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Does Your College Student Need to Boost Their Time Management Skills?

As someone who grew up mainly in the midwest, I didn’t know that air could have a taste. But walking onto my California college campus for the first time, I tasted the air. It tasted like citrus and salt, with a touch of smog. And, as my mom drove off, it tasted like freedom.

Freedom meant I could jam-pack my schedule with things I enjoyed, like volleyball practices, games, late-night coffees, frozen yogurt dates, and adventures with friends. It also meant one day I had to face the reality that college isn’t meant to be all fun and games. The ugly curve of a “C” grade on more than one paper wasn’t anything I had seen before.

Time Management and College Students

Classes, deadlines, meetings, events, practice, social, work, and medical appointments — we as parents know how hard it is to keep track of everything on our kids’ schedules. Unsurprisingly, many kids at college feel overwhelmed trying to learn how to get organized on their own. It’s such a common issue, in fact, that several top universities dedicate blog articles to executive functioning tips and time management skills.

What is Executive Functioning?

Dr. Allisa Edwards, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, explains that executive functioning encompasses numerous cognitive processes critical for accomplishing tasks and achieving goals. “Working memory (temporarily holding and manipulating information needed for a task), cognitive flexibility (the ability to shift easily from one idea or rule to another), and inhibition (stopping an automatic response) are the initial foundation for more complex executive functions needed for daily skills such as those involved in time management, organization, task initiation, and planning.”

Most people have good and bad planning days, mainly because stress, poor sleep, and lack of exercise impact the skills required to manage our time. The challenge for an average college student is how to account for all those variables because they will have to deal with these variables in abundance right from day one of their freshman year.

If your college student is drowning in papers, deadlines, work, and social obligations, the problem may be that they’re trying to will themselves to “pull it together.” They might regain control through sheer willpower and herculean effort, but they could reach the same or an even better outcome by learning and practicing skills designed to help them manage their time.

Time Management Tips for College Students

Hopefully, your college student was introduced to a few time management skills in junior high and high school. If the concept of time management is unfamiliar to them, or if they need a refresher, show them these tips on how they can begin building the skills needed to master their time.

  1. Create a calendar. Make a calendar entry for every important event and deadline. Then divide your schedule into blocks of time dedicated to accomplishing a specific task or group of similar tasks pertaining to those events and deadlines. Start each day knowing exactly what you’re doing and when. If you get distracted, check your schedule and get back on task. At the end of the day, review your progress. Adjust your next day’s time blocks to accommodate what you didn’t finish and to schedule new tasks.
  2. Set reminders. Lots and lots of reminders. If sticky notes work best for you, write down important deadlines on those sticky notes and place them where you can see them. If you always have your phone with you, set reminders on your phone for each important event. 
  3. Use timers. If you find you fall into a YouTube video spiral and never emerge, pre-set a reasonable boundary. YouTube videos for one hour? Great. Set a timer on your phone and enjoy that hour. Once that hour is over, close the website and proceed to your next task. 
  4. Find tools that work for you. Old-school paper calendars work best for me. But, you may prefer using a calendar app instead. Experiment with different types of calendars, note taking methods, and planners — then stick with the ones that suit you best.
  5. Label your priorities. Know your goals. Want that promotion at work? Want an “A” in biology? Want to visit every coffee shop in your college town? Know what you are working toward and revisit these goals each semester (or even every quarter). Then build your calendar around your updated goals. 
  6. Break large projects into smaller ones. With each new assignment or project, decide which steps you need to take to complete the task. A 15-page research paper sounds daunting. But, when you break it into research, then thesis development, then evidence, then writing, and finally rewriting, the daunting task becomes much easier to manage in smaller chunks. Remember to create reasonable deadlines for these smaller projects, too, so you aren’t writing an entire essay the night before the day it’s due.
  7. Use checklists. If you’re like me and regularly forget things, create a checklist of important reminders. Before you head out the door, check your list. Do you have your school ID, books, notes, computer, charger, phone, wallet, and keys? Add to your reminder list if there’s something else you often forget to remember.
  8. Identify time wasters … and remove them. It’s easy to get distracted by technology. Identify what steals your attention while you’re studying. Is it social media? Music? Checking your email? Whatever it may be, identify it, then figure out how not to engage during your dedicated study time.
  9. Practice relaxation techniques. Stress impairs your ability to make choices and plan your time. When you enter a period when all your projects are due and stress is mounting, remember that you can try to reduce your stress level with deep breathing, meditation, and exercise.
  10. Create a routine. Put your backpack, books, notes, and other essential items in the same place every time. Figure out what your morning needs are, and what allows you to unwind at the end of the day. Practice good sleep hygiene by following a nightly routine before bedtime. Then, as much as possible, stick to those routines. 
  11. Build in breaks. Breaks are valuable, but don’t let them take control of your schedule. Grab that handy timer and give yourself 10 to 15-minute breaks while working. Then, once your work is complete, give yourself time to have fun!
  12. Student Resource Center. Lastly, encourage your college student to ask for help. Most colleges and universities have a student resource center to help support students as they learn to manage their time.
Amber Wessling

After teaching for seven years, Amber now stays at home with her professor husband, three boys, five chickens, two kittens, and one lizard. When she is not reading The Phantom Tollbooth aloud to her boys, she writes content and editing for a few bloggers/social media platforms. You can find her website at blogwithamber.com.

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