This chapter aims to help you understand expectations for college classes and provides tips for making effective use of time and getting organized.
Determine Your Approach to Time Management
Your success in college will, in large part, hinge upon developing and using effective time management strategies because college courses typically demand that students dedicate considerable time to out-of-class work. Generally, you should expect to spend two hours on out-of-class work for every one hour that you spend in the classroom. This figure may be surprising; however, considering that most college courses require students to read, study for quizzes and tests, conduct research, and complete papers and other assignments outside of class time, the expectation makes sense.
Answer Questions about Your Time-Management Style
Before we begin exploring aspects of effective time management, complete the following exercise, adapted from Chancellor’s Office, California Community Colleges (2016, “Personality Profile”), to determine your time-management style. Be honest with yourself by responding truthfully about what you would do in each situation: assessing your approach to time management is an important first step in honing your time-management skills.
- Your instructor just gave your class the prompt for an essay, and the assignment is due in two weeks. How would you proceed from here?
- Choose a topic and begin working on a thesis statement and essay outline immediately. It’s best to get it out of the way. (early bird)
- Read over the prompt and let it sink in for a week or so. You’ll still have one more week to finish the assignment, right? (balancing act)
- Read the prompt and maybe start playing around with ideas, but wait to really start writing until the day before. You swear it’s all in your head somewhere. (pressure cooker)
- Consider how much work you have for your other classes since writing isn’t your major anyway and decide to start working on the essay later. Although you might forget about the essay until a few hours before it is due, you can always ask for an extension. (improviser)
- You are working on a group assignment that requires you to split up responsibilities with three other classmates. When would you finish your part?
- After one or two of the other students have submitted their materials to the group, but definitely not last. You wanted to see how they approached the assignment first. (balancing act)
- First because then you’re done and don’t have to worry about the assignment any longer. Plus, you’ll be able to return to the assignment if you want to tweak anything later. (early bird)
- Maybe last, but definitely before the assignment due date and hopefully before any of the other group members ask about it. (pressure cooker)
- Definitely last. You’ll wait until everyone else has done their work, so you can make sure you are not duplicating efforts. Whatever, this is why you hate group work. (improviser)
- Your instructor just gave directions for your next assignment, but you but don’t fully understand what he’s asking for. What would you do?
- Try to figure the assignment out for yourself. You’re pretty sure what he’s trying to say. (pressure cooker)
- Send him an email two days later to ask for clarification, wait for his response, and then complete the assignment. (balancing act)
- Don’t say anything until after the assignment is due. Other people in the class probably didn’t understand the assignment directions either. (improviser)
- Send him an email that afternoon to clarify your understanding of the assignment directions. You want to know what he is looking for so you can complete the assignment that day. (early bird)
- The course you are taking requires you to post on a weekly discussion forum by Sunday night each week so the class can talk about everyone’s posts on Monday. When would you submit your posts?
- Sunday night. You always forget during the weekend. (pressure cooker)
- Tuesday night, after the first day of class that week. Then it’s out of the way. (early bird)
- Friday night. You want to see what other students post first so you can collect your thoughts. (balancing act)
- Monday at 3:00 am. That still counts as Sunday night, right? (improviser)
- You have an important assignment due Monday morning, and you have a social/work/family obligation that will keep you busy for most of the weekend. It is now the Wednesday before the assignment is due. How would you approach this situation?
- You tell yourself that you’ll finish the assignment by Friday night, so you can have your weekend free, but you still have a little left to do on Sunday—no big deal. (pressure cooker)
- You tell yourself that you’ll finish it by Friday night, and you manage this by spreading the work out over three days; however, you are sometimes distracted by preparations for the weekend. (balancing act)
- You tell yourself that you’ll take the weekend off, then stay up late on Sunday or wake up early on Monday to finish it. It’s not a midterm or final or anything, and you deserve to have a life. (improviser)
- You already drafted your assignment yesterday, but you suspect that it needs some work, so you make an appointment at the writing center for late Wednesday afternoon. The writing center tutor indicates that you might need to develop the points mentioned in your assignment further, so you work on it again Wednesday night. You edit and revise your work on Thursday. On Friday morning, you reread and proofread the assignment. That evening, you reread the assignment one more time to make sure you are fully satisfied with it. (early bird)
- You have to read 80 pages before your next class meeting in four days. What would you do?
