Key time management skills
The six skills below are key to improving your time management. Practising them will give you more control, confidence and satisfaction when completing your assessments.
In order to be successful in time management, you need to practise these skills regularly. Return to this list in a few days or weeks and see how you have done.
It is OK to start small and improve your time management skills gradually - just keep in mind that completing your assessments on time is essential!
It is not uncommon to have several assignments due at the same time, and it is easy to run out of time without careful planning. When you are feeling overwhelmed by commitments, it can seem like everything needs to be done immediately, which makes it hard to prioritise the tasks you have.
Some activities, like sleep, exercise and recreation, are essential for a healthy lifestyle. Other activities are important, but their urgency can vary, depending on your circumstances and how organised you are.
An Eisenhower task matrix is a tool that can help you prioritise your tasks based on their urgency and importance. Mark each activity as Essential, Urgent or Not Urgent, and estimate the amount of time you can realistically devote to each activity each day of the week.
Urgent versus important tasks
The Eisenhower matrix is a famous productivity tool named after Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. He once remarked that “what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”. The Eisenhower matrix sorts tasks into four quadrants according to two factors: urgency and importance.
Depending on how we have managed our time, some tasks become both urgent and important. These tasks must be completed first.
View the slides below to learn how to use an Eisenhower matrix, and practise with the drag-and-drop activity on the second slide.
Use the Eisenhower matrix template linked below to prioritise your own tasks. Clicking on the link will prompt you to make a copy. This will create a copy of the template for you in your version of Google Drive. To access it again, simply return to your Google Drive.
Click here to open the Eisenhower matrix template in Google Drive.
There are many reasons we procrastinate. Understanding the underlying reasons for procrastination can help you address those reasons and develop strategies for better study habits.
The flip cards below cover some common reasons for procrastination. Turn each card for advice on how to deal with these issues.
It is a lot easier to avoid procrastination if you can identify the things you do when you procrastinate, so you can work to reduce or stop them. These are your distractors, and knowing what they are is half the battle in controlling them.
Your distractors might be online activities like social media, gaming and videos, things around the house like cleaning or gardening, or something else.
These are all fine if you want to do them in your spare time, but they should not get in the way of what you have to do. If your day seems to go really fast, and you are not sure where the time has gone, you may have difficulty identifying your distractors. It may be useful to conduct a time audit.
You can do this by keeping a simple hourly log during your work and study hours, to see what you do. Be brutally honest with yourself. And then compile a list of the things that have distracted you from what you were meant to be doing. These are your distractors.
Now you need to avoid them at all times when you need to study, and use them to motivate and reward yourself when the required amount of work is done.
Sometimes people procrastinate by over-planning instead of starting their work (e.g. re-making multiple to-do lists). This can be particularly tricky for some people to identify and address, because they feel like they are being productive, but then still do not seem to get anything done on time.
Over-planning can be avoided by planning efficiently in the first place.
- Only plan details if they are helpful, so that you can get started sooner rather than later.
- Do not rewrite a to-do list if the one you have will suffice.
- Use a flexible system so that you do not need to spend a lot of time adjusting your schedule if things change. For example, a Google calendar entry is very easy to stretch, drag or drop into a new place on your daily plan.
The name “Pomodoro technique” comes from the Italian word pomodoro (meaning tomato), due to kitchen timers often being in the shape of a tomato (Wang, Gobbo, & Lane, 2010).
The Pomodoro technique is simple but effective. All you need is a timer, a specific task to work on and some determination.
- Break up your tasks. Whether you are reading articles, writing an essay or reviewing for an exam, you should break those tasks into portions you can complete in 20-25 minutes.
- Set the timer. Set a timer for no more than 25 minutes and devote 100% of your attention to that task, knowing you will get a break soon.
- Focus and avoid distraction. Do not touch your phone, take a tea break or allow any distraction or random thought to divert your attention for the full 25 minutes.
- Take a break. When the timer goes off, this intense period of work is then followed by a 5-minute break. Now you give yourself permission to do all of those other things, if needed. This cycle can then be repeated again until the task is completed, or repeated with a different task once the first task is complete.
- Complete four timed cycles, then take a longer break. Once you have completed four 20-minute cycles, it is time for a 20-30 minute break. Be sure you get up, go for a walk or have something to eat and drink.
You may wish to experiment with other time intervals, such as 45 minutes followed by a 15-minute break. However, longer periods can defeat the purpose and make it difficult to remain focused.
Remember to be courteous if working in a shared space by using a silent alarm such as a vibrating phone/watch.
Some quick tips to help you stay motivated at university are:
- Reward yourself. Small frequent rewards can help you feel good and stay on track. If you have broken up your assessed task into more manageable chunks, you can celebrate completing each one. Have a tasty snack, or do something fun. Just be careful not to let the rewards get in the way of your study schedule. This is why small rewards are more productive (they are also usually better financially). You can combine this strategy with the Pomodoro technique as a way of celebrating your focused study sessions.
- Join (or start) a study group. Studying together can be great for motivation and understanding. It is especially helpful for revision of class material because you can test each other on information you have learned, and talk through scenarios of how you would apply that knowledge in a task like an assessment question.
- Track your progress. Keeping track of your progress can help with motivation because it is very satisfying to mark everything as completed.
- For assessed tasks, the simplest method of doing this is by using your semester planner as a bullet-list.
- For daily ongoing tasks like revision and exam study, you can track your progress using a calendar 'chain'. This is where you cross off each day that you have completed your goal on a calendar, forming a chain of crosses. Then try not to break the chain. If you are not able to complete your goal at some point and break the chain, just start again the next day and try to get an even longer chain.
Jyothi, N., & Parkavi, A. (2016). A study on task management systems. 2016 International Conference on Research Advances in Integrated Navigation Systems (RAINS), 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1109/RAINS.2016.7764421.
Kitsantas, A., Winsler, A., & Huie, F. (2008). Self-regulation and ability predictors of academic success during college: A predictive validity study. Journal of Advanced Academics, 20(1), 42-68. https://doi.org/10.4219/jaa-2008-867
Ramos, P. (2019). Time is a limited resource, but it can be used wisely. https://pramos.medium.com/time-is-a-limited-resource-but-it-can-be-used-wisely-a284d43caf0a
Wang, X., Gobbo, F., & Lane, M. (2010). Turning time from enemy into an ally using the Pomodoro technique. In D. Šmite, N. Moe, P. Ågerfalk (Eds.), Agility across time and space (pp. 149-166). Springer. https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783642124419