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Time Management Strategies

In many cases, new students may not have had to manage their time efficiently in high school to ensure good grades. Whether this is because of being bright or not being challenged enough, these students are faced with a significant change when they get to Virginia Tech. Some students who received A's and B's in high school now receive C's and D's in college. Those receiving lower grades are probably no less capable than those receiving higher grades, but often their study skills, including time management, are less effective.

If you can identify with any part of the above paragraph, working on improving your time management may be beneficial to you and your grades.

On this page, you will be given the opportunity to assess where your time goes and make decisions about changes you would like to make that will help you use your time more effectively. There is no one right way to manage your time, however, it is important to get to know yourself so that you can make good decisions about how to use your time. We all have 168 hours in a week to use as we wish, but some people make better use of this time than others.

Developing good time management habits takes time and requires hard work. If you want further information about time management, you may wish to review other pages within Academic Support for Students related to time management. If you have been trying to improve your time management but the strategies you're trying just don't seem to be helping as much as you would like, please contact Cook Counseling Center.

On a piece of paper, make a list of the top five ways that you waste time.


Take the Time Management Quiz to see how effectively you implement time management techniques.

These are four strategies that can be very useful for managing time more effectively:

  • Create a semester schedule
  • Assess and plan your workload each week
  • Adjust your plan each day
  • Evaluate your schedule

Record known class assignments including quizzes, tests, projects, and papers

Recording your class assignments at the beginning of the semester creates a framework for your semester schedule. It lets you know when you are likely to have high academic demands and when you will have more flexibility for scheduling recreational activities.

Record co-curricular activities, including work hours, meetings, social commitments, and out-of-town weekends

Recording co-curricular activities allows you to have a more accurate picture of how full or open your schedule will be throughout the semester. These activities are important for providing balance in your schedule.


It is important to update your semester schedule regularly. Assignment due dates change, assignments are added, and activities are planned. Keeping an accurate semester schedule facilitates the next step of this process: Assessing and Planning your Weekly Schedule.

Make a list of what you have to accomplish during the upcoming week, including class assignments and class attendance

Being as inclusive as possible in your list of schoolwork that must be done for the week is essential to making your schedule work. Everything takes take time, whether it's reading a chapter, working problems, or writing an outline for a research paper.

Include co-curricular activities, work hours, errands, exercise, meals and time with friends on your list of things to do for the week

Daily living activities and co-curricular activities are important and provide balance in your schedule, but take time away from studying. Preparing dinner and cleaning up afterwards or attending a student organization meeting can take as much time as reading a chapter in a textbook.

Estimate how long each task will take

This is an essential, but often-overlooked step in the time scheduling process. Activities take different amounts of time, so, to effectively use your time, it is important to estimate how long a task will take. It's better to estimate conservatively if you don't know how long something will take. If you finish 30 minutes or an hour early, you can use that time however you would like, but, if you haven't allowed enough time, you'll have to take time away from another task to complete the one that is taking longer than planned.

Identify the day that you will accomplish each task, keeping in mind the amount of time the task will take and other things you must also do that day

This facilitates the next step of this process: Making a Daily Schedule. By looking at your whole week and realizing everything you need to accomplish during that time, you are more likely to avoid missing deadlines. You can make adjustments throughout the week instead of suddenly finding that you have a six-hour task with only three hours remaining before the deadline. Making your schedule for the next week is a good activity for Friday afternoon or evening, before beginning your weekend. Weekends provide the largest blocks of time for study, so if you will have a very full week ahead, it may be helpful to complete some of the tasks on the weekend to decrease the time crunch during the coming week.

Write out a daily schedule at the beginning of each day. Include uncompleted tasks from the previous day as well as new tasks

This should only take a few minutes because you can use your weekly schedule to create it quickly. Write your daily schedule on an index card or a daily planner. Carry your schedule with you so you can refer to it as needed and cross items off once they are completed. This last step provides a sense of accomplishment.

As you write out your daily schedule, assess your priorities

Some activities must be done on a particular day while others may be optional for that day. You can use the A, B, C system of prioritizing your tasks: A tasks must be done that day and C tasks are optional, while B tasks are important but not as important as A's. Try to accomplish all of your A tasks before moving on to the B tasks and finally the C tasks. This can reduce your stress level.

