How to manage your time

Students who are able to manage their time well do better in their first year of university (Kitsantas, Winsler, & Huie, 2008). Good time management skills allow you to keep on top of your workload, meaning you stress less and have time to do the things you enjoy in life. This tutorial will show you how to manage your workload. By the end of this tutorial you should be able to:

Plan your semester

The first step in managing your time is to plan your semester. You can find a list of important university dates for Monash on the Monash University website.

The typical Monash University semester is 17 to 18 weeks long*, including:

  • (O-week, if applicable)
  • 12 weeks of semester
  • 1 week of mid-semester break
  • 1 week of SWOT Vac
  • 3 weeks of exams.

*Note that these may not correlate with your dates, depending on what you study. If your semester looks different, you can still use these principles; just apply them to your own timeline.

When planning your semester, you may have to consider all these weeks as university time, depending on your coursework demands.

When planning your semester, it’s a good idea to have a visual overview of the semester as well as a week-by-week breakdown. This can be a wall planner plus a diary, or an online calendar. With your Monash email account, you will have access to a Google Calendar. Instructions on how to use your Google Calendar are available on the eSolutions website.

Make a list of fixed dates

The first step in planning your semester is to make a list of all the fixed dates, such as:

  • All your assessment task due dates (including tests and exams)
  • Any special events that will affect your regular schedule, such as:
      • Birthdays of family and/or close friends
      • Weddings, anniversaries etc.
      • Relevant cultural and religious holidays
      • Concert dates, sport events etc.

Put these due dates and special events in your calendar, and make a note of any clashes. By planning in advance, you can work towards submitting tasks early in the event of a clash.

Plan your week

Now that you have your due dates and special events in your calendar, it’s time to add all of your regular activities into your weekly schedule. These include time for things such as:

  • All scheduled classes (e.g. lectures, workshops, tutorials, practical sessions)
  • Completion of online lectures/pre- and post-class work
  • Travel (e.g. to and from campus)
  • Exercise
  • Sleeping
  • Eating
  • Domestic activities (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.)
  • Paid work
  • Family commitments

Are you doing too much?

You only have 168 hours in a week. Add up your regular activities and see if you have too much on your plate!

Example:

Activity

Hours per day

Times per week

Total time (h)

Sleep

8

7

56

Morning/evening routine

1

7

7

Eating

2

7

14

Domestic activities

1

7

7

Travel

1.5

5

7.5

Paid work

5

2

10

Exercise

1

3

3

Family commitments

3

7

21

Scheduled university work (e.g. lectures, tutorials & practicals)

6

3

18

Unscheduled university work (e.g. study, revision, assessment tasks)

  

22

Total

  

165.5

Free time

  

2.5

Downloadable Time Management Spreadsheet

You can download this spreadsheet to calculate your free time (XLS, 0.03 MB). Simply add your activities and the spreadsheet will calculate the total time needed to complete them and your available free time.

How did you go? If your total is more than 168 hours per week, you need to consider what activities you can cut back on.

Remember that university study is normally considered the equivalent of a full-time job and, depending on your other commitments, you may not have the time to cover everything! (For more information, see Set realistic goals).

If you are struggling to manage your time commitments, seek assistance. Ask Monash about the current support services for course advice and learning support.

Now that you have your regular activities outlined, go ahead and create a weekly schedule in your chosen planner/online calendar. You can do this in a physical planner/diary, or an electronic/online calendar.

The following video will show you what an example weekly calendar can look like:

Once you have added your regular activities into your schedule, you will have a framework for where you can fit in time to study. Try to look for empty slots and start scheduling in study blocks. You can use these when you come to planning your assignments.

Screen capture of an empty time slot in Google Calendar, from the video above
Find empty slots like these in your calendar and fill them with scheduled study blocks.

