How to Prioritize and Organize Your Time During the School Year

Thursday, October 20, 2022

The amount of freedom that you experience when you arrive in college is exhilarating.  The entire college experience is like a blank slate that you get to fill with your own growth and development.  

In order to make the best of this time, it’s important to develop time management skills.

How College is Different

Time management is an essential skillset when you are faced with the largely open schedule of a college student. 

In high school, you spend all day at school, do sports or extracurricular after school, go home and eat dinner, and then do your homework.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

In college, you will have only a few hours of class each day, and sometimes have many hours free between classes.   You may find yourself finishing a morning class at 10 am and having the rest of the day free.  Your high school instinct is:  I’ve got the day off -- let’s go do something fun!

This time will definitely fill up as you pursue extracurriculars and part-time jobs.  But you will still have a lot of time on your hands.  You should enjoy this freedom but remember: too much fun and no work does not a successful college student make.  

Developing a Routine

Just like high school, you’ll want to develop a routine that regularizes your use of time.  You’re the boss now, so it will be up to you to see that you stick to your schedule.

Why is time management so important?  In college – especially your first year – you will often be assigned large amounts of reading.  Instead of daily homework assignments like in high school, graded assignments may only be due every week or so.

In large college lectures (which often characterize freshman year classes), you may not ever have to speak, and so you won’t be graded on class participation.  This puts the responsibility on you to make sure that you do your required reading, because in many classes you won’t be tested or assessed on whether you’ve done the assigned reading.

The Library is Your Friend

While going to the library is probably not most people’s idea of fun, it can be an invaluable ally in college.  

Colleges and universities have extensive book collections that harken back to the day when students would have to carry out research using actual books.  (Today, of course, these resources are increasingly available online.)

Most students use the library as an “office” of sorts.  The library is a quiet place where you can focus on your studying without the inevitable distractions of the dorms.   You can always study in your dorm room, but the beauty of studying in the library is that you can treat it “like a job” – in other words, you can leave your studying at the library (almost like clocking out of the office).

In some libraries, you can actually reserve a study carrel and store your textbooks at the library. Also, libraries may have designated “quiet” spaces that are the best for getting work done.  Visit the library in the first week of classes to see what’s available.  (If your college doesn’t offer an form library tour, ask a librarian –  they are some of the most helpful people you will meet on campus.)

“Eating the Elephant”

As one college professor said about the enormous textbook for a freshman level 101 course, “this textbook is like eating an elephant.  If I asked you if you could eat an elephant, you’d say ‘impossible!’.  But if I told you to eat a little piece every day for a year, you could do it.”

The elephant metaphor relates to the notion that you need to pace yourself when it comes to college reading.  If you’re assigned 10 hours of reading per week, you don’t want to put off reading until the night before you have a test.   A common rule of thumb is that you should dedicate two hours of reading for every hour of lecture.

Avoid Cramming

College movies paint a picture of “all-nighter” cram sessions, with students binging on pizza and coffee as they try to learn weeks of class material the night before a test.  This is never a good idea.

When you cram, you often forget the material.  More importantly, leaving everything to the last minute is a recipe for background stress.  When you are consistent and disciplined about studying every day, you gain freedom from that creeping anxiety.  This kind of regular work discipline is a necessary skill in adult life, and college is the right time to begin cultivating these habits.   Learning to use your time efficiently is a life-long process;  laying a foundation in college will help you succeed in the long-term.