Top tips for time management

Posted in: academic skills, employability, exams, time management

As assignment deadlines approach and exam season looms, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by all the targets and tasks you have to meet and complete. It's vital that you adopt and practise strategies to manage your time efficiently. Here are six top tips for time management to help you organise your time and take charge of your deadlines.

Good time management will help you to:

  • achieve more in a shorter time frame
  • free up more time
  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • become more productive in your studies and in your future job.

Tip 1: Get SMART(ER) with time management

Think strategically about your time and build time management into your planning strategy. One method to help you do this is to adopt the SMARTER approach.

S - Specific (simple, sensible, significant)

Your goal should be clear and specific, otherwise you won't be able to focus your efforts or feel truly motivated to achieve it. When drafting your goal, try to answer the five 'W' questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why is this goal important?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where is it located?
  • Which resources or limits are involved?

M - Measurable (meaningful, motivating)

It's important to have measurable goals, so that you can track your progress and stay motivated. Assessing progress helps you to stay focused, meet your deadlines, and feel the excitement of getting closer to achieving your goal.

A measurable goal should address questions such as:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?

A - Achievable (agreed, attainable)

Your goal also needs to be realistic and attainable to be successful. In other words, it should stretch your abilities but still remain possible.

When you set an achievable goal, you may be able to identify previously overlooked opportunities or resources that can bring you closer to it.

An achievable goal will usually answer questions such as:

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints, such as financial factors?

R - Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)

Are you focusing in the right areas? This step is about ensuring that your goal matters to you, and that it also aligns with other relevant goals.

We all need support and assistance in achieving our goals, but it's important to retain control over them. So, make sure that your plans drive everyone forward, but that you're still responsible for achieving your own goal.

A relevant goal can answer 'yes' to these questions:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Does this match our other efforts/needs?

T - Time-bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)

Every goal needs a target date, so that you have a deadline to focus on and something to work towards. This part of the SMART goal criteria helps to prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over your longer-term goals.

A time-bound goal will usually answer these questions:

  • When?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do today?

E - Evaluate (self reflection)

Consider the strengths and weaknesses of previous time management plans.

Ask yourself:

  • Did my time management plan run to plan? If not, why not?
  • What worked well and not so well? And why?
  • What should I keep and what should I change?

R - Review (flexibility, adaptability)

Don't be afraid to revise, adapt, and improve your time management plan, so that when you tackle your next assignment you are even more focused, more on target and more motivated.

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Tip 2: Prioritise tasks

Use the following chart to help you identify and rank tasks according to their urgency and importance. The red area should be where your most urgent and most important tasks go.

Example of a Priority Matrix: urgent/important box - course work due next week, revise for exam this week; less urgent but important - course work due in 6 weeks, proposal due in 3 weeks; urgent/less important - check emails, send message to anxious friend; less urgent/less important - check social media, go shopping for a new outfit.

Tip 3: Set mini targets with rewards

Include interim mini targets and deadlines into your time management plan. Mini targets will help you stay focused and motivated, and divide up your workload into manageable chunks.

Mini targets and deadlines should be:

  • achievable (within your timeframe)
  • realistic (in terms of size)
  • strategic (in terms of where they land on your planning timeline).

Coffee time!

And when you hit your target and tick the job done box, give yourself a small reward to celebrate your mini success. Your reward could be a coffee with a friend, or some retail therapy, or that movie you've been wanting to watch for weeks.

The key here is you need to celebrate small wins to help maintain your motivation and help you push onwards to the finishing line.

Tip 4: Chunk longer tasks

Some tasks may be large and complex, and feel a little overwhelming, to say the least.

One way to deal with this is to divide the task up into smaller and more manageable blocks or chunks, and deal with each, one chunk at a time. That way you can slot them into your time management plan, set separate mini targets and so on.

This helps lower the intimidation levels, build your confidence, and maintain your energy and motivation.

Tip 5: Mix it up and move on

Don’t try and write whole assignments in one sitting or from beginning to end. If you get stuck, switch around and change the section or task. That way you avoid 'brick wall' syndrome. Also, don't be afraid to adapt or tweak your time management strategy to suit your goals.

If you think it isn't working, then mix it up and change it until it works.

Tip 6: Work together

Chat to your coursemates and friends about your assignments and time management plan. Share your worries and woes, successes and challenges, and what you do to take charge of your studies. Ask for and offer advice and support.

By helping each other you'll stay motivated and on target for success.

The Skills Centre has developed a new short resource on Managing your time effectively to help you create a study schedule, prioritise tasks and overcome potential problems. 

Posted in: academic skills, employability, exams, time management

Access the 'Managing your time effectively' resource


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