The key to creating a study block is to not create “long blocks”. Approaching a 4-, 3-, or even 2-hour study block can be overwhelming and lead to procrastination. Blocks that are 25-45 minutes with a short break in between are both easier to fit in and less overwhelming. For more on this, go to Utilise strategies to avoid procrastination.

Plan your university work

Now that you have all your due dates in your calendar, you need to start planning for getting your assignments done properly and on time. For each task, you need to consider the time that you should invest. For an essay or report, this could include:

  • Background research on the topic (e.g. prescribed textbooks, lecture material, general searching)
  • Proper research on the topic (e.g. database searching)
  • Creating an outline
  • Drafting your paragraphs
  • Drafting your introduction and conclusion
  • Revising to create a second draft
  • Time for the manuscript to “rest” (non-active time, but still important for planning)
  • Editing
  • A final proofread
  • Contingency time (time before submission to account for unexpected events, such as a problematic Turnitin report)

As you can see, quite a lot of time can go into just one assessment task! On top of this, you will have your normal classes and study/revision of material. To help with planning, you should try to estimate the time needed for an assessment task. As you do more assessments, you will get a better idea of how long a task will take you to complete. For an average 6-point subject, you might spend around 10 hours of active learning time per week (including lectures, tutorials, private study, and assessment tasks). So, if you estimate that a task will take you 20 hours, and you have 5 hours of “free” study time (i.e. time aside from scheduled lectures, tutorial, and study time) you may need to start the task 4 weeks prior to the due date to have sufficient time to complete it.

Once you have estimated the time to complete a task, track back from your assessment due date in your calendar and slot in study time into your free study blocks. This will give an idea of when you need to start the task.

Activity: Plan your work

  1. Estimate the time required for one of your assignments.
  2. In your diary or e-planner, note down your due date.
  3. In your diary or e-planner, find “free” study periods, and work backwards, filling these slots with tasks associated with your assignment, until you have filled all the time estimated for the task. Do not forget to add contingency time in case you run into any unexpected difficulties!
  4. Repeat for all assignments for the semester.

Set realistic goals 

You will find studying more rewarding and less stressful if you set yourself realistic goals. If you try to fit too much into a study session, you will not be able to meet your goals and will be discouraged from trying again, which can lead to procrastination. However, if you don't include enough study in your session, you will start to fall behind.

You will need to set personal learning or academic goals that are relevant and achievable. Consider what you want to achieve. This can take the form of long-term and short-term goals.

Long term - what do you want to achieve:

  • By the end of the semester?
  • By the end of the year?
  • By the end of the degree?
  • In your career?

Short term - what do you want to achieve:

  • In a study hour?
  • In a day?
  • In a week?


SMART goals

To achieve your goals, it is good to ensure that they are:

  • Specific - so that it is clear exactly what you want to achieve
  • Measurable - so you know when the goal has been completed
  • Achievable - so that the goal is not impossible
  • Realistic - so that the goal is within reach and relevant to your purpose
  • Timed - with a clear start and end date.


  • Skills reflection

    In order to set realistic goals, you need to consider your own skills and abilities. This will help you determine how much time you will need to complete each of your assessment tasks, complete any set readings, and revise for final assessments. You can then use your strengths to your advantage and work on developing those areas where your skills are not as strong. That is, you can prioritise the activities that will take you longer and start them earlier.

    Reflecting on your study skills is an ongoing process. As you progress through university, you will get a better understanding of how you study, how you have improved, and how to apply your improved study skills to the tasks at hand.

    Below are a series of questions to help guide your reflection process.

    Skills reflection

    Create a to-do list and prioritise work

    Creating lists can be an effective tool to organise and compartmentalise your workload. There are many different ways of keeping lists, including in a notepad, online spreadsheet or document, or through a variety of apps. These general guidelines can be applied to all types.

    Master lists

    Creating a master list with all of the tasks you need to do is useful to get an idea of your overall workload. It can help to “offload” juggling some of these tasks in your brain, and help you focus on a specific task. However, if the list gets too long, it is easy to get overwhelmed. This is when prioritising tasks, and creating smaller sub-lists from this master list can be helpful.