- You do some quick math: 80 pages divided by four days means 20 pages a day. You like to chunk it this way because then you’ll also have time to review your notes and highlights and come up with questions for the instructor. (early bird)
- You think to yourself, 80 pages divided by two days, because it’s been a long week, means 40 pages a day. This is totally doable, although I might not be able to take notes on all the reading. (balancing act)
- You think to yourself, I can read the 80 pages the day before class—that way I’ll remember everything I read. Plus, I’ve done it before, so everything will be fine. (pressure cooker)
- You really don’t like reading for class, so you skim the text for keywords and search for a summary of it online. You find a summary on a website that posts student work; although you aren’t sure whether the summary is accurate, you assume that it contains plenty of valid points. (improviser)
Identify Your Time-Management Style
Now that you have some insight into various time-management styles, see if your style aligns with one of the following descriptions, which are adapted from Chancellor’s Office, California Community Colleges (2016, “Identify Your Time Management Style”).
PERSONALITY TYPE: The Early Bird
- Traits: You like to make checklists and feel great satisfaction when you can cross something off your to-do list. When it comes to assignments, you want to get started as soon as possible (and maybe start brainstorming before that) because this tactic helps you stay in control.
- Strengths: You know what you want and are driven to figure out how to achieve it. Motivation is never really a problem for you.
- Challenges: Sometimes you focus on getting things done as quickly as possible and do not give yourself enough time to really consider issues in all of their complexity.
- Tips for Success: You are extremely organized and focused on your schoolwork, so make sure you take time to really enjoy learning in your classes. Remember, college is not all deadlines and checkboxes—you also have the opportunity to think about big-picture intellectual problems that do not necessarily have clear answers.
PERSONALITY TYPE: The Balancing Act
- Traits: You really know what you are capable of, and you are ready to do what it takes to get the most out of your classes. Maybe you think, I’ve always been this way in school, or maybe you have developed this approach over time; in any case, you should have the basic organizational skills to succeed, as long as you keep your balance.
- Strengths: Your strength really lies in your ability to be well-rounded. You may not always complete assignments perfectly every time, but you are remarkably consistent and usually manage to do well in classes.
- Challenges: Because you are so consistent, sometimes you get into a rut by coasting through class rather than really challenging yourself.
- Tips for Success: Instead of simply doing what works, use each class as an opportunity for growth by engaging thoughtfully with the material and constantly pushing the boundaries of your expectations for yourself.
PERSONALITY TYPE: The Pressure Cooker
- Traits: You always get things done and almost always at the last minute. You feel you develop your best ideas right before deadlines.
- Strengths: You work well under pressure, and when you sit down to accomplish a task, you can work on it for hours. During these periods, you can be extremely focused and are able to shut out the rest of the world to get your work done.
- Challenges: You sometimes use your ability to work under pressure as an excuse to procrastinate. Sure, you can really focus when the deadline is tomorrow, but could you produce better work if you had a couple cushion days?
- Tips for Success: Give yourself small, achievable deadlines, and stick to them. Make sure they are goals that you really could (and would) achieve in a day, and do not make excuses for not meeting them. You will likely find that schoolwork is much more enjoyable when you are not constantly worried about having the time to finish it.
PERSONALITY TYPE: The Improviser
- Traits: You frequently wait until the last minute to complete assignments because you have been able to use this approach in many classes, and it has become a habit. Sometimes you miss an assignment or have to pretend that you have completed reading, but you rationalize by saying to yourself that everyone does that sometimes.
- Strengths: You think quickly on your feet, and while this is a true strength, it can also be a crutch that prevents you from being really successful in classes.
- Challenges: If you find that you lack discipline and personal accountability, your habits can be difficult to change, especially when the course material becomes challenging or when you struggle to keep up with the pace of the class.
- Tips for Success: The good news is that habits can be changed with intentional effort. Make a plan to organize your time and materials in a reasonable way, and really stick with it. Also, do not be afraid to seek help from your instructor or other learning support staff, but be sure to do it before you fall behind rather than afterwards.
