The Paradox of Time Management

Effective Time Management
During the course of your university studies, you will recognize
that your days lack consistent structure and that you receive
less direction in the tasks you need to accomplish. This is an
opportunity to do things the way you want, the way you have
always wanted. It is also a challenge, however, due to a major
paradox: the more time you have available, the more difficult
it can be to manage your time. Time management strategies
allow you to meet this challenge and find time for everything including time to relax. By developing good time management
strategies you can work to define and achieve your goals,
reduce your stress, and improve your marks!
The Paradox of Time Management:
The more time you have available, the more difficult it is to
manage your time.
General Expectations
The course syllabus will tell you a lot about your professor’s
expectations and the time and work you will need to commit
to the course. What the syllabus may or may not say is this:
for a student to be successful, he or she must engage with the
course material. This means that your presence - physical and
mental - is required during all course activities. You are
expected to analyse materials, not consume them. So, you will
need to take time and make an effort - perhaps more than you
have with your past schoolwork - to actively engage with the
As a general rule, a full-time student should treat his or her
studies like a full-time job, spending 40-50 hours per week in
class, doing lab work, reading, reviewing, writing, and thinking.
Some weeks, the workload may be light, while in others, you
may have multiple assignments or tests. It is important to
plan by day, week and month to manage the ebb and flow of
the term.
Make a 24-7 Schedule
This kind of schedule is different than your timetable because
it shows every hour of the day. This schedule, properly used,
will tell you much time you have so that you will know how
best to use it. You can download a 24/7 schedule from the ASC
First, block off the time you normally spend sleeping. Identify
the first and last hours of the day you feel you can effectively
study or work. Maintain good health with sufficient sleep (6-8
hours per night).
Next, block off all class time; identify any fortnightly classes.
Consider time getting to and from classes if you have to
commute or take public transit.
Finally, block off all other fixed commitments: work,
volunteering, working out, study group, student
government/club meetings, regular movie night. If you know
you will be spending Friday nights out with friends, block it off
– don’t try to plan to do work at a time when it is unlikely to
happen. (Also consider how early you will rise the following
Evaluate the time remaining and identify blocks of time for
regular study and major assignments; approximately 20-25
hours should be available for doing readings, completing
weekly assignments, pre-labs, and problem sets, researching
and writing reports and essays, and reviewing materials in
preparation for tests and examinations. Remember that you
have other activities around study that you cannot ignore:
eating, laundry, personal care, grocery shopping, and other
general tasks. You should still have time available for these
activities and general leisure too.
You may wish to establish all of these academic and personal
activities in specific blocks of time (i.e. laundry on
Wednesdays, 4-6pm; reading for Bio on Thursdays 8-10pm).
However, this method does not work for everyone. You may
find it more useful to know, based on the space available in
your 24/7 schedule, that you have 3 hours available on
Tuesday afternoons and 4 hours on Tuesday evenings; you can
then decide, on a weekly basis, what tasks fit in those time
slots (i.e. this week: research for Psychology Tues. aft.; math
problem set and bio pre-lab Tues. eve.). This is an easily
adaptable approach.
Using a Term-at-Glance Calendar Effectively
You can download a term-at-a-glance calendar from the ASC
website or use a four-month wall calendar, whichever is more
convenient for you. The point is, though, to have a calendar
that shows all the months of a term, from September to
December and from January to April, without turning a page
or changing screens.
1. First, enter the due dates for every assignment.
2. Consider the steps required for each assignment
(generally: research, outline, draft, edit). You may find
the Assignment Analysis Sheet helpful. Enter the start
and end dates for each particular step of each
assignment, which should help you to see how each
week is shaping up in terms of what is due, what needs
to be started, and so on. Don't forget to include
important events in your personal life on this calendar.
These are crucial in giving you an accurate picture of
your week and month.
3. Do this as early as you can in the term.
Other points to consider:
1. Be flexible. Don't worry if you need to adjust your
calendars a few times. That's part of the trial-by-error
process, and it's useful.
2. Remember that colour-coding can help you to keep
straight which assignments are for which class.
3. When a week is becoming very full, try moving some
tasks to earlier slots. That way, you'll be spreading your
workload over the entire term. Once again, you need
to start early or none of your planning will work as well
as it could.
Your Daily Planner
The final step in your time management process is to record
all of the critical information in your daily planner or in daily
to-do lists. Referring to your 24/7 schedule to identify blocks
of time for school work and using your deadlines and minideadlines to prioritize your work, you can effectively plan your
week and your day to keep up with your readings, stay on
track with essays and assignments, and maintain your
personal interests and social life.
Sample To-Do List
Make time to manage your time:
Plan your week on the same day every week.
Tips for Planning Your Work Week
1. Use your time wisely: don't plan to spend too long on
one task. Establish a comfortable time span during
which you can focus. Take lots of small breaks to reenergize.
2. Vary your tasks: don't spend all night just reading or
just writing. Do some research, some thinking, some
3. Plan your tasks so that you blend more enjoyable tasks
with less pleasant ones. Don't leave all the things you
don't want to do until the end.
4. Consider your habits. If you are not normally at your
best first thing in the morning, schedule an activity that
is more active or that you are motivated to do
(perhaps you enjoy reading for History or writing
essays for ERS – do this at times when it might be
difficult to convince yourself to tackle readings for
Philosophy or Chemistry).
5. Reward yourself for staying on track, but also take time
to re-assess if you think things are derailing.
The Keys to Successful Time Management
Be Honest
Forget what you "should" do or what you think others are
doing or what you wish you could do; stick to what you
actually do. Remember, no one is judging you- this process will
work only if you are completely honest with yourself.
Everyone approaches time management (and life!) differently,
so you are the best judge of how to adapt these strategies to
you and your work.
Be Realistic
Unless you are superhuman, it is best to stick with what you
know about yourself. If your approach to these time
management tools is unrealistic, you won't use them. Don't
try to take on too much, but don't sell yourself short either.
Above all, get to know your own capabilities.
Build in Personal Time
Everyone needs to take care of non-school things too. Be sure
to build recreational, social, and personal time into your
schedule. Do this first, not as an afterthought.
Be Flexible
Review your plan constantly; update it often. If you fall
behind, don't worry - simply rearrange your schedule. If
something unexpected happens, go with it and rearrange your
plan later. Remember, you control it; it doesn't control you.
Stick with Your Plan
The best plan in the world will fail if you don't use it. Get in the
habit of using the daily/weekly planner for everything, every
day. Be sure to record all of your appointments and activities
in the appropriate place.
Give it Time
If you need to change what you do or how you do it, try to
change one thing at a time. Things will get better as you get
better. After all, that's why you are at university - to learn.
The Academic Skills Centre
Trent University
[email protected]