As an adult student, you want to do it all – work, family, friends, school, attending your kids’ games, being involved in the community, R&R. And maybe you can – if you’re Super Man or Wonder Woman! However, when deciding to return to school as an adult, it usually becomes clear that something has to give. So how exactly do you identify your priorities? How do you squeeze in as much as possible without becoming overwhelmed? Cue - time management.
What is Time Management?
We’ve all said, “There are only 24 hours in a day,” wishing there were more because of all we have to do? What most of us know intuitively but don’t like to admit is that there is often a lot of wasted or mismanaged time in our day. That’s where time management comes in. What is time management? It is simply identifying what we (truly) need to do, cross referencing that with how we spend our time, then reorganizing (managing) our 24 hours to sustainably complete our to-do lists without burning out. Easier said than done, right? Let’s explore some time management strategies to help you take control of your days, weeks and month as an adult student.
Time Management Strategies
To begin to manage your time as a student, there are a few time management strategies that will set you up for success from the get-go.
Do a personal time assessment
Most likely, you’re going to have to free up some time in your schedule to make room for classes. You can do this by doing a personal time assessment. Using an hourly calendar, identify and write down every task or event in your week, including everyday activities like watching TV, buying groceries, time on social media, or picking the kids up from school. In red, highlight the ones that are non-negotiable – they can’t be removed. Next, mark the things in yellow that could be removed if push came to shove or that others might be able to do instead. Finally, mark in green any unallotted time or activities that can easily go. Voila! You’ve just identified your prime study times. Don’t, however, overlook those regular “wait” times that are part of everyone’s schedule – at the doctor’s office, picking up a kid from practice, or being on prolonged hold during a phone call. These smaller time segments are a great time to read a textbook chapter, look up research articles, or make a tentative outline for a paper.
Take a realistic course load
This time management strategy is directly related to your time assessment above. For every 3-credit, 8-week online course (like those offered at Ottawa University), you will need to allot an average of 9-16 hours per week. If you are working part-time, taking more than one course should be doable. If you work 50-60 hours a week, however, you’ll likely have to keep it to one course per term. The enrollment advisors at Ottawa University are a great resource for helping map out your degree strategy.
Engage your support team
Being an adult student is not the time to proudly try to go it alone. By informing your friends and family about your goal of earning your degree, you can enlist their help with everyday tasks like cooking, shopping, and running errands that will save you time. You can also share with them the time commitment it will take and ask them to manage their expectations of you, as well as hold you accountable to stay motivated. At work, your boss might be willing to let you take a day off each term for finals/term papers or allow you to have more flexible hours. And don’t forget about your classmates, who can serve as study partners, or your professors, who can help you with questions or obstacles you may face.
For some of you, this is already a way of life. Everything is on your phone, pad or computer. For others, it will take some getting used to, but the benefits are enormous. Whether it’s using a time management app, a digital calendar with alerts for deadlines that are approaching, an app to limit your time on social media, online tools for formatting references, or digital folders for keeping your business, personal and school activities separate, technology can save you time, so use it to your advantage.
Time Management Tips
While the time management strategies above are broader and more foundational, these time management tips encompass your daily and weekly study habits.
Establish a routine
One of the perks of earning a degree online is the flexibility to do coursework and complete assignments on your own time. However, that can also be one of its traps, especially when it comes to time management. Identifying how many hours a week you need to devote to each class and the consistent times in your schedule you will devote to your coursework will help you develop the habit of studying at regular times instead of procrastinating and panicking when an assignment is due.
Do you check your phone every five minutes for new texts and emails? Do you find yourself scrolling on Instagram for an hour? Are your kids or roommates blaring their music? You know what keeps you from focusing, so be intentional to minimize distractions while you are studying. Maybe that means turning off your phone, setting a timer during a study break to limit your social media, walking the dog before you start studying, using noise canceling headphones, finding a separate and quiet place to study, or recording your favorite TV show to watch later. If you don’t manage distractions, what should take you one hour could wind up sucking three hours from your day.
Be a task master
This starts at the beginning of the semester by pouring over the syllabus to become familiar with all of the course requirements, such as number of online weekly discussion posts, as well as all assignments and their deadlines. Create a calendar, either digitally or in a planner, with all due dates. Set up reminders, if needed, to keep you on track. If you are taking more than one course, do this for each one and designate your study times for particular classes.
Take small steps to a big goal
Some of a course’s tasks can be completed in one study session. Others are more complex and will require reading, research, and extensive writing. Rather than simply putting due dates on the calendar for these assignments, break them down into smaller steps and assign a due date to each. Making incremental progress and setting goals for a project will help you better manage your time rather than crunching at the last minute and not doing your best work.
It is easy to put your nose to the grindstone to complete a big assignment, only to find yourself staring mindlessly at your computer screen three hours later. Divide up your study times into 30 minute or hour segments, taking 10 to 15-minute breaks in between to clear your mind. Grabbing a cup of coffee, listening to part of a podcast, reading a book to your daughter, or walking around the block can energize you to dive back in. Just be careful to manage your break-time also!
How to Improve Time Management
Improving time management largely comes down to balancing work and school. Whether you tend to leave things until the last minute, not challenge yourself to perform at your highest capabilities, or regularly overextend by trying to accomplish too much, effectively managing your time as an adult learner can bring order and balance that will help you overcome these tendencies. The first step, though? Getting that first course on the calendar! Get started today.
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