Schedule Your Time
Having evaluated your time-management style, do you feel like it is optimal? Does it always work for you, or do you need to do things differently? Using information adapted from Chancellor’s Office, California Community Colleges (2016, “Create a Schedule” – “Procrastination Pie”), we will explore scheduling as a practical means to manage time.
A schedule offers a straightforward mechanism for organizing the days and weeks that comprise a semester, as well as an accountability tool for tracking your progress as you work toward academic goals. Your schedule will incorporate as much detail as you find helpful. Some things, such as due dates for papers, quiz and exam dates, and deadlines for reading assignments, should be included in your schedule no matter what. But you also might find it useful to break your assignments into steps or milestones that you can schedule as well.
Your schedule will also vary depending on the courses you are taking. So pull out your syllabuses and try to determine the rhythm of the classes by considering the following factors.
- How often do your instructors expect discussion board, seminar, or in-class contributions? When are these elements due?
- Will you have tests or quizzes in your courses? If so, when are they scheduled?
- Will you have papers or other written assignments in your courses? If so, when are they due?
- Do your courses require any collaborative assignments? Be aware that such assignments typically call for a considerable time investment since groups have to schedule times for meetings and for preparing things in advance of interim deadlines.
In addition to assignment requirements, your schedule should also reflect the requirements of daily life that make demands on your time, such as childcare, paid and volunteer work, travel time, laundry, housekeeping, and grocery shopping. The best schedule will also have some flexibility built into it because you will undoubtedly experience unexpected situations and circumstances as a college student.
When considering your schedule, also take into account the following frequently asked questions and accompanying answers.
STUDENT 1: Do I really need to create a schedule as a college student? I can honestly keep track of all the deadlines for my coursework in my head.
Answer: Yes, you really should create one. People can only juggle so many things at once, and you may forget an important deadline if something unexpected arises in your life. Also keep in mind that some instructors supply reminders about due dates and exam times, but others do not. Regardless, the expectation is that students will stay on top of deadlines and complete their work on time without being reminded to do so.
STUDENT 2: Realistically, how much time should I spend studying and preparing for each class?
Answer: Remember that you should expect to spend two hours on coursework outside of class for every one hour that you are in class. So, if you are enrolled in 15 credits, make room in your schedule for 30 hours of class preparation time every week. In total, you will need to spend 45 hours every week working on those courses, both in and outside of class.
STUDENT 3: My life and school requirements change on a weekly basis. How can I possibly account for such differences when making a schedule?
Answer: Integrate cushion into your schedule—in other words, open time when you have nothing planned—in case an event arises or you need to take a day or two away from coursework.
STUDENT 4: This chapter’s discussion of scheduling and time management makes sense, but advance planning is also unrealistic. What’s wrong with cramming? It’s worked for me in the past.
Answer: Cramming, completing assignments right before deadlines or studying immediately before exams, has many disadvantages. Trying to learn about any subject or memorize facts in a brief but intense period is not an effective way to tackle the higher-level learning that college courses require because you will quickly forget the information. Instead, plan to study in smaller increments on a regular basis so that your brain will absorb complex course material in a lasting way.
Finally, when considering your schedule, think about how to prioritize your time. To do so, establish your long- and short-term goals by answering the following questions.
- What needs to be done today?
- What needs to be done this week?
- What needs to be done by mid-point in the semester?
- What needs to be done by the end of the semester?
Your time is valuable, so treat it accordingly by getting the most out of it. Above all, avoid procrastination because it can have knock-on effects on future classwork and courses. In extreme cases, procrastination can affect graduation dates.
To determine whether you have a tendency to procrastinate, consider the following situations.
- My paper is due in two days, and I haven’t started writing it yet.
- I’ve had to pull an all-nighter to get an assignment done on time.
- I’ve submitted an assignment late or asked for an extension when I really didn’t have a good excuse not to get it done on time.
- I’ve worked right up to the minute an assignment was due.
- I’ve underestimated how long a reading assignment would take and didn’t finish it in time for class.
- I’ve relied on the Internet for information (like a summary of a concept or a book) because I didn’t finish the reading on time.
If these sound like issues you have struggled with in the past, think seriously about whether you have the tendency to procrastinate and how you want to proceed in future classes. The following strategies may help you break the procrastination habit.
