The Ultimate Guide to Time Management

Posted by Megan on September 15, 2014

Journey to the Centre of York

Time Management is one of the most important skills that you need to have as a university student, but many first years struggle with it. In high school, assignments and class work are usually guided by the teacher, while in university almost everything is self-directed. Below are some ways to start managing your time well at university.

Get Organized with a Schedule

One thing that makes a huge difference is plotting your schedule. Now, some students prefer the traditional planner but I’ve found that using apps works better with my life. The main app that I use is Google Calendar as it syncs automatically between my laptop and phone. I schedule in all my work shifts, classes, meetings and appointments. As soon as I have the syllabus (the outline given at the beginning of the course), I also schedule in any assignments and exams. Google Calendar also features colour coding and alerts which I use. I even have alerts to remember to pay my bills!

A schedule of one of Megan's weeks.
This is what one of my weeks looked like last Fall.


The most important thing is that you schedule in a way that best works for you. If you don’t like feeling boxed in, only schedule the minimum (courses, etc.). If you recognize that you need more direction, schedule more. In the past I’ve even scheduled study sessions and free time. Also keep in mind the time of the day. I personally find that studying in the afternoon is the best for me because my mind is more awake and ready to work. I feel too groggy in the morning and at night I need to relax, so I work my schedule around that.

Put Your Blinders On

With all that freedom, it can be extra hard to focus when you need to. As a university student, I find it quite hard to pull myself away from emails, Facebook and the internet in general.  You may also be juggling work, school, clubs and athletics. However when you stop and tally how much time you waste on distractions, it generally amounts to hours (even tens of hours) that could have been used more productively.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t have free time, rather, when it comes time to study or work on an assignment, do yourself a favour and put your blinders on. If you don’t need to use a computer or your phone – turn them off. If you do need to use them, use a restricting app such as StayFocusd to limit access to websites that pull you away from your work. You might even find it helpful to listen to music, put on white noise (eg. turn on a fan), or wear earplugs or a headset to keep out any noise.

Take a Second Look at Your Environment

What’s your usual study spot? Some students choose to study at the library which is one of the best options. The very environment is perfect for studying as it is quiet, temperature controlled, has lots of resources and is motivational in the sense that you are surrounded by other working students. However, other students study in more problematic locations – some of the worst probably being on their bed or in a noisy location. Studying on your bed is probably the worst – not only is it a little too comfy and relaxing to get work done efficiently, but it can also mess up your sleep schedule because you are sending your body mixed signals as to whether this is a sleeping space or a working space.

A photo of a student studying in Bronfman library.
This student is studying at Bronfman library.

There are lots of great places to study on campus, even if you are introverted and prefer to be in a less populated area than the main floors of the library. You can book a study room through the York Libraries. You can find an empty tutorial room in many buildings. Upper floors often have lounges and quiet spaces. On nice days you can even study outside, if that’s not too distracting for you. Studying at home is good too, as long as you have a quiet atmosphere and a dedicated area like a desk to work from. York actually has a great list of student common spaces for casual use and many of them are perfect for studying.

Prioritize & Chunk Your Commitments

Once you have an idea of what your school commitments are and when they are due you can become a lot more productive by prioritizing and “chunking” your commitments. Assignments should come before studying for finals. Both studying for finals and working on assignments can be broken up into chunks over a longer period of time instead of  trying to complete them all at once. Even better is setting a clear goal or task for each work session. Maybe on one day you are just going to work on an essay outline. The next, one argument. On the second last day you could work on the intro and conclusion and on the last day, editing and tweaking.

A graph of memory retention with and without regular study.
Image Source

I once took a student success course at my old university and they stressed that the best thing you can do as a student is to write a summary of your notes after each class (even if you don’t think you need it), then have a review at the end of the week, at the end of the month, and then at least once a month until exams. If you study like that, it is no longer necessary to study for large periods of time around finals as most of the information will already be consolidated in your memory. Instead, you will have more time and be far less stressed and you can just review any concepts you still feel shaky on or do practice problems. This is honestly the best memory hack I have ever encountered. 

Test Out Different Ways to Work

There are two main theories that I’ve heard work the most effectively. Unless you already know which method works best for you, I recommend trying both and deciding from there.

The first is working for 25 minutes straight, with a mandatory five minute break afterward. Every four of these, you take a 15 minute break instead. Using this break effectively is important; get a drink, a snack if you need it, check your Facebook if you want. The other method is to work for a longer period of time. Sixty to 90 minutes straight followed by a mandatory 15-30 minute break.

I have a hard time focusing my attention so I personally find the first more effective because I know I can focus for that amount of time when a small break is just around the corner. In both cases it’s also important to not have too many work sessions in a day. It takes experience to know when it’s the best time to stop, but try pushing through when you get tired and if you still can’t focus, it’s time to stop and do something else – relax, spend time with family or friends, work out, etc.

Put Yourself First

No matter what anyone says, being a university student is a full-time job. As such, it’s important to practice self care. Even with all of these useful tips and practice using them, you might still struggle at times. While it’s better in some ways to work a little bit each day, if you need to take a day off…take a day off.

Methods of self care.
Image Source

If you don’t feel refreshed after that, I strongly encourage you to look into that further. You might want to consider whether you are studying something you really enjoy, or perhaps see whether other factors such as your mental health or a disability are coming into play. No matter the situation, York has resources that will help so don’t be afraid to reach out.

Other Resources

Learning Skills Services (LSS) also offer a great webpage with even more time management tips.

For those that prefer workshops, LSS also offers a great workshop called Time Management. I’ve attended and found it very enlightening. 🙂

Lastly, Psychology Today has a Time Management section on their site with a bunch of articles, tips, quizzes, and more. If this is something that you struggle with, you should definitely take a look at all the free resources they offer.


Megan is a third-year Psychology student. Follow her on her journey of self-development as she explores and ventures through campus.

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