    The task matrix

    The task matrix, also known as the Eisenhower matrix, is a way of organising tasks from a master list (Jyothi & Parkavi, 2016). It involves creating a grid, and organising your tasks into things that are urgent vs. not urgent, and important vs. not important.

    UrgentNot Urgent
    Important

    Do it now

    Do it as soon as possible

    Do it later

    Schedule a time to do it

    Not Important

    Delegate

    Can someone help you with this task?

    Eliminate

    (or use as a reward once other tasks are completed)


    Delegate.

    Urgent and not important tasks are still things that need to be done but that you could ask a friend or a family member to help with, like washing your clothes, walking the dog, or cooking dinner. However, you would not ask someone else to complete university tasks, as this would be a breach of academic integrity.

    Eisenhower matrix - Drag and drop activity

    Drag each activity to the relevant section of the Eisenhower matrix.

    One way to keep track of your work is to use a Kanban board. The main idea is that tasks are visually represented on a board with columns that represent the stages they go through. Boards can be as simple as sticky notes on a wall or you can use software programs such as Notion or Trello.

    A whiteboard with three columns labelled ‘to do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’, which contain tasks written on sticky notes
    Example of a kanban board by Jeff.lasovski. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

    Sub-lists

    Once you have prioritised your tasks, a Kanban board can be used to create daily sub-lists with the tasks in order of importance. You can create sub-lists for the next few days, the rest of the week, or even a “now” and “later” list. However, try to not put more things on a list than you can achieve in a day, otherwise you may get overwhelmed. By creating a list in order of importance, it is less problematic if you are unable to complete the full list in the time you have.

    Utilise strategies to avoid procrastination

    Procrastination can be very problematic, and tends to happen when you get too overwhelmed with one or several tasks, or simply because you are disorganised. There are many ways of procrastinating, and many different strategies to avoid it. Utilising the strategies already discussed in this lesson will help, such as:

    • Planning your semester, week, and work
    • Setting realistic goals
    • Creating a to-do list and prioritising work

    Other strategies that help can differ from person to person, and you may have to try a few strategies before finding something that works for you.

    Workspace

    Create or locate a workspace which is free from distractions, e.g.:

    • Study at the library
    • Create a study space away from distractions such as the TV
    • Leave your phone in a different room (but audible, if you need to be on call)

    If you do not have access to a dedicated study space, turn off all distractions such as your phone and the TV. Maintain a clean and tidy workspace and keep it simple with only the things you really need.

    Doing work

    Create lists and prioritise tasks to avoid getting overwhelmed (see Create a to-do list and prioritise work)

    • Do the most difficult thing first OR
    • Do a short and simple task first to get you started AND
    • Use focusing techniques, such as the Pomodoro technique

    The Pomodoro technique

    Ceramic tomato

    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).
    Image: Il_pomodoro by Erato. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

    The Pomodoro technique involves setting a timer for a specific amount of time, and within that time, focusing 100% on a set task. This means until the timer goes off, you do not do anything else: no bathroom breaks (unless critically urgent), no tea-breaks, no checking emails, or following any other random thought that pops up in your head. This intense period of work is then followed by a set break, where you can 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. Remember to be courteous if working in a shared space by using a silent alarm such as a vibrating phone/watch.

    One common way of doing the Pomodoro technique is 25 minutes of work, followed by a 5-minute break. However, other time frames, such as 45 minutes followed by a 15-minute break, are also possible. It is not advised to set time periods that are too long, as it will make it difficult to stay focused. 20-45 minutes usually works the best.

    After a few cycles of the Pomodoro technique, make sure you schedule a longer break where you can get up and go for a walk or have some food.

    References

    Jyothi, N., & Parkavi, A. (2016). A study on task management system. 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. doi.org/10.4219/jaa-2008-867

    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