- Divide your study time into bite-sized chunks. When confronted with 80 pages of reading or 50 problems to solve, you may understandably feel overwhelmed. However, if you decide to read for one hour over or solve 10 problems over a series of days, the task is much more manageable.
- Turn off your phone, close your chat windows, and block distracting websites. A good piece of advice is to treat your study environment as if you are in a movie theater—turn all of your devices off and focus on what is front of you.
- Set up a reward system: if you read for one hour, you can check your phone for five minutes. However, keep in mind that reward-based systems only work if you stick to a personal honor code.
- Work on your assignments in a place that is reserved for study. Your bedroom, dormitory room, or house may have too many distractions, but libraries offer quiet spaces plus print and online resources that can help you complete your work.
- Use checklists to make your incremental accomplishments visible. Some people find great satisfaction in checking items off to-do lists. Be specific when creating such lists, and clearly describe each task one step at a time.
- Make constructive use of short breaks in between classes. Figure 1, adapted from McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph (n.d.), offers suggestions for how to use this time productively. Can you think of any other suggestions you might add to the visual?
Figure 1. How to use short breaks in between classes to your advantage
You are probably spending considerable time, energy, and money on your classes—do not let all of that go to waste by procrastinating.
Think about the Connection between Time Management and Academic Integrity
Beyond the day-to-day implications of time management—for example, missing a bus, being late for class, forgetting about a meeting at work—consider that rushing to complete an assignment and procrastinating can contribute to lapses in judgement and mistakes where academic integrity is concerned. For instance, some students treat citing and referencing as final steps when writing papers, and, in a rush to complete their work before deadlines, may forget to acknowledge sources of information or fail to follow established documentation formats, which can lead to accusations of plagiarism or, at the very least, marks off for sloppiness. The professionals at NorQuest College Library (2020, “Avoiding Plagiarism”) offer a number of quick tips to counter these issues, which are adapted for you here.
- Plan Ahead: When you receive an assignment, set aside enough time to do research. You are far more likely to use a source improperly if you are rushing to meet a due date.
- Be Organized: It is easy to forget where you got a piece of information by the time you finish writing, so keep your sources organized and clearly labelled. People tend to develop a system that works best for them, but here are some tips to consider:
- Keep copies of each source you use. Save them in a folder or on a USB stick or print them out so that you can access them anytime.
- If you write notes based on what you read, use a separate page or document for each source, and write down page numbers for the information.
- Make sure you clearly mark in your notes when you have quoted a source directly and when you have summarized or paraphrased.
- Be Accurate: Make sure that you quote and paraphrase your sources correctly.
- Cite from the Start: Do not postpone citation work. Use in-text citations for every source you refer to from the very beginning of your writing, and keep track of them when you revise your drafts.
- Check Citations and References: When you proofread your final draft, make sure that every piece of information you got from another source has an accurate in-text citation (having copies of your sources comes in handy here) and that each source you refer to is listed on your reference page.
Knowing that you have the time and resources to accurately and consistently cite and reference sources of information during a writing project will help you complete it with confidence.
Activity A: Develop Ideas for Dealing with Distractions
Although this chapter has discussed procrastination, distractions can also affect our ability to manage time effectively. The following in-class activity, which is adapted from Learn Higher (2017, “The Activity”), is intended to help you develop ideas for dealing with distractions.
- List two things on sticky notes that distract you from study (one distraction per note).
- Pass the sticky notes around to your classmates. Your classmates can write suggestions for how to handle the distractions on the sticky notes.
- Share your classmates’ suggestions with the whole class.
- Discuss with the class which suggestions you plan to use and why.
Activity B: Compose Instructions Steps for Managing Time
If you have already read the “Writing Instructions” chapter of this textbook, you know that reader-centered instructions steps follow certain guidelines for construction. If you are unfamiliar with the chapter or need a refresher, read the chapter subsection entitled “Writing the Body Section.” Afterwards, work with a partner to identify how the steps in Activity A above reflect the subsection guidelines.
