Time Management Strategies

Time-management is one of those skills everyone needs to develop at some point in their life. For the PhD student and their countless responsibilities, this skill is particularly important. Ceren has some quick and easy tips to help you manage your time more efficiently…

Time-management is a vital skill, one that will be necessary in your chosen career as well as in university. People have different time clocks and what works for one student might not work for you. The following are some time-management strategies that you may want to incorporate into your time-management routine. Test them out to see what works and what does not work for you. It might be a good idea to start by monitoring and reflecting on how you currently use your time.

First, Some Basic Strategies
  • Prioritise! You probably have a lot of things to do, so assess how important and how urgent the tasks are; then make sure high priority tasks get done first and are not put off on a regular basis. Avoid time wasters!
  • Be specific! Make the task as specific as possible — we tend to follow through then, especially if we write it down. For example, instead of telling yourself “I will do some statistics this week” try “I will do three descriptive statistics problems on Tuesday at 7pm”.
  • Small bite-size pieces!  It is easy to feel overwhelmed, so try breaking tasks down into smaller sub-tasks.  Once you have started it is easier to keep going.
  • Use all available time!  This is an especially good strategy if you are pressed for time.  You do not necessarily need a block of time in order to study. There are lots of study tasks that can be accomplished in short periods, such as reviewing main points of a reading or a lecture.
  • Structure the environment!  Find a place, preferably one you can use regularly and with limited distractions. Make sure you have all the essentials so you have no excuses.
  • Establish a routine!  We are creatures of habit. If you always study at a certain time or day then it will be easier to get into concentration mode. Also, it is better to study briefly and regularly.
Scheduling tools
  • Master schedule! Create a master schedule that indicates on a termly or yearly basis when holidays, exams, reports, essays etc. are due. Post it in a prominent spot!
  • Weekly  schedule! At a regular time, e.g. Sunday evening, plan your week taking into account your master schedule and your study goals for that week.

In this weekly schedule you should:

  • Mark out commitments such as classes, labs, work, sport, meals, etc.
  • Make a list of your study tasks — be specific and prioritise.
  • Schedule into available time slots these study tasks.
  • Consider the purpose of the study task — if it is working on an essay, more time will be needed therefore schedule a block of time. If the purpose is for review, say to scan a text then make use of the odd half hours available.
  • Schedule tasks that may require maximum concentration during your “peak” or periods of maximum alertness. This varies from person to person.
  •  Allot times for relaxation, exercise, etc. and be sure to include a “Cease study” time that allows time to unwind before sleep (and it gives you something to look forward to!).
  • Review what has been accomplished at the end of a day and decide if the schedule needs to be changed the next day.

Some students work better off a detailed daily To Do List.

  • At a regular time (for example last thing at night or first thing in the morning) plan your day taking into account your master schedule and the study goals for the week.
  • When you have finished a study task, cross it off  your timetable or list.
  • Avoid too much detail — a schedule has to remain flexible or it becomes a dinosaur!  Everyone has different needs; perhaps start with just organising study tasks for certain classes or only list your priorities.
  • Schedule in rewards, for example, your favourite TV programme after doing a task you were dreading.


This post was originally published October 29, 2012

By Ceren Kaya

Image: checklist-goals-box-notebook-pen-2589418 / StockSnap / CC0 1.0

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