Overhead view of part of a laptop and a phone with a clock face on it. The clock face helps represent time managing.

College Success

10 Best Time Management Tips for College Students | Outlier

12.02.2022 • 10 min read

Bob Patterson

Former Stanford Director of Admissions

Learn what time management means, tips on how to do it, and the benefits it can give you in your college journey.

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In This Article

  1. What Is Time Management?

  2. Our 10 Best Tips

  3. The Benefits of Good Time Management

You’ve likely heard the words "good time management" from everyone around you: parents, teachers, counselors, even friends. But it’s not just a buzzword. Having good time management skills enable you to achieve what you want—and more.

Time management is among the most desired skills that employers look for when hiring new employees today.

Being successful at organizing your time means you can find that coveted work-life balance right now and use this skill for the rest of your life. Whether you’re right out of high school or going back to school in your 30s, these skills aren’t just beneficial for your college experience. They extend much further.

What Is Time Management?

If everyone has the same number of hours in a day, why is it that some people achieve more with their time than others? It all comes down to good time management.

Psychology Today defines time management as “the ability to plan and control how [you] spend the hours in a day to effectively accomplish [your] goals.”

Time management is simply the process of dividing your time between different tasks and activities to achieve your short-term and long-term goals. Whether it’s finding time to eat, sleep, study, or work, learning good time management strategies can help you understand the importance each task has in your daily life and how you can maximize your success.

Strategies, Techniques & Tools for Effective Time Management

Psychologists, authors, and entrepreneurs all have their preferred tools and techniques when it comes to time management. As you’ll see, each strategy appeals to different types of people.

Take a look at four popular time management strategies here:

1. The 80/20 Rule

Problem solvers and analytical thinkers can benefit most from this technique.

Created by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the 80/20 rule is the idea that 20% of your actions are responsible for 80% of your outcomes. This means that the relationship between input and output is unbalanced. You can make this work in your favor! Once you know where to put that 20% of your effort to make the 80% impact, you’ll have freed up 80% of your time and made more of an impact.

2. Pomodoro Technique

Creative thinkers can benefit most from this technique.

Created by entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro technique uses a timer to break up your work into manageable chunks so that you can focus for a set amount of time and then move on. This technique goes beyond just breaking up your day. It teaches you how to set and achieve your goals—from day to day and year to year.

3. Time Blocking

This technique can work great for analytical thinkers.

Elon Musk’s secret to being productive is said to be time blocking. By assigning a time block to a task, you can begin to understand how much time you have in a day to get things done. Time blocks can be 15 minutes to an hour and can range from eating breakfast to going to class to walking to the library. Essentially, you have control over every minute of your day!

4. Getting Things Done Method

Overwhelmed multi-taskers can benefit from this method.

Created by author David Allen, this method focuses more on the meaning of tasks. First consider the actions that have your attention. Clarify their meaning by deciding whether they are actionable now, soon, or later. Then organize the actions into priorities, review and reflect, and engage in the actions in order of importance.

All these techniques are similar in focusing on how to manage your time, but their methodology, reasoning, and practices are different. Some will be more successful for some people and not for others. There’s really no one answer when it comes to the best technique for time management. It’s all about what works for you.

Our 10 Best Tips

1. Understand Your Work Style

Being honest with yourself and understanding the way you work is the key to good time management.

Consider the following questions:

  • Do you need a visual or logical rule to organize your time?

  • Is it real outcomes or time that drives you?

  • Do you work well with or without deadlines?

  • Are lists useful or actually another procrastination technique?

Ask yourself the hard questions first and then look at some time management strategies that suit you.

2. Identify & Limit Distractions

In the same way as knowing how you work, you need to know when you don’t work well. It’s challenging to avoid all distractions because you may need your phone, your computer, and the internet to complete most of your tasks. However, being mindful of these distractions—and knowing when they’re taking over—is the key.

First, you’ll want to better understand how much time you waste day-to-day. Is scrolling through social media taking up an hour during your coffee breaks? Is gaming or watching TV taking up your entire evening? Do your email notifications shift your focus from schoolwork every time they sound?

Once you’ve identified these distractions, you can look for ways to limit them. Of course, you’ll never escape all social media, and those emails do need a response. But scheduling time to incorporate or exclude them can be the key to limiting those distractions, allowing you to reach your goals.

3. Set Personal Goals

Set short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. All goals, no matter how large or small, realistic or unrealistic, are essential to keep your time management on point.

Understanding your goals and highlighting them keeps you focused and motivated. When college gets overwhelming, you can look to your goals to keep you on the right track. Don’t be afraid to sit down each year and write down what you want to accomplish.

Keep checking in with these goals, changing them, or adding more if needed, and then incorporate them into your time management strategy.

4. Find a Time Management Strategy

There are lots of strategies and methods to help you—use them. You may want to try a few different techniques and methods so you can find the right one to suit you and your situation.

Maybe sitting down with your coffee and creating time blocks is the way forward. Or maybe setting focus timers when it’s study time is the way to do it. You won’t know what works until you try it!

