How to Manage Your Time for Learning

Original Editor - Michael Rowe

Top Contributors - Ewa Jaraczewska and Jess Bell  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Good time management can improve learning, allow students to complete course assignments on time, and ultimately lead to higher academic performance.[1] Students who manage their time effectively tend to perform better than their peers with poor time management skills.[1] Getting things done efficiently and at the correct time is a form of self-management.[2] Important time management skills include avoiding procrastination, pre-planning studies, and improving sleep quality.[3]

However, we are not born with time management skills. Students often report that they have difficulty balancing their studies and daily lives,[4] which leads to anxiety, academic underachievement and stress.[4][5] We must, therefore, practise these skills from early on in our academic career.[2]

This article explores why time management matters and offers ideas you can use to help structure your schedule.

Benefits of Time Management[edit | edit source]

Time management has a positive impact on academic performance.

  • A proactive approach to managing your daily schedule enables you to systematically achieve your learning goals. Without being proactive, we tend to react to whatever comes up in the moment and may end up feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and stressed out.
  • Controlling your schedule protects against burnout. We often have more flexibility and autonomy with time than we realise (e.g. breaks between classes, time outside of lectures, etc.). How we use this time is an important variable that is mostly under our control. Allocating time for study allows us to be intentional about our schedule. It enables us to use our time more effectively and follow through on important tasks. Examples include managing time outside lectures and allocating time for study rather than scrolling through social media.
  • Blocking out the time for completing assessment tasks in advance prevents high-pressure situations and procrastination. It minimises the need for cramming before exams.
  • Allocating time slots for specific tasks allows us to focus on what matters most.

Practical Time Management Strategies[edit | edit source]

"Time management is simply about taking a proactive approach to managing your day, where you decide where you're going to focus your attention and for how long."[6] -- Michael Rowe

Some examples of proactive time management strategies are discussed below.

Time-blocking[edit | edit source]

Time-blocking is a form of scheduling where you allocate periods of time to different tasks and activities in your schedule, including classes, work, personal administration, relaxation, social media check-ins, etc.

  • Time-blocking encourages you to make intentional choices about what to spend your time on.
  • It encourages you to focus your attention on each activity for a discrete period of time.
  • It reduces cognitive fatigue and improves overall performance.

While it is important to schedule as much of your day as possible, it helps to keep a flexible mindset and avoid being too rigid in your scheduling. You should have the freedom to adapt your plans in the moment.

Task-batching[edit | edit source]

Task-batching is another form of scheduling. It is the process of grouping similar tasks and doing them all at once to avoid context switching. You can find out more about the impact of context switching on your work here.

  • Task-batching groups shorter, less cognitively demanding tasks together. For example, checking email, making phone calls, or posting on social media.
  • You can also use this time to plan other parts of your schedule based on new information coming in (e.g. from your email).
  • Task-batching helps reduce the cognitive overload of regularly switching between different tasks.
  • It is a good way to avoid becoming distracted.

Day Theming[edit | edit source]

In day theming, you dedicate each day of the week to a specific area of focus or responsibility.

  • Significant portions of an entire day are allocated to a collection of tasks related to one project or study theme.
  • The main goal of day theming is to ensure that by the end of the week, you can evaluate your progress in different learning areas.
  • Day theming provides structure and helps you to be intentional about what you focus on.
  • With day theming, you can link seemingly unrelated concepts across the curriculum. It can give you a focus, prevent distraction, and offer direction.

Reviews[edit | edit source]

Reviews are activities that allow you to stay on top of your schedule and help you focus your attention on what is important.

Daily Reviews[edit | edit source]

  • Daily reviews help you to focus your attention on what is immediately relevant.
  • They highlight what you have spent your time on and help you plan for the future.
  • You can allocate 10–15 minutes at the end of each working session to review daily activities, wrap up any last-minute tasks, and plan for the next day.
  • Because they help you start the next day with a plan, you don't simply react to whatever happens.
  • They ensure you pay attention to other meaningful things in your life (e.g. family or friends) and provide boundaries for work-life balance.[7]

Weekly Reviews[edit | edit source]

