Time management is just one key to reducing stress, getting more done, and achieving balance as an adult learner.
Whether you’re enrolled part- or full-time, balancing school with work, family, and other commitments requires a tremendous amount of effort and planning. Time can feel scarce when you’re juggling so many commitments. Here are our tips for managing your time wisely so that you can improve your productivity and achieve your goals with less stress.
Use a planner
Planners are terrific tools for getting an overview of your day, week, month, or semester at a glance. Whether you prefer digital calendars and project-management apps or physical planners, these tools allow you to take notes so that you’ll always have them handy when you’re ready to work on a specific task. They’re also important for plotting out reminders of meetings and deadlines as well as to-do lists so you can check off completed tasks.
Blocking off and/or color-coding important times and dates can help you mentally prepare and work ahead. Include meetings, classes, study sessions, exam dates, work shifts, parent–teacher conferences, family obligations, errands, and assignment due dates. Scheduling these events in your calendar can also show you when you might need to move appointments around or start a bit further in advance of a cluster of big deadlines.
Prioritize your tasks
Competing obligations means you’ll need to prioritize certain projects over others. When looking at your calendar for the month or week, first pursue tasks that are most important and have the fastest-approaching deadlines. Next, schedule items that are either important or urgent but not both. Finally, tasks that are neither significant nor pressing should be last on your to-do list.
On a day-to-day basis, you’ll need to determine what works best for you. Some people prefer to take on their most challenging, high-effort tasks at the beginning of their day. Others reserve deep-concentration projects for those hours in the afternoon or evening when they know they will be least interrupted and most focused. Try taking notes for a week on how effectively you worked on projects and when you worked on them; you’ll discover your productivity peaks and valleys and can schedule future tasks accordingly.
As you look ahead on your calendar and convert due dates to to-do lists, break down longer-term and bigger projects into smaller tasks. That paper, for example, can be divided into separate chunks of time for brainstorming, researching, outlining, drafting, revising, and editing. Reducing a major assignment to its components can make it much more manageable, allowing you to feel confident as you check off individual tasks rather than spending time on stressing about how big the project feels.
Be sure to schedule buffers between big tasks and between meetings when possible. And while working on major individual projects, you can increase your productivity, retention of information, and the quality of your work by staying focused for a specific block of time but then taking a break. For some, the ideal concentration time is 50 minutes followed by a 10-minute rest. For others, it might be a 90-minute focus session rewarded with a 15- to 20-minute breather.
Whichever pattern you follow, make sure the break is an actual break. Your goal is to empty your mind, at least temporarily, of what you’re concentrating on so you can truly re-energize.
Practice, practice, practice
New meetings, unexpected work shifts, and surprise events inevitably require shuffling our calendars and to-do lists. But as with nutrition and fitness, going off track for a day or two shouldn’t mean abandoning your well-planned schedule completely. Forgive yourself, remember that life often gets in the way, and keep moving forward.
By practicing time management, you’ll reduce stress, create habits that are valued in the workplace, and improve your ability to achieve your goals. You’ll also find that you have more time to enjoy downtime without experiencing guilt over things left undone. And achieving that work–school–life balance is key to your success. Good luck!
Need more help with time management?
ReUp Success Coaches can provide the tailored support you need so you can become more productive and efficient as you move through school, work, and life. Your support team is available by phone, text, or email. Ready to get started?