Now work with your partner to write a concise set of instructions steps for managing time. Be prepared to share your steps with the class during a brief informal presentation. In addition, listen to your classmates as they share their steps. Can you add anything to your document based on what they say? Once completed, your document will provide a quick reference guide for managing time as you proceed through your studies.
Activity C: Consider the Importance of a Weekly Schedule
Weekly schedules can be a must for effective time management in college. To illustrate the reality of this point, complete an activity adapted from Algonquin College under a CC-BY license (n.d., as cited in The Learning Portal, College Libraries Ontario, 2020). Begin by reading the following list. Pay close attention to all of Maria’s interactions throughout her school day.
- On Tuesday morning, Maria went to her usual class at 11 a.m. On her bus ride to school, she ran into Lana and they made plans to meet for breakfast at 8 a.m. on Monday morning.
- Maria’s instructor told the class that their final assignment was due on Thursday at 5 p.m. instead of Friday at 8 a.m.
- As they were leaving class, Maria’s classmate Adam asked her if she wanted to go to the gym on Wednesday afternoon. She agreed to meet him at 2 p.m.
- After class, Maria had a group meeting with some of her classmates. They met at 1:30 p.m. to discuss their presentation. They would be presenting in front of their class on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m.
- On her bus ride home, Maria got a call from her dentist’s office reminding her of an appointment Monday at 8 a.m.
Now we will see how much of Maria’s schedule you can remember.
Question 1: What time is Maria meeting Adam?
- 11 a.m.
- 2 p.m.
- 1 p.m.
- 3 p.m.
Question 2: What day and time was Maria’s final paper moved to?
- Tuesday, 5 p.m.
- Friday, 8 a.m.
- Thursday, 8 a.m.
- Thursday, 5 p.m.
Question 3: What day is Maria having breakfast with Lana?
Question 4: What does Maria have to do on Friday afternoon?
- Meet her group
- Meet Adam
- Go to the dentist
- Present in front of the class
Question 5: What time is Maria meeting her group?
- 1 p.m.
- 2 p.m.
- 1:30 p.m.
- 2:30 p.m.
Question 6: When is Maria’s dentist appointment?
- Today at 1:30 p.m.
- Friday at 8 a.m.
- Monday at 1:30 p.m.
- Monday at 8 a.m.
Question 7: What time was Maria’s class?
- 11 a.m.
- 2:30 p.m.
- 1:30 p.m.
- 5 p.m.
Question 8: What was the conflict in Maria’s schedule?
- The gym is the same time as her presentation
- Her dentist appointment is at the same time as breakfast
- Breakfast is at the same time her assignment is due
- The gym is at the same time as her group meeting
Did you have trouble remembering everything Maria had to do during the week? Did you notice that she had scheduled two things for the same time?
A weekly schedule can help you plan your time and remember what you have to do, as this activity has illustrated. Here is Maria’s schedule.
- Class at 11 a.m.
- Group meeting at 1:30 p.m.
- Gym at 2 p.m.
- Assignment due at 5 p.m.
- Group presentation at 1:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday
- Nothing scheduled
- Breakfast with Lana at 8 a.m.
- Dentist at 8 a.m.
Homework: Create Schedules
Create a weekly and semester-long timetable to help you effectively manage your time. You may use the following templates when creating your schedules. Customize them as needed by adding cells and adjusting their size in order to accommodate schedule items.
|Task||Deadline||Things to Remember|
If you prefer to plan out your weekly schedule in even further detail, here is another template option you can use. Again, expand the cells as needed to fit your schedule items.
Chancellor’s Office, California Community Colleges. (2016). Online study skills and managing time (text version). License: CC-BY 4.0. https://apps.3cmediasolutions.org/oei/modules/study-time/text/
Learn Higher. (2017). Dealing with distractions. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0. http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk/learning-at-university/time-management/dealing-with-distractions-2/
McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph. (n.d.). Have an hour between classes? 5 suggestions to get ahead in your coursework. License: CC-BY-NC-SA. https://learningcommons.lib.uoguelph.ca/item/have-hour-between-classes-5-suggestions-get-ahead-your-coursework
NorQuest College Library. (2020). Resources for writers: Plagiarism. License: CC-BY 4.0. https://libguides.norquest.ca/writingcentre/resourcesforwriters/plagiarism