Improving Time Management Skills for College Students

Brandi Glass
5 min read
Student Smiling with Notebook

Time management skills are key for college students. Whether you’re battling procrastination or struggling to balance studies, work and extracurriculars, you know that if you could just manage your time better, college life would be much more enjoyable. You would have more free time, better grades and improved mental health.

Fortunately, time management skills can be learned. And with the right techniques, you’ll find organizing your workload simpler than you could ever have imagined.

Keep reading for tips on improving your time management skills. Say goodbye to all-nighters, late submissions and high-stress levels — you’ll find meeting all your deadlines is easier than ever.

Effective Time Management Skills for College Students: 9 Tips and Tricks

1. Create a Calendar

The easiest way to miss a deadline is to forget that it even exists. Make sure you have a calendar with all your exam dates, homework deadlines and other responsibilities clearly marked. Check it daily and set up notifications, too.

You may also find it helpful to block off study time for specific assignments. Let’s say you have an exam on Friday. Creating a “study for exam” event will remind you to turn a friend down when they suggest buying a movie ticket for Thursday night.

2. Review What You Need for Tasks Straight Away

Some assignments are simpler than others. As soon as you have a deadline, check what you need to prepare and then schedule that. For example, do you need to take certain books out of the library? Will you need to buy materials? Is something about the assignment unclear, meaning you’ll need to email your professor? It’s no use discovering this the night before the due date.

3. Accurately Estimate How Long You Need per Task

You won’t always correctly estimate how long a task is going to take you, but having a rough idea will help you manage your workload. If in doubt, always add a buffer period: it’s much better to find you have extra time than end up working until 3 am.

4. Prioritize Your Tasks

It can be tempting to do the easiest and most interesting work first. However, that can backfire.

Some responsibilities are more important than others. This might be because they are worth more when the professor calculates your final grade, or simply because the due date is closer.

Work out which tasks need to be your priority, and do them first. Although they might be less interesting, the sensation of relief when you finish an important project ahead of time will be worth it.

5. Organize Your Time with To-Do Lists

Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part of working. If you’ve ever spent the first 30 minutes of a study session checking your student email and reviewing your calendar, this tip will help you out.

When you finish a study session, create a to-do list for the next session. Put tasks in order of priority, and make sure the to-do list is a reasonable workload based on how long each activity should take you.

With a to-do list, you’ll be able to start studying as soon as you sit down at your desk. You won’t waste time deciding what to do first or double-checking due dates. Plus, you’ll get the satisfaction of crossing off each completed task.

6. Use a Countdown App

A three-hour study session can feel intimidatingly long. It also encourages procrastination. A few minutes scrolling through social media doesn’t seem like a big deal when you’re planning to study all evening — but those minutes can quickly turn into half an hour.

Instead, use a countdown tool to break your study session up. Fans of the Pomodoro Technique swear by studying for 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. However, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. Whether your sessions are 25 minutes, 45 minutes or 90 minutes long, the only thing that matters is that they help you stay focused.

7. Balance Work and Rewards

All work and no play doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy. It also makes it very hard to study.

Small rewards can help you improve your time management. Dopamine, a chemical that helps us feel pleasure, also motivates us to do difficult tasks — like writing an essay. What’s more, researchers are investigating its effect on our perception of time. And since small rewards can increase our dopamine levels, it makes sense to indulge in them when you’ve been working hard.

So go ahead: sign up for that Sunday hike, blast some music to dance to during your five-minute breaks and snack on that chocolate bar. It’s all in the name of getting your work done.

8. Pay Attention to Your Mental and Physical Health

It’s harder to meet your deadlines when you’re in poor health. Insomnia, migraines, severe period pain, depression: these can all cause your time management to slide.

If you notice you’re struggling with your mental or physical health, speak to a medical professional. You should also consider talking with your supervisors at college. They may be able to offer accommodations, such as deadline extensions.

People with ADHD and other forms of neurodiversity can also find time management challenging. Forgetfulness, distractibility and time blindness are common among people with ADHD and can cause real challenges with meeting deadlines. If you notice you struggle with chronic procrastination and time-keeping, speak to a doctor. It might be due to more than just dread of your upcoming chemistry final.

9. Speak Up if You Need Help

There’s more support available for you than you may realize. If you’re struggling to meet deadlines or balance work with study, speak up. Talk to a professor or college supervisor, ask your boss for reduced hours ahead of important deadlines and see if coursemates want to form a study group.

Remember: it’s much easier to solve a time-management issue before you’re actually late for something. The earlier you speak up, the better.

Time Management for College and Beyond

Time management skills will help you navigate college and graduate with a positive experience. But time management skills aren’t just important for your studies. You’ll benefit from them in part-time jobs and throughout your entire post-college career.

When applying for jobs, employers will look for time management skills. Being able to give examples of how you’ve managed your time well will help you get invited to interviews and impress potential new bosses.

So if you’re looking for a weekend bartending role, a business internship or your first full-time job, make sure you highlight your time management skills on your resume. Our resume builder will help you do this by suggesting recruiter-approved phrasing as well as how to structure your resume.

We’ve got multiple easy-to-adapt resume templates designed for college students, and you can customize them to your background and job search in minutes. Build your resume today to give you a headstart in your job search.