What is time management?
Think of time management strategies as tools that can help you reach your goals and focus on what’s most important to you. Time management is not just about being as efficient or productive as possible at all times. You also want to leave time for relaxation and fun. It’s all about balance! Time management can also help you lower anxiety levels and promote your overall well-being.
Try to keep these time management principles in mind not only when you are planning out your schedule in advance, but also when you are making decisions throughout your day. Effective time management is both preparation and a daily practice. Keep in mind that it’s important to figure out which strategies will work best for you. Some approaches may work better than others, depending on your needs (which can also change from day to day and week to week).
Time Management Courseworks Module
Managing our time effectively can often be challenging, but luckily, time management is a skill that we can practice and strengthen. To support the development of your time management skills, the CEP, CARDS, Furman, and Beyond Barnard created a set of self-guided Time Management modules for Barnard students. This special course will offer general time management strategies, discuss methods of overcoming procrastination, provide tips and tools for tackling large assignments, prompt you to reflect on how you want to devote your time and energies, share a variety of additional resources, and more!
Time management can be a powerful tool to help you reach your goals and find balance throughout your semester. We welcome all Barnard students to utilize this resource. To access the Time Management course, please fill out this form.
Time Management Strategies
For most people, time management strategies that reduce anxiety and fear work best. Strategies that emphasize the magnitude of tasks can actually increase procrastination and feelings of anxiety. For instance, making a huge list of "things to do" or scheduling every minute of your day may increase your stress and also your tendency to procrastinate. Instead, set reasonable goals (for example, a manageable list of things to do), break big tasks down, and give yourself flexibility and allot time to do things you enjoy as rewards for work completed.
Try planning your day in terms of time, not the tasks you have to do.
Set aside chunks of time for important tasks every day. It’s hard to predict how long a task will take, so it may be hard to schedule with accuracy. Instead, you might try scheduling regular intervals of time and get into a routine. For example, you might schedule 11:30am-12:00pm as time to review notes before your class starts. Scheduling in terms of time rather than tasks can help you approach each block of time with the intention to make the most of the time you have.
Make realistic commitments.
If you can’t commit to setting aside time to a task, don’t put it in your schedule. Only schedule tasks you will make an effort to do. Be realistic when making your schedule. Creating a schedule or a to-do list you can’t actually stick to sets yourself up for disappointment and feelings of guilt, which may end up slowing you down. Being realistic is essential to holding yourself accountable.
Maintain some flexibility.
Incorporate flexibility into your schedule. It’s not necessary to schedule every hour of the day. It’s okay to leave empty time slots and even schedule in free time. You can also consider creating a two-hour or three-hour block on a less busy day (like at the end of the week) as a time to catch up on tasks you might not have gotten to earlier in the week. When things come up and you are deciding whether to change up your established schedule, look ahead and see when you might return to what you originally planned to do.
Block out time.
On a regular basis, set aside chunks of time for specific classes or activities. Make it part of your everyday routine. It may be helpful to decide on how many hours per week you want to devote to a class outside of class time. You can then use this time to work on tasks or readings for the course. You can always spend less time if you have fewer tasks in a given week. Similarly, if you have a big assignment coming up, divide up the assignment into smaller parts and set aside specific blocks of time to work on each.
Tackle first things first.
If possible, schedule the things that are most important to you first thing in the day, or at the first available time in your schedule. Things that are scheduled later in the day have a greater chance of being put off and never gotten to.
Tips for Getting Started
Adjust your perspective. Looking at a big task in terms of smaller pieces makes it less intimidating. Look for what's appealing or interesting about it, or what you want to get out of an assignment beyond just the grade.
If you feel stuck, start simply by committing to complete a small task, any task, and write it down. Finish it and reward yourself. Write down on your schedule or "to do" list only what you can completely commit to, and if you write it down, follow through no matter what. By really doing what you say you will, you will slowly rebuild trust in yourself, which is something that many procrastinators have lost.
Notice how you are thinking and talking to yourself. Talk to yourself in ways that remind you of your goals and replace old, counter-productive habits of self-talk. Instead of saying, "I wish I hadn't... " say, "I will ..."
You can devote short chunks of time to a big task and do as much as you can in that time with few expectations about what you will get done. For example, you give yourself 10 minutes to jot down ideas for a thesis sentence of your paper or 10 minutes to skim over a long reading. Do as much as you can in the 10 minutes. After repeating the process a few times, the big task may seem much less intimidating, since you’ve chipped away at it and removed obstacles to finishing. Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part!
Time Management Tools
To help manage the stress that can come from coursework, take advantage of the weekly and semesterly planners developed by the CEP. Take a moment now to download them or print them if you can.
This weekly planner can be used to track your time, homework, and life events taking place each week. Rather than thinking about tasks that need to be completed, consider blocking time to dedicate to certain activities. For example, rather than put in your planner “Finish Biochem readings” try to block out 45 minutes for your Biochem reading. The weekly planner always has the flexibility required for life as things spontaneously pop up or get canceled. Most importantly, this weekly planner can be used to track elements of your week that work well, what could be improved, and what your goals are for the current week and the upcoming week.
