Student time-management SKILLS

Student time-management SKILLS

Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

When it comes to completing assignments, if you want to avoid all-night study sessions to hit your deadlines, you need some student time-management skills. This article looks at some approaches that will help you manage your university workload. It is part two in a series of articles on time management and productivity. You can read the others here and here.

Student time-management skills

For some people, pulling all-nighters to get a project done is like a badge of honour. The thing is, these caffeine-fuelled “white nights” are bad for your health and the quality of work that you will produce.

You can’t be at your best in a sleep-deprived state. And rushing to complete a project guarantees that you will produce sub-standard work or fail to meet your deadline. If you want to avoid burning the midnight oil, getting stressed, and turning in sub-par work, you need to develop a range of time-management skills you can rely on during your time as a student.

Let’s start by looking at the power of the incremental approach.

The incremental approach

Working incrementally (i.e. in regular short bursts) is one of the best student time-management skills you can learn. It can get you big results without you ever feeling like you had to do a mammoth amount of work.

By repeatedly showing up, sitting down, and doing the work, you get to your end result without ever breaking a sweat. It sounds too simple to be effective, but it works.

Weightlifters don’t go to the gym for one marathon session and walk out at the end looking hench. Instead, they show up three or four times a week for regular short sessions, and a few months down the line they are noticeably bigger and stronger. A single session won’t make much difference on its own, no matter how long it is. The cumulative effect of regular work is what creates big results at the end.

The same is true with your own projects. By working in short bursts you never feel like you’ve had to put a huge amount of work in, but as long as you show up consistently you can get big results for what seems like minimal effort. Think “little and often”, with an emphasis on “often”.

Imagine you have a ten-hour project to complete in a week. Which one of these approaches sounds better?

  1. Doing two one-hour sessions every day Monday to Friday, with a break in between each one.
  2. Putting in a single ten-hour session on a Friday when you’re tired and would rather be having fun.

I’m guessing the first one is more appealing, right?

Both of these approaches involve ten hours of work but the first approach is more manageable and will feel like much less effort. It will also give you time to reflect on your work along the way and help you get better results.

Plus, you’ll be able to have fun on Friday night. That is what makes the incremental approach one of the most powerful student time-management skills.

Self-discipline is the key to success

People only pull all-nighters because they aren’t organised enough to put the work in early. They still end up doing their assignments, just under more stressful circumstances because they lack time-management skills.

If you’re going to have to put the work in eventually, you might as well do it in a way that lets you cruise comfortably towards your deadline rather than tearing your hair out at the last minute. This requires self-discipline, which is not an easy skill to master. But doing so will benefit you in many areas of your life, so you might as well learn it now.

Speaking of self-discipline, a common problem that students encounter when they start university is that the learning environment is so different from what they are used to. Your lecturers will not be chasing you up to make sure you are keeping on top of your work. You will be expected to take care of it yourself, so you need to be self-motivated.

If you miss a deadline, then you fail, it’s that simple. It is up to you to take responsibility for yourself and your own learning.

Time-management and self-discipline are great life skills that you should welcome the opportunity to cultivate. If you can’t be bothered to do something that is for your own benefit, why should somebody else be?

By being self-reliant you will create opportunities for yourself and build a reputation as someone who reliably delivers on people’s expectations, which is invaluable in the professional world.

Don’t multitask

When you need to complete several things in a short space of time, it can be tempting to multitask. The problem is, single-tasking is usually more efficient.

In fact, there is no such thing as multitasking. You can’t read two books or write two essays at once, nor read a book and write an essay at the same time.

What you actually do when you try to multitask is repeatedly your switch attention from one task to another. This is less efficient than focusing on one thing at a time.

Don’t believe me? Try writing out the alphabet then follow this by writing a list of numbers from 1 to 26. Done? Now try writing the same two lists, but alternating between them one letter and number at a time. You will realise pretty quickly that completing the alphabet before writing the list of numbers is much quicker than switching back and forth between them one character at a time.

Constantly switching your attention doesn’t allow for the type of sustained concentration that is essential to produce high-quality work.

So how do you effectively deal with multiple tasks that must be completed in a given timeframe?

The best way is to make break project plans down into a series of sub-tasks that you can work through in sequence, with a specific timeframe for each task. By working through a series of tasks one by one, you are able to give each of them your full attention.

This process will give you all the structure you need to manage multiple demands on your time and is important for working efficiently. See this article for a walk-through of how to apply it to a typical class essay.

Take breaks

An incremental workflow naturally allows you to take regular short breaks between tasks so you can avoid burnout and get more done in the long run.

Our working culture tends to be one of powering through, but taking breaks is an underrated, overlooked, and counter-intuitive aspect of high performance.

Regular breaks allow your brain and body to recharge, leading to more consistent performance and higher quality work. They also allow for periods of reflection which will give you a deeper understanding of your work and have more breakthroughs.

We all know the story of the Eureka moment that the Greek scholar Archimedes had in the bath. Sometimes you need to step away from a problem in order to solve it. It is in moments of downtime that you will often come up with new ideas or solve problems you have been stuck on.

Make sure the incremental, single-tasking approach to your work is in your toolbox of student time-management skills and take regular breaks to give yourself the best chance of having your own Eureka moments.