File:Bristol Bus Station clocks.jpgStudying can sometimes appear to be overwhelming and what is needed is the ability to organise your learning into small manageable pieces. Even having a rough plan allows you to see what you need to do and how long you have to complete tasks. The key to effective time management is how you plan and use your resources in relation to your identified goals. The following seven steps will help you succeed.

Step 1 - Identify long and short term activities and tasks

This relates to what you need to achieve over the next year, semester, week, or day. For example, identify two short term goals - the first could be something related to your home life and the second should link to a school assignment. Write down the first goal or task you want to achieve by the end of the week. Write down a second goal or task which relates to your writing your essay or assignment. You may also want to include key information such as essay title, number of words required, and due date. assignment.

Step 2 – Make a to do list for writing your essay

This step will help you allocate time to all the things you have to do to finish your essay, and to think about the resources you need to achieve this goal. You may not know just now how much time you will spend on the different things you have to do so just estimate at this stage; you can always change this later.

  • List everything you need to do to achieve your goal and anything else that you plan to do including house work, child care, social activities or work.
  • Now allocate appropriate times for each of these things.

Step 3 - Plan for fixed events

There is no point drawing up a "to do list" which sits in splendid isolation from everything else you must do. If it's going to work it must take into account all the other activities and pressures which are part of your life.

Having made a to do list, the next stage is to plan for events that must happen at fixed times, for example, lecturers, certain specific jobs, social events etc.

Step 4 – Prioritise tasks - MOP up

Look at all the other things you have on your list and work out which of the following tasks they are:

· Must do – category A tasks which must be done.

· Ought to do - category B tasks which ought be done but could be delayed

· Prefer to do - category C tasks are tasks you probably like doing but do not directly achieve your objectives.

Record A, B or C on your "to do list" against each activity.

This process of prioritising tasks helps focus your mind on the things which have to be done. Sometimes we avoid doing these tasks (A and B) because we don't enjoy them, they take up too much time or we think they are too difficult. Instead, we spend time doing the things we enjoy, the category C tasks, which don't necessarily take us any closer to achieving our goals. It's not that we shouldn't do category C tasks at all – these often help reduce stress – but if you spend too much time doing these things will not get any closer to achieving your goals and risk losing the motivation to continue.

Step 5 – Clarify what is Urgent and what is Important

What makes something a priority? Sometimes the decision is not in our hands – people i.e. lecturers may override our opinions or outside factors might intervene. Other people and outside influences might change your priorities.

In order to prioritise we need to distinguish between when something is urgent or important:

Urgent Activities

  • Something is urgent when it demands our immediate attention now!
  • Often an urgent matter becomes more urgent as time passes.
  • They act on us, are visible and insist on action such as a telephone call or an email.
  • They can often be pleasant to do but are not necessarily important.

Important Activities

  • Something is important when it has considerable significance or consequence.
  • The importance of the matter is not changed by time.
  • These activities contribute to your goals.
  • They can be non urgent, but require more initiative and for you to be proactive.

We can be easily diverted to the more urgent and less important tasks. The next step is designed to help you to prioritise yet again. This step will help you filter out those activities which can be "time wasters" and to focus your mind on the more important tasks which will help you reach your goals.

Step 6 – Write daily, weekly and semester plans

The semester plan will provide you with the helicopter view, it gives you the ability to step back and see what your work load is likely to be over the coming months. Write critical dates (deadlines, examinations etc) onto a semester plan. Now consider all the smaller tasks you have to complete (Steps 2 and 3) and work out a way of distributing these within your study plan to minimise pressure at busy times. These tasks will eventually filter through to your weekly plan. It may be necessary to bring deadlines forward so you can cope with the work. It is useful to work backwards from your deadlines and decide what you will have done by the end of each week or day.

Weekly Plan

A weekly plan allows you to transfer tasks from the semester plan on a weekly or monthly basis (if you produce a number of weekly plans); it keeps you in touch with your deadlines by breaking tasks down into bite size chunks; it gives a sense of achievement as you begin to move toward the completion of a task and reminds you of what you have achieved.

Remember to:

  • Prioritise these tasks and work out what you need to do each week (Steps 4 and 5).
  • Build in fixed events.
  • Plans have to be realistic and flexible; don't see them as written in stone but be prepared to reschedule when necessary.
  • Leave some space in your plans for the unexpected things that may happen or opportunities that may arise.
  • Remember to build in some down time when you can just have fun see friends and family.

Daily Plan

The daily plan provides you with a "to do list" for each day it keeps you focused and gives a sense of progress and achievement as you tick off each tasks completed.

Remember to:

  • Make a daily list of important tasks and be ready to start.
  • Break tasks down into manageable bits.
  • Avoid procrastinating (putting off until tomorrow what can be done today) it will only build up.
  • Carry over unfinished task to the next day and review why this happened.
  • Don't forget to make use of other resources available to you such family and friends, partners, fellow students etc. You don't have to do this all by yourself.
  • Remind yourself of what you have achieved so far by ticking off jobs done and the successes you have already have.
  • Build in fun time – what ever works for you!

Step 7- Review your plan

Review your plan at the end of the day/week. Think about:

  • What have you done and what is still to be done and why?
  • Move these onto your list for tomorrow and adjust your priorities.
  • You need to review why things did not get done and not just accept it; rather, you need to ask what will you do differently next time?
  • Remember – seeing the progress you are making will help keep you motivated.

It is common knowledge that students are busy people; a good time-management plan is therefore crucial for academic success. Getting organized early will prevent panic and stress as the semester progresses, which may also result in significantly better grades.