-time/
License: CC BY: Attribution

Baldwin, A. (2020). College Success. Provided by: Open Stax.
Book URL: Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/1-introduction
Section URL: https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/3-5-prioritization-self-management-of-what-you-do-and-when-you-do-it
License: CC BY: Attribution


Image of whiteboard calendar. Authored by: Sadie Hernandez. Located athttps://www.flickr.com/photos/sadiediane/5219016930/LicenseCC BY: Attribution

Introduction to Time Management for Success. Authored by: Ronda Dorsey Neugebauer. Provided by: Chadron State College. Project: Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative. LicenseCC BY: Attribution

Overcome Procrastination For Good!. Authored by: Joseph Clough. LicenseCC BY: Attribution

Foundations of College Success: Words of Wisdom. Authored by: Thomas C. Priester, editor. Provided by: Open SUNY Textbooks. Located athttps://milneopentextbooks.org/foundations-of-academic-success/LicenseCC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike


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Fundamentals for Success in College Copyright © 2022 by Priti Parikh, Centennial College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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