How to manage your time while studying

When you’re dealing with multiple assessment and exam deadlines, it can often feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. And if your to-do list just keeps getting longer, it can all start to feel pretty overwhelming. 

Having structured time management and study strategies can ease some of that stress and help you to study smarter, not harder. Here are some long-term and day-to-day tips and techniques for how to manage your time while studying.

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Big-picture strategies for study time management

Do a time audit

A good first step for improving your study time management is to understand your study habits and how you currently spend your time. A time audit tracks how much time you spend on everything you do throughout the week. It’s a great way to show you whether you’re spending too much or too little time on studying and other important parts of your life. 

Download a copy of our time audit worksheet to get started on yours.

A time audit can also help you to identify other strengths and weaknesses in your time management, such as the times of day when you’re most productive or more easily distracted. Once you’re aware of these things, you can start to make positive changes in your approach to studying.

You can even repeat your time audit every once in a while to see if your current approach is working well or if you need to tweak some things in your schedule. 

Set realistic study goals

Goal setting is another key step in study time management because it helps you to prioritise which tasks to focus on and when. It’ll also help you to keep a positive and productive mindset during your studies. 

There are a bunch of goal-setting methods out there, but one of the best ones for creating  goals that feel motivating and possible is the SMART framework. Here’s how it could work:

  • Specific: Name exactly what your goals are, so you have a clear idea of what you’re working towards. You might have some short-term goals, like passing next week’s quiz, as well as a long-term goal, like getting into a specific uni course or increasing your average grade from a credit to a distinction.

  • Measurable: You should have some way of measuring your progress. This could be through setting yourself milestones and a definite end point. For example, if your goal is to improve your drama performance, you can make this measurable by setting yourself a goal to get feedback from three people by the end of the term.

  • Achievable: Larger goals are more achievable if you break them down into smaller tasks. Raising your average grade from a credit to a distinction might feel overwhelming as a single goal, but turning it into smaller steps, such as attending a study group once a week, makes it a lot more attainable.

  • Realistic: Be honest with yourself about what would be possible to