Managing your time

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

Finding ways to manage your time can be important for both your wellbeing and your academic performance. This is true whether you have lots of commitments that squeeze your time or lots of free time. Some planning and simple steps can help to make this easier.

Depending on your circumstances, how you experience time at university can vary a lot. You may have multiple commitments such as paid work, study, caring responsibilities and placements that compete for your attention. Or you may find yourself with lots of unstructured time but somehow find you never get things done in the way you expected. It might also be that, depending on your course and circumstances, you move between very busy periods to periods with not a lot to do.

When we feel that our time is not in our control, it can feel stressful and overwhelming, impacting on our mood and thoughts. These feelings might result in procrastination, which impacts our ability to time manage and also perfectionism which can have a significant impact on our capacity to manage our time as well. Taking more control of your time can help to improve your mood and wellbeing and help to boost your learning.

Plan

We don’t have clocks in our head and many of us find monitoring time difficult. Time can go by more quickly or slowly than we realise. Planning can help you to keep control over time and feel more productive.

You can do this in a number of ways – writing to do lists, timetables or using your phone can help. Try to look realistically at the time you really have and what you need to do – not forgetting finding space to maintain your wellbeing. Taking some time to write out a timetable of what you’re going to do and when has a number of positive benefits.

  1. If everything doesn’t fit into the day on paper or screen, then it probably won’t fit into the day in reality. Recognising this in advance gives you the chance to address this situation by taking positive action and prioritising more, rather than getting to the end of each day surprised and disappointed that things didn’t happen as we wanted.

  2. Worry and anxiety can make us overestimate how much we need to do or believe that we don’t have enough time, when this may not be true. Planning can help you move past these worries to see the reality of the situation. Having a clear timetable can increase your sense of control over your time. Rather than carrying around a vague feeling that we have too much left to do or more time than we think we have, a timetable can give you reassurance and clarity

  3. By making a plan you are more likely to actually do what you wanted – creating the timetable is a form of rehearsal for the day.

  4. A timetable can also highlight if you are neglecting things which would benefit your academic work or your wellbeing.

Balance

It can be easy to believe that putting in long hours on their academic work is the only thing that will contribute to academic success. In fact, your wellbeing and motivation are as important for academic success.

Your brain is a muscle and therefore, part of your physical body. If you want it to perform to a high level it needs some care.

Finding time to do this can be tricky if you have other competing demands – but remember that you don’t have to be living a life in perfect balance to make a difference. Every little improvement you make to your lifestyle will help. An extra 20 minutes sleep, substituting chocolate for fruit, staying properly hydrated, a short, walk etc. will really help.

Looking after your wellbeing

I have found that I feel a lot better for putting my wellbeing above anything else. This might mean taking time to relax and read a book, painting or drawing, or just watching one of my favourite programmes. I have also learnt that it’s important to not beat myself up for forgetting to do things that are good for my wellbeing, such as meditation or going for walks. As long as I pick them back up when I remember, I find that allowing myself to be flexible and being gentle with myself helps a lot.

Deliberately planning time into your week to look after yourself will make this more possible to achieve.

Studying in short bursts can help

Working regularly will help your brain to absorb and remember your subject and will also help you to feel fully engaged with your studies. You don’t have to work for hours every time to make it worthwhile. In fact, research indicates that studying in a number of short blocks of time can be more effective. E.g three one hour periods of study can be more effective than one three hour block. Just five minutes reading an article or relevant book can help. If you can, try to spread time to study across the week.

Don’t just work at your desk

You don’t have to be at your desk staring at a screen or book to be working. Just thinking about your subject is work. This means that you can work while exercising, working, doing the school run or doing household chores. Take a concept that you have studied recently and find different ways to think about it – how does it work in different contexts? When does it not work? How would you explain it to someone who doesn’t study your subject?

By thinking about it in this way you will increase your understanding, highlight areas of your learning to strengthen and embed what you have learned into your memory more.

Use support

If you are still finding it difficult to manage your time or your other commitments are making it difficult to find time to study and take care of your wellbeing, then support at your university may help. You may be able to access additional funding, get study skills guidance or access other forms of support that can help.

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Page last reviewed: November 2023