The semester planner can be used to track time in a similar way but on a larger, semester-wide scale. The semester planner includes major College holidays, academic deadlines, and can be used to track all of your major assignments, mid-terms, and finals. After reviewing your class syllabus, feel free to plug in key dates and deadlines into the semester planner. Life events such as friend’s birthdays, days where you may have work or a family event, and other commitments that you can’t reschedule could also be included in your semester planner. By adding major academic and personal dates to your semester planner, you can also make a more realistic weekly planner then reflects the accurate amount of free time you have during certain weeks or when you may have multiple major assignments.
With the use of the weekly and semesterly planners, you can feel more in control of your semester and of your time!
Time Management FAQs
Personally, I like to reward myself regardless of how big or small the task is. Completing just one task is already an accomplishment that makes me feel better and can also push me to do more. Additionally, it’s comforting to surround yourself with people who are dealing with similar issues, so you’re not alone. For example, my roommate and I like to set a time to work together and when we finish, we watch a movie.
It’s so important to be realistic with your time. Since most people are doing remote work, you should keep in mind how many classes you’re taking in a day and decide how many hours you can actually work. I only have two classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I’m able to work for three hours while also having time to relax for a bit and do my homework in the evening. If you’re constantly working back to back, it’s most likely a sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard and will experience burnout.
With family responsibilities, extracurricular activities, coursework, etc., you really need to schedule a day to yourself and do the things you enjoy. Most importantly, try to avoid technology like your phone or laptop—you’re on it every day, please. Go out to a park with a loved one or yourself and be active. Lately, I’m learning how to give myself what my body and mind needs; for example, I value my alone time, so I decided to go out to the city by myself, went to a bookstore and got my coffee, and read at the park.
I used to plan my schedule digitally, but now, I find a physical planner works better for me. I like to be able to scratch out what I’ve completed, which makes me feel more accomplished, and I can decorate it as I please. I finally bought one this semester, and one of the first things I did was jot down all the deadlines for my classes from the syllabi. Also, at the end of each week, I prepare the things I need to do for the following week at set times.
To be honest, I’m still struggling with this. For me, I don’t get distracted by what’s on my laptop but rather being on my phone during lecture. What’s helpful for me is to identify a workspace and leave my phone in another room or put it in airplane mode. Another way is to set a time limit for each app, so I'm not on it all the time.
Asking for help can be daunting, especially when you have interacted with your professor much or when you don’t know what you need help with. But, help can come in a variety of ways and you can find support in the way that works best for you! This stems from a moment of vulnerability and saying, “I’m kind of struggling with [X]” to peers in the course, a peer tutor, a writing fellow, a TA, or even to a professor, during office hours. Asking for help can start off vague, such as asking for a re-explanation of a topic; you can also write out all of the questions you had from class and bring them to a peer tutor or office hours appointment. Help can only be received when asked for, and asking for help doesn't mean you're not capable, so when in doubt, always ask!
If you feel that you need more time for an assignment or if you think your personal circumstances will affect your learning, it’s best to communicate your current situation to your instructor and/or TAs as soon as possible. Your instructors want to know you are okay, especially if your engagement changes vastly or if you know you won’t be able to complete assignments. If you think you would benefit from an extension, reach out to your instructor. Keep in mind that instructors may have different policies regarding late work or extensions, so it's best to be in communication with your instructor.
Tackling Large Assignments/Projects
Below is a sample plan for tackling a typical 10-12 page final research paper. This is what you might plan for each week, beginning 4 weeks before the due date.
4 weeks before paper due date:
- Understand the assignment in full
- Brainstorm topics to focus on & draft a thesis statement/main argument
- Ask professors/TAs any questions about the assignment & for feedback on topic ideas
- Pick a research topic!
3 weeks before paper due date:
- Find and discover your sources for the paper at hand
- Meet with a writing fellow to showcase your current ideas and create a paper outline
- Finalize a paper outline/organization plan
- Start writing your paper
2 weeks before paper due date:
- Write your paper, taking a day or two off when needed
- Meet with a writing fellow again, to work through a draft of your paper
- Ideally, book the same person you saw the week before!
- Finish a full draft of your paper
- Consider sharing this full draft with classmates for peer review/editing
1 week before paper due date:
- Finalize paper and any additional edits
- Add your paper citations & ensure they are in the right academic format
- Proofread your paper and submit!
4 weeks before due date:
- Go over the assignment and make sure you fully understand its purpose and requirements
- Brainstorm ideas on a topic and decide what kind of format to do (video, podcast, art composition, etc)
- Meet with your professor/TA to discuss your topic and ask questions
3 weeks before due date:
- Start drafting your thesis/argument for the project
- Make an outline for how you want to organize your format
2 weeks before due date:
- Continue to work on your project and finalize it by the end of the week
- Depending on your format, make an appointment with a TA, Writing Fellow, Speaking Fellow, or even a classmate to receive feedback/review
1 week before due date:
- Make any additional edits and comments
- Look over it once more and submit!
3 weeks before due date:
- Read through guidelines/rubric to understand what you need and organize notes to highlight argument/main ideas for the audience to read
- Pick a design and make an outline of your presentation
2 weeks before due date:
- Type the information on each slide, page, etc.
- Write notes on what you want to say for each slide, page, etc
- Make an appointment with a Speaking Fellow or TA to practice or if you have any further questions about the presentation
- Note: Regardless of what stage you are in the process, a Speaking Fellow can help you so don’t be afraid to reach out!
1 week before due date:
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Practice in front of a mirror, record yourself on your phone, or practice in front of a friend/roommate/parent etc.
- Make any final edits/adjustments