Time Management in College: Practical Advice for Busy Students

Published: February 28, 2023

There are a million methods, tips and tricks for managing your time. Some people swear by paper planners with a full page for each day, while others use apps to keep track of everything digitally.

Time management in college is especially important. You have a lot of tasks to juggle each week, especially if you’re taking multiple classes. All on top of everything related to your work and personal life.

At College of Western Idaho (CWI), we understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to time management. But here are a few tried-and-true tips for building effective habits that work for you.

6 Time management tips for college students

When it comes to time management in college, the best method is the one you can commit to within your busy lifestyle. Try applying the following advice as you develop a practical plan that works for you.

1. Get organized

What does “get organized” really mean? It’s not necessarily about being super clean or tidy, though that doesn’t hurt. Being organized is more about having habits and systems that make it easy for you to know important things like:

  • When and where you have to do things
  • Where things go when you’re not using them
  • How to find the things you need
  • How to get where you need to go

Your organizational system will look different from everyone else’s. The most important thing to do as you develop yours is to experiment and find the method that works best for you.

You will know your strategies are working if you can answer “yes” to all or most of the following statements:

  • I know what days and times I have class and work
  • I can reliably get to places on time
  • I have a system for tracking school responsibilities (homework, group projects, essays, books, tests, finals, financing, etc.)
  • I know where to go for help
  • I build in time for myself to eat and rest
  • I build in time for family, friends and loved ones
2. Start addressing procrastination habits

Procrastination, or putting off tasks that you need to do, is something we’re all familiar with. But for some people, it can become a significant problem—and even prevent them from achieving their goals.

Chronic procrastination is almost never about lack of ability or desire to complete the task. It’s more often an emotional issue that requires some reflection to really understand. This pattern of behavior is sometimes related to perfectionist tendencies, performance anxiety, or imposter syndrome.

People who have a problem with procrastinating often develop feelings of guilt and shame, which can lead to cycles of negative self-talk. When this happens, you might try recognizing and reframing the thought with something more neutral. Consider the examples below:

  • Negative thought: If I don’t do something perfectly, I’m a failure. I can’t start something that might not turn out perfectly.
  • Neutral thought: Perfection doesn’t exist. My best efforts have always been good enough in the past. I can make this easier by planning and taking the time I need to succeed.
  • Negative thought: This task is boring so I’m going to ignore it and hope it goes away.
  • Neutral thought: Doing tasks that I don’t find exciting is a part of life I have to accept. Worrying and feeling guilty every day is harder than doing the thing I’m avoiding.
  • Negative self-questioning: What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this task right now?
  • Neutral self-questioning: When will I be ready to do this? Am I lacking some information or resource that I need to complete this? If not, what is holding me back?

This article also contains some great strategies for dealing with procrastination.

3. Use your calendar to block time and set reminders

If you’ve got a busy schedule, your calendar (whether online or on paper) should become your best friend. Treat it as your “source of truth” for all of the things you have to get done. Consider the following ways to increase the effectiveness of your calendar:

  • Create reminders for important due dates (such as deadlines, events, tests, bills, rent, holidays, etc.)
  • Block time on your calendar to work on specific projects. This will help you hold yourself accountable and will also serve as a visual reminder.
  • Implement a color-coding scheme to help you identify work, school, personal, and other commitments at a glance.

After a while of consistently using and updating your calendar, you should start to feel less stressed and more in control.

4. Stop multi-tasking and limit distractions while you study

This one is hard for many people, especially those who have grown up with computers, smartphones, TVs, and all sorts of other devices in the home. Multi-tasking feels more productive, but the opposite is actually true.

To help you build some productive habits, here are a few tips for how to focus on schoolwork:

  • Turn off your email notifications
  • Set your phone to “do not disturb” or restrict any non-emergency notifications
  • Use an app to block your favorite time-wasting temptations (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, online shopping sites, and content streaming platforms, etc.)

You can even consider putting up “away” messages for the times that you’re studying, just so that people know you’re not ignoring them.

5. Try studying for shorter, more frequent, periods of time

One of the best time management tips for college students is to learn how to study more efficiently. Spending hours cramming the night before a test isn’t the most productive method. Breaking down big or complicated tasks into smaller, bite-sized sessions can often save time in the long run.

Learn more about improving your study habits in our article “3 Proven Study Strategies for College Students.”

6. Reach out for help sooner rather than later

Finding a healthy balance between school, work, and life in general can be tricky. It’s natural to encounter moments where you feel you’re falling behind. But the longer you wait to ask for assistance, the harder it can be to bounce back and recover.

CWI offers several support services to help students succeed. Our goal is to remove any barriers that may be hindering you from earning a quality education. Current and returning students have access to the following resources:

Remember, knowing when to ask for help or guidance is a sign of maturity, not weakness.

Manage your time like a pro

There are several factors that can prevent effective time management for college students—and their success will vary from person to person. But, in general, it all comes down to being organized, minimizing distractions, and capitalizing on the resources available to you.

Consider the time management tips outlined above as you begin building more productive habits. You may be amazed at the significant difference a few minor changes can make.

If you’re a CWI student, take some time to familiarize yourself with the many resources available to you.


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