5. Break Tasks Down

Don’t be afraid to break down large, overwhelming tasks into smaller, easier tasks when you’re creating your time management strategy.

Whatever your method, question all aspects of a task and ask whether or not you can accomplish more by breaking it down. Essays are not just writing. There’s reading, research, organization, editing, and proofreading that are all needed. Studying for a test isn’t just about making and reading notes. You also have to commit them to memory.

Tasks can become more manageable if you break them down.

6. Develop a Routine

Whatever method you find, develop a routine around it. Getting into a routine you can follow helps you become more consistent and, ultimately, more successful.

With routine, you are able to balance your personal life and your school life with the ease of predictability. Routine creates space, giving you enough time to find a good college job or get to the gym on a more regular basis.

Try and find your routine early on in the semester or the academic year so you have time to adjust if you need to. Be sure to see your routine as flexible enough to change only when it needs to, for example, when your class schedule changes each semester or when you need to schedule work shifts.

7. Ask for Help

You don’t have to do it alone! Talk to your professors about your due dates, schedule some study sessions with your friends, and make a study plan with your roommates. Most colleges have student support services, so make an appointment and see what they have to say.

Beyond people, apps are a great resource for college students. Whether you need a good to-do list app, something to drown out the background noise, or to time your work blocks, there’s most likely an app for it!

APPBEST USED FOR
AsanaOrganize, prioritize, and assign tasks
Be Focused TimerMaintain focus and track your progress
Do!Create lists, organize, and recognize your completion
ForestHave real trees planted on Earth for staying focused
Focus BoosterDivide your schedule into chunks to accomplish tasks
NoisliIncrease productivity with the right background sounds
TodoistSet a schedule to get everything done each day

8. Reward Your Accomplishments

Pursuing your college degree, earning money in your part-time job, and developing your time management skills shouldn’t be your only focus. It’s important not only to schedule breaks for yourself throughout your day—whether that’s for exercise, time with friends and family, meditation, or other activities you love—but also to reward yourself for accomplishing your goals.

If you’ve achieved your goals, you should celebrate! The better you feel about your goals, the more you’ll want to set.

9. Stop Multitasking

Even though we love to multitask, it’s actually something none of us can do as efficiently as we think. A study by the University College London actually found that multitasking lowers your IQ score in a way similar to those who have stayed up all night.

A team of researchers explored the illusion of multitasking and whether this illusion helps us perform better on tasks. They found that people do perform better when they believe they’re multitasking, but only in specific circumstances and when the tasks are linked.

Whatever the study, the takeaways are clear: our perception of multitasking is more successful than actually multitasking.

10. Keep Everything in Perspective

Time management isn’t something that just happens to you. It’s a skill that requires work and practice to become routine.

Don’t give up on a method just because you couldn’t achieve everything you wanted. Equally, know your limits and that it’s okay to switch methods when you know they’re not working. As long as you make an effort to reach your goals, you’re on the right path. Keep it all in perspective and a part of the bigger life picture.

The Benefits of Good Time Management

Beyond developing a structured day, good time management allows you to achieve a better work-life balance by increasing:

  • Productivity

  • Focus

  • Intentionality

  • Happiness

As you are able to control more of how you use your time, you can start to feel more confident in your abilities and better able to appreciate everything that comes your way.

1. Increase Your Focus & Productivity

Good time management helps you get things done. It’s as simple as that. Developing a system that allows you to focus on completing a particular task by a particular time means you will achieve your goals. As you get better and better at focusing, your productivity increases. The more you set your schedule, cross off items in your to-do list, and see clear daily goals, the more you become more organized without even trying! Procrastination becomes a memory, and intention becomes your future.

2. Improve Your Mental Health

Having a more intention-filled day clears your mind, decreases your stress, and helps you to feel less overwhelmed. Because of all this, you will have increased energy and motivation to achieve your goals. All these good things add up to improving your mental health by leaps and bounds—simply by organizing the time in your day.

3. Reach Your Goals Faster

A key part of time management is setting personal goals. When you develop this pattern of focusing on those goals, achieving them, and being more motivated to set them, you can actually reach them faster.

Your decision-making skills become quicker and more streamlined, and you’re able to identify your priorities and limit your distractions with ease. This means that you can focus on what’s really important to you.

Whatever your goals are, you’re more likely to reach them with good time management.

By taking the time now to improve your time management skills, you will be giving yourself a gift: increased productivity and more time to focus on the things you really enjoy. Not only is time management a desirable skill for college, but it’s also a skill that is in high demand in today’s working world. Time management will help you tremendously in achieving the goals you have for your future.

About the Author

Bob Patterson is a former Director of Admissions at Stanford University, UNC Chapel Hill, and UC Berkeley; Daisy Hill is the co-author of Uni in the USA…and beyond published by the Good Schools Guide 2019. Together, they have established MyGuidED, a new educational tool for students looking to apply to university (launching 2023).

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