10 Ways to Better Manage Your Time During the School Year

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There’s something satisfying about the first day back at school. The smell of ink, the clean, unsullied notebooks, the nervous buzz in the classroom before lessons start. You see materials laid out neatly on the desk: pencils, pens, sharpeners, laptops, binders — they’re almost calling out to you: “This semester is going to be a breeze.” Of course, those materials don’t remain inanimate for the entire year. Before you know it, there are essays to write, assignments to double check, money to make, professors to see, family to keep up with, a social life to maintain, and lastly (but definitely not least) a body and a mind to treat kindly. Twenty-four hours will never feel like enough time, but time can be an asset if you know how to use it wisely. Here are ten ways to effectively manage your time during this school year.

1. Plan out your class schedule prior to the first day

Your class schedule is typically available weeks in advance of the September start date. Utilize this time to plan out what your five-day week is going to look and feel like. This will also give you the opportunity to make any changes to your class schedule to accommodate other commitments. Planning out your daily lectures or seminars may not be the most exciting way to spend a summer afternoon, but your future self will thank you for it. You’ll be able to confidently show up on the first day and know exactly what to expect.

2. Maintain a weekly or monthly planner

If you are a visual thinker or learner, having a weekly or monthly planner at your disposal can go a long way. You could keep a physical calendar with all your due dates, plans, and commitments written out as they come up during each month. There’s also an endless amount of calendar and organizational apps if you prefer to have a weekly planner on your phone. Maintaining a planner can make you more efficient and less anxious during those hectic periods of the school year.

3. Write out a list of your major priorities

This is an activity I make an effort to complete before the new semester. Making a list of the top priorities in your daily life can provide a sense of purpose and meaning to the incoming year. It’s easy to get caught up in the intimidating number of deadlines and responsibilities. Crafting this list will encourage you to persevere and stay on track with your time. Think of the areas which are of utmost importance to you. These could include: physical/mental health, family/friends, school, extracurriculars, etc. Continuously referring to this list can give clarity to areas which you may be neglecting, forcing you to manage your time more thoughtfully.

4. Master the art of saying: “No, thank you.”

As students, we have a certain amount of stamina and time. Opportunities to go out or try something new will present themselves, but taking on more obligations than you can handle will leave you constantly drained and unhappy. The harsh reality is that you can’t do it all. There comes a point when you have to say “no, thank you” in order to make time for academics or self-care. This doesn’t mean that you have to consistently say “yes” to school and “no” to everything else, you just have to be selective about how you spend your available outside of the lecture hall. The art of refusal takes some practice but it’s worth it in the long term.

5. Craft a list of any personal, professional, or academic goals

Just as Tip #3 can assist in keeping yourself grounded, a list of goals you have for yourself can cultivate a feeling of purpose throughout the year. Take some time out from your day and be mindful of what you hope to achieve this year. Perhaps you want to earn a certain GPA, take up a new hobby or cut back the hours at your job; a set of personal goals can encourage you to work towards them. This list can determine what is and isn’t worth the time and effort, thereby helping to manage the quantity and quality of any schedule.

6. Make time for something you love every day

If you’re solely devoting all your time to work, you can expect to experience a ton of stress and anxiety. These emotions can impact the ability to complete assignments on time and with the best possible quality. Making time to do something pleasurable each day will have a positive impact on your mental health. It can be a simple thirty to sixty-minute window where you listen to your favorite playlist, throw a football around with some friends, or practice some breathing exercises. Life is still meant to be enjoyed even when it seems like your schedule is too jam-packed.  It’s a matter of making the time.

7. Complete your work one course at a time

When you have readings to do for a Twentieth Century Literature class, the readings are the most important work in that moment, not the essay that’s due in three weeks for Sociology. Stressing about what you have to do next will only sacrifice time on what has to be done now. It can be helpful to rank all your upcoming deadlines based on what is due the soonest and the level of difficulty for each assignment. Using this ranking, you can decide what must be completed now and what can wait. You could devote an entire block of time for one course, followed by a thirty-minute break, and then commence work on a different course. This also leads in to the next tip.

8. Avoid the temptation to multitask

Study after study demonstrates that multitasking is NOT productive. Our brains are not capable of devoting mental energy to two things at once. You would be wasting time and productivity if you believe you can text and make notes on readings simultaneously. It simply doesn’t allow the mind to function properly. According to a study conducted by the University of London, multitasking can even go so far as to damage your brain. There are more effective ways to complete your work on time.

9. Unplug when you are completing school work

The moment you receive a notification, you instantly want to check it, even if it’s something you don’t necessarily care about. Putting all devices on DO NOT DISTURB or SILENT can work wonders for the amount of time devoted to your studies. The more time spent completing work, the less guilty you’ll feel when you do venture back online. Your social life isn’t going to wither and die if you choose not to glance at your screen for two hours. Your GPA will thank you for that level of willpower.

10. Avoid procrastination at all costs

It’s very tempting to go on Twitter and post a clever meme about how much you don’t want to do your work, rather than proactively avoiding future anguish by finishing said work. Procrastination is simply not wise. Let’s face it: it’s self-sabotaging and disrespectful to the available time at your disposal. Try not to fall into the trap of putting things off because you’ll be more productive tomorrow, or the next day, or the next week. An effective way to avoid procrastinating is to schedule time that’s strictly for you and time that’s strictly for work. Learn to make both work and yourself a priority.

When we take on multiple commitments on top of our education, it becomes increasingly tricky to find the time for anything. These methods can be helpful in making time for everything you value, but it’s a starting point. There are all kinds of ways to manage time which cater to your own set of needs and principles. The goal is to practice methods that maximize your work ethic and minimize the feeling of overwhelm. We take on many different roles outside of our full-time studies, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be successful and happy. It’s all a balancing act.

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