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Time Management Strategies: Tips for Balancing College and Life

The top half of a pink alarm clock with two bells on top and the text How to Manage Time.

Juggling family, career, and college coursework requires more than just a can-do attitude. Understanding how to manage your time is critical if you want to crush your academic goals, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your health or sanity in the process. By following effective management techniques, you can balance the demands of college, career and life.

What is Time Management?

Colin Deyman and the text Colin DeymanTime management refers to your ability to plan and control how you spend your day to effectively accomplish the goals you’ve set. This involves dividing time among each of the domains of your life – work, family, and social life, according to Psychology Today. Because everyone’s goals are different and carry a different weight, it’s important to set clear priorities to separate non-essential tasks or “time wasters” from the activities that really matter. Poor time management skills can not only lead to habits like procrastination but can cause undue anxiety and erode your overall quality of life.

“Time management is probably the single most important skill that will help a student succeed,” according to academic advisor Colin Deyman, who advises undergraduate STEM students at Southern New Hampshire University. “How well a student manages his or her time will also affect overall well-being—at the end of the week or at the end of the term.”

When a student begins her semester at SNHU, academic advisor Cheri Shannon reviews her work schedule and helps her determine how she will fit coursework into her week. This usually involves squeezing an extra time into packed schedules that already include full-time jobs and caregiving.

Cheri Shannon and the text Cheri Shannon.“Staying on top of coursework requires some planning and determination to stick to scheduled study times,” Cannon said.

While students may believe that online classes allow for plenty of time to complete coursework, many underestimate the amount of time they will need to focus on their work.

“Some students think that without the travel time, their study time will just happen. In reality, they need to schedule in their schoolwork just like other appointments,” said Darby-Sue Lewis, an SNHU academic advisor who advises undergraduate business students.

Benefits of Time Management

Darby Sue Lewis and the text Darby Sue LewisWhile establishing a concrete plan may seem daunting, it can pay off in enormous dividends. Everyone gets 24 hours in any given day. Gaining insight into how to spend your time and how you can better allocate it to the tasks that matter most can bring you a greater sense of freedom. Some of the benefits of time management include experiencing less stress, fewer mistakes, more free time and space to pursue new opportunities.

By sticking to a schedule, you are bound to increase your overall productivity at school and at work, according to  Benefits can include:

  • Properly preparing for a project before it begins can help you increase the pace and the quality of your work.
  • By prioritizing tasks, you can then distribute your energy in the right amounts across different projects. 
  • If you have your schoolwork under control, you’ll be less likely to feel stressed about other aspects of your life. Good time management will allow you to relax when you need to and prioritize other commitments and relationships outside of college or work.

5 Tips to Help You Manage Time Better

Madeline Reid and the text Madeline Reid.There are some tried-and-true techniques that can help you master time management. Like any habit you develop, you can become better at it through practice. Looking for a list of practical time management tips? Here are a few.

  1. Understand what your assignments entail and when they are due. Whether you are taking one class or several, chances are your coursework will include a mix of short-term and long-term assignments. Writing down deadlines for each one and breaking longer-term assignments into tasks with their own deadlines can help you avoid beginning a major project at the last minute.

    “I let my students know that if they are aware that writing papers takes them longer, they shouldn’t procrastinate,” said SNHU academic advisor Madeline Reid, who advises STEM undergraduate students. “My favorite time management tip is for students to break their work into manageable chunks over the course of a week, month or term. They can then look at the big picture of their responsibilities over the course of a specific time frame and schedule themselves to ensure completion.”
  2. Develop a schedule and stick to it. Do you have more energy in the morning or the evening? If you find yourself losing steam after dinner, it can be tempting to forgo assignments for TV time. While you may not be able to control every aspect of your schedule, there are many parts you can control. You might prefer to write on the weekends while find you enjoy reading before your workday begins, for example. You might also find that you work better free from distractions, which might mean spending time at a local coffee shop rather at your kitchen table.

    Sultan Akhter and the text Sultan Akhter.Sultan Akhter '19, an MBA student who takes classes during the day and works on the SNHU campus, relies on Microsoft Outlook to keep track of his busy schedule. Akhter also uses a notebook to check off daily and weekly tasks as he completes them. While he can’t change his work hours or adjust the 3-hour class blocks in his schedule, he can avoid missing important meetings and assignments by using scheduling techniques that work for him.

    Despite your best scheduling efforts, unexpected life events do happen. Students need to be flexible and make adjustments to their schedules – but ultimately must hold themselves accountable for getting their work done, Deyman said.

    “Successful students consistently communicate when necessary and do not allow excuses, no matter how legitimate, get in the way of the goals they have set for themselves,” he said. 
  3. Set time limits on specific tasks. Just because you spend a lot of time on a given assignment, it doesn’t mean you’ve spent that time wisely. Lydia Alonci '18, earned her bachelor's in information technology and is now pursuing her MBA in Information Technology. She prioritizes her assignments based on urgency, time commitment and dependencies upon other projects.

    “I use timers as needed, but over the years I have come to understand how long it takes me to complete certain tasks, which then makes it easier for me to anticipate what I can actually get done in a day,” she said.

    Alonci also recommends sticking to the same routines to ensure that reoccurring tasks (such as house chores and grocery shopping) don’t fall by the wayside.

    Asking friends or family to hold you accountable for how you spend your time can also help you set limits.
  4. Lydia Alonci and the text Lydia Alonci.Use technology wisely. Most online class assignments require you to log on to the internet to post comments, access reading materials, conduct research or visit sites related to a course. While technology serves as a valuable tool,  it can also cause you to fall into an unintended trap.

    “Social media usage and general internet surfing are constant temptations, especially when course content may not be exciting or engaging to a student,” Deyman said. “Students can be bombarded by notifications constantly, which can take attention away from the task at hand. Ideally, students should put their phones away and close browser windows ... to avoid losing focus.”
  5. Schedule rewards for tasks completed. Pursuing a college degree doesn’t have to mean your life is all work and no play. It’s just as important to pencil in breaks, exercise and time with friends and family as it is to schedule time for studying.

    “The hardest part about time management while taking classes online is making sure to prioritize time for rest, recharging and social life. When you miss those things, you run out of energy and burn out quickly, “ Alonci said.

    Akhter plans lunches with his colleagues, hits the gym three times a week and finds time to hang out with friends off-campus.

    “Yes, a majority of that time goes to classes and work, but I always make time for my personal life,” he said.

Even if you struggle with time management, it’s a skill you can build. Using these time management techniques, you can successfully balance the demands of college, career and life.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.