Evaluate your schedule in the morning

Ask yourself whether your schedule for the day is realistic given the amount of time each of the tasks will take. If it's not, remove some of the B and C priority items from your schedule so the schedule is manageable.

Evaluate your schedule in the evening

Did you accomplish everything on your list? If you didn’t, why not? Was the schedule unrealistic or was your time management ineffective? What adjustments can you make in the future to make your schedule work better for you?

It may seem like there aren't enough hours in the week to get everything done. That may be true or it may be that you are not using your time as efficiently as possible. To assess where your time goes, complete the "Where Does Time Go?" inventory. Be as honest with yourself as possible. Some of the items are done every day and will be automatically multiplied by seven to show your weekly total. All "Number of Days" can be adjusted depending on how often you do each activity. After you have responded to all the questions, you'll have the opportunity to see how many hours remain during the week for studying.

How many hours a week do I need to study?

Most universities recommend that students study at least two hours outside of class for every hour spent in class, although some recommend even more. Many students are taking 15 credit hours per semester, therefore at least 30 hours of studying a week outside of class is recommended. Combining the 15 hours a week in class and the 30 study hours outside of class, many students will need to plan to spend about 45 hours a week on school.

My assessment indicates that I don't have 30 hours a week to study but I need to study this much to make the grades I want to make.

Can you reduce the amount of time spent on other activities? If you were going to reduce these hours, what would you have to do to make this change in your schedule? Can you eliminate one or more activities from your schedule? What could you eliminate? 

I do have 30 or more hours a week to study but I don't use them effectively.

The next fold discusses several strategies for making your schedule work more effectively.

Here are some strategies that you may find helpful if your schedule is not working as efficiently or effectively as you would like. When trying any new strategy, it is important to practice it regularly and to practice it long enough so that you have a way of evaluating whether or not it is helping. Tests are good ways to evaluate new study strategies. If you take a test and don’t perform as well we you would have liked to, try a new strategy until you receive the results of the next test you take to get an idea on whether the new strategy is working for you.

Identify your most productive time of day

Studying at the time of day when you feel best (whether that is morning, afternoon, or early evening) will enable you to complete your assignments in less time. Research studies show that what we can accomplish in 60 minutes when we're less fatigued will take as much as 90 minutes to accomplish when we are more fatigued.

Study difficult or boring subjects first

Study subjects that are more of a challenge for you first when you are less fatigued. Save subjects you like to study for later, when you are feeling more tired, but need to continue to study to keep up with your work. It will be easier to find the motivation to study something you find enjoyable when you are tired than for a subject you dread.

Study in the same place every time

Studying in the same place each day is like going to class in the same room. You begin to associate a particular activity with a particular location so when you are in that location, you are able to focus on the task at hand more quickly. Studying on your bed or in your bedroom is not advised because you probably associate your bed and bedroom with sleeping, not studying. It's too easy to take those 10-minute naps that turn into two-hour naps.

Use the library

Libraries are good places to study because studying is one of the only activities that people do in that environment. If there are reasons you choose not to use the library, try to find another location outside of your room that provides a good study environment and is relatively free of distractions.

Avoid distractions

Many things can provide a distraction from studying if you are looking for ways to procrastinate. Previously on this page you identified your top five time wasters. For the next few weeks, try to find ways to reduce the frequency with which these distracters are interfering with your study time. This might mean that finding another place to study would be helpful.

Use waiting time

If you use public transportation to commute to and from campus, there is probably some waiting time involved. This is a great time to study pieces of information such as learning vocabulary for a foreign language class or memorizing a chemical reaction sequence. Write this information on note cards and carry them with you so you can study during your waiting time.

Treat school like a full-time job

Try to accomplish as many of your school tasks as possible within a concentrated period of time, such as 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you use these hours for attending class or studying, you'll have much more free time to spend with friends in the evenings and on weekends. Your classes are likely to get the amount of attention they require as well. This doesn't mean that you'll never need to study in the evenings or on the weekends – there will still be crunch times when you will need to do more studying. However, treating school as a full-time job, and adopting the hours of a full-time job, will probably result in better, more efficient management of your time.

Of the strategies that have been discussed, you may be doing some of them pretty well but there are probably at least one or two ways you could still improve your skill in this area. Think about what you've learned and write down the skills you want to work on during the next few weeks. Keep them in a place where you'll be reminded of your goals frequently and practice them every day.