Time management is about making things happen, rather than having them happen to you. You need to get control!
Here are 15 steps you can take to organise your time.
1. Prepare a colour-coded weekly study plan. Fill in regular commitments like lectures, seminars and workshops (about 15 – 20 hours which you MUST attend) in red and any paid employment in blue If you are a full-time student, remember that any paid employment must fit around your studies, not the other way round! Note also that your paid employment hours should not exceed 10 hours per week – see Getting a job
Next, block off travel time in gray and some time for social, leisure and sporting activities in green . If you have family commitments (in purple), negotiate your study time with your family and make it clear that you are not to be disturbed during study time, e.g. child care or answering the phone. This should leave at least another 15 – 20 hours of “quality” time in orange for study which you must use effectively to study topics requiring your full attention. Whilst this quality time does not have to be in office hours, it is pointless to try to start on new and challenging material late at night when you are already past your best.
Work and play do not mix; when you are supposed to be working, then work! When you are supposed to be enjoying yourself, do just that and don’t spend time worrying about all the work you have to do. Don’t waste your time – enjoy it whether you are studying or relaxing.
2. Use the periods between lectures effectively, rather than just hanging around. Always have some routine work or background reading with you for these periods, which may be too short to get involved in “quality-time” activities. Similarly why not work on the tube, bus etc.?
3. After a few weeks on the course, keep a diary of a typical week. How well are you managing your time now? Are you spending too long on some assignments at the expense of other modules? Do the marks available match the effort you are putting in.
4. Spread your time evenly between your modules; it’s very hard to get > 90% for any module but if you get 10% for another, then that’s only 50% average (which is far easier to get with 50% for each module). Also you’ll then avoid resit examinations, and satisfy any course requirements for essential module passes.
5. Get a copy of the syllabus from your Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Make sure you see the whole picture and how things relate in broad terms. Initially you will then almost certainly feel totally overwhelmed by what you have to learn; it may feel like a huge mountain to be climbed, but don’t worry about this at this stage – your reaction is normal. As you cover topics, tick them off on the syllabus. This will also help with revision.
6. Mathematics, physics, chemistry etc. are very conceptual subjects. Study in short, concentrated periods of no more than 30 minutes, and have a 5 to 10 minute break in between. Even as little as 5 minutes REAL concentration is worth more that 2 hours reading and not really understanding.
7. Changing the topic can help and is essential if you get really stuck, but if an assignment or set of exercises is going well then don’t stop until you have finished or run out of steam.
8. Set a specific task for each period, as this will give you a feeling of achievement. Do not think of study time as time to be served (only another 5 mins to go!), but rather as time in which to achieve a specific task. At the end of the period, ask yourself if you achieved your task; if not, what will you do about it? Certainly you should write down what you did not follow and ask: don’t ignore what has tripped you up … it will not go away if you do. See the section on Projects and Essays.
9. Make out a plan for the semester as well as the week using a year planner (often found in the front of diaries). Mark in RED class tests and final exams and deadlines for projects and assignments. Try to finalise your work at least 2 days in advance, so that you will not fail to meet deadlines by unforeseen circumstances like printer queues or computer crashes. In any case, HAND IN YOUR ASSIGNMENTS ON TIME. Do not wait until they are perfect, or even complete – they may never be. Failure to hand them in means missed marks and no chance of helpful correction, feedback and guidance.
10. Check your VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) regularly (at least once a week) to ensure that your understanding of assignments and other information is up to date.
11. Do not leave background work until the end of the semester, since then you will not benefit from it by better understanding the lectures as they happen. Do it early in the semester before things hot up!
12. Are you spending too long on the computers, messing around on social media, giving your data away on Facebook(!) and surfing the Web? This is not work and should be seen by you as a (not very healthy) leisure activity.
13. Make a list of all work items you need to do and update it at regular intervals, say every Monday morning. This will show you what you have achieved and help you prioritise your tasks.
14. Don’t waste the holidays! Enjoy yourself and don’t feel guilty about it. Go somewhere new, do something new. That way when you get back you’ll be keen and eager. If you didn’t do that well in your previous studies, when you get back to university reflect on what went well and what went badly, being as specific as you can. You could do a Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats and Opportunities analysis if that helps. View a specification for the SWOT task.
15. If you miss any exams or tests or a significant number of lectures, labs or seminars, you should explain the reason(s) to your tutor or course director who will advise you on what to do and how to catch up.
Want to know more about time management? A good set of links for students can be found at the bottom of A Reference Guide to Time Management Skills.
About the Study Skills for Mathematics pages
These pages were originally created by Martin Greenhow.
Study Skills in Mathematics by Martin Greenhow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.