The College Student Guide to Time Management

General Education

Time Management and Productivity Techniques for College Students

College is difficult enough without sabotaging your own efforts by being disorganized. Many college students who fail classes don’t fail because they lack the intelligence to pass the class but for the simplest reason of all: they procrastinate, try to sprint at the end, and come up short on quality, quantity, or both. More than half of all students who enter college in a given year will not graduate in six years or less, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. How many of these students might make it through with better time management skills?

There are things you can do today to start getting yourself organized and using your time more productively. 

Using Published Techniques

If you want to take a methodology-based approach to your time-management issues, you can try a system that has already been proven by numerous users to be effective. There are several on the market, so read up and decide which one seems to fit your personality best.

Getting Things Done® or GTD

David Allen’s patented Getting Things Done® is a workflow process management system that focuses on externalizing thought processes to prioritize tasks. Allen’s system is based on the idea that productivity is lost when no advance planning is done. He asserts that people tend to “dive into” big jobs without thinking about how they will handle the scope of the task, leading to flagging before the task is finished. Allen emphasizes using external methods to plan and implement the task, especially if it is a multi-step job or one that relies on input from more than one person.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique® is based on breaking tasks into short time intervals to complete them more fluidly. It includes five basic steps:

• Make specific decisions about tasks to be done 
• Set a timer for 25 minutes 
• Work until timer rings 
• Take a 3-5 minute break; return to work
• Every four “pomodoros” or 25 minute sessions, take a 15–30 minute break

The Pomodoro Technique® is useful for those who find it difficult to stay “on task” and helps them to avoid “fluttering” and work more tenaciously—a common problem that saps college students’ work of its value.

What Can I Do Today To Manage Time?

While published time management systems are based on research and work for many people, some college students do not have the time or the incentive to incorporate a whole new system into their lives. There are still things they can do to manage time more effectively, and most of them cost nothing to implement. Here are a few examples of “folk wisdom” about time management that may help you stay on task and get your work turned in on time!

Get a calendar and make a list. It may seem obvious, but you probably cannot remember appointments, study dates, and due dates without some help. Some college students invest in complex and expensive calendaring software, but this is not really necessary. Get a cheap calendar with big date boxes, hole-punch it, and put it in the front of your notebook. You can also use an online calendar reminder attached to your email program or your computer’s operating system. It does not matter which you use, as long as you use it every single day. Make looking at your calendar a routine you follow first thing in the morning. You will be surprised how much more organized you are with this one simple step. You should also keep a running list of tasks to accomplish this week in the front of your notebook, on your phone, or anywhere you can easily access it. This not only organizes you and trips your memory, but also gives you a sense of accomplishment as you cross items off of your list.

Break large tasks into small ones. When it comes to college work, there is no getting around this simple rule: big jobs are made up of lots of little jobs. Whether you are writing a 100-word paragraph or a dissertation paper, the process differs only in scope. A dissertation is, after all, only a lot of 100-word paragraphs. Begin working immediately after you receive an assignment, and commit to finishing a “portion” each day. You will be surprised how quickly you finish big jobs.

Do not exceed your study limit. Cramming is not usually an effective long-term study method. Instead, try breaking your study sessions with exercise or snack breaks. During your breaks, do not read, think, or talk about your study topic. When you return to studying, you will be amazed at how clear your brain feels.

Share the burden. Study partners or groups not only help you with new perspectives, they force you to commit to a time and place for organized study. Take advantage of these groups at every opportunity.

Good time management is an elusive quality for most of us, but it is also a quality that can be cultivated. The most important factor in time management is a commitment to take the same steps time after time and every single day. If you make this commitment to yourself, you will soon see better time management skills in your daily life.


Chad Fisher is an education enthusiast with a passion for building education and career-oriented websites to help people learn more about careers that interest them. He is currently interested in helping people find a career in the criminal justice system. Learn more at


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