  • Weekly reviews help you to adopt a longer time horizon, where you can wrap up outstanding tasks for the week and prepare for the next week.
  • They can take a significant amount of time (potentially up to three hours) because they require you to focus on completing / rescheduling administrative tasks that form part of the learning process.
  • You can use this time to determine if tasks on your list must be completed soon (e.g. assessments).
  • They provide you with a protected time to reflect on how well or poorly you used your time in the past week and to make adjustments to your schedule for the coming week.
  • The aims of the weekly review include:
    • getting thoughts out of your head and into your notes.
    • clearing digital and physical workspaces.
    • updating to-do lists:[7] allocate time to the tasks on these lists in your schedule so you can be realistic about what you can get done.
    • reflecting on the week that has just finished.
    • identifying priorities for the following week.
    • scheduling in free time.[7]

Monthly Reviews[edit | edit source]

  • Monthly reviews help you identify your high-level goals for the year and ensure you are making progress on each goal.
  • They don't take long, as you usually only have two or three goals to review.
  • These reviews provide a high-level plan for the next month.
  • They provide an opportunity to make high-level plans for future assessments. For example, they let you build in study time for a few months before any assessment.
  • They enable you to evaluate how you have spent your time during the last three to four weeks and how well this time was used.

Annual Reviews[edit | edit source]

  • Annual reviews provide an opportunity for you to assess the progress you have made on the tasks/activites that you established as important at the beginning of the year.
  • You can look at personal and work-related objectives in annual reviews.
  • They enable you to look at the high-impact, important projects which were a focus of the year.

The combination of daily, weekly, monthly, and annual reviews is a "practical system that helps focus your attention on what you say is important to you."[6] -- Michael Rowe

Work-Life Balance[edit | edit source]

"Taking time off from work is crucial for avoiding stress and depression, and their potential consequences."[8]

Students need to be aware of the importance of staying on top of their well-being and incorporating self-care into their lives.[8] Diversion and distraction from work /study are crucial to fighting burnout.[8] Establishing boundaries between your studies and your personal life is vital.

"For me, it's really important to avoid mixing personal time and the time you spend on your studies because each can be a significant distraction from the other."[6] -- Michael Rowe

Planning your schedule and allocating time for activities help reduce the cognitive load of competing tasks that are vying for your attention. You can focus on what is on your schedule now because you know you have time set aside for other parts of your life later (i.e. you can relax and enjoy your weekend because you know you have time allocated for studying on Monday).

The following strategies can help with the transition from work mode to personal mode and vice versa:

  • Have a routine that signals the start of a cognitively demanding period (work or study). Examples: making a cup of tea, sitting in a special chair, writing in a journal.[9]
  • Use time-blocking to create a plan for the day, including time for personal activities. When everything has an allocated time on your schedule, you are less likely to feel you have to work during personal time and vice versa.
  • Use task-batching to group personal activities into set periods. Examples: checking social media, emails or phone calls ONLY when a significant task is completed.
  • Create a wrap-up routine. Examples include a final check of emails or a task list to know that you have completed all essential activities.[9]

Summary[edit | edit source]

  • Strong time management skills are a key contributor to academic success.
  • Scheduling your time is a practical skill that you can improve.
  • Time-blocking, task-batching, day theming, and reviews are all practical strategies that help you focus on your learning objectives.

Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Er E. Importance of time management skills during the COVID-19 pandemic: An exploratory learning analytics study in an introductory programming course. Journal of Computer Education 2022;1(1): 1-16
  2. 2.0 2.1 Alyami A, Abdulwahed A, Azhar A, Binsaddik A, Bafaraj S. Impact of Time-Management on the Student’s Academic Performance: A Cross-Sectional Study. Creative Education 2021;12: 471-485
  3. Romero-Blanco C, Rodríguez-Almagro J, Onieva-Zafra MD, Parra-Fernández ML, Prado-Laguna MDC, Hernández-Martínez A. Sleep Pattern Changes in Nursing Students during the COVID-19 Lockdown. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jul 20;17(14):5222.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Adams RV, Blair E. Impact of Time Management Behaviors on Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Performance. SAGE Open 2019; 9(1).
  5. Rashid A, Sharif I, Khan S, Malik F. Relationship between Time Management Behavior and Academic Performance of University Students. Journal of Business and Social Review in Emerging Economies 2020;6(4):1497-1504.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Rowe M. How to Manage Your Time for Learning Course. Plus, 2023.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Barker E. How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done—5 Expert Tips. Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Available from [last access 16.10.2023]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Powell K. Work–life balance: Break or burn out. Nature 2017; 545: 375–377.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Saunders EG. How to Transition Between Work Time and Personal Time. Harvard Business Review. Available from [last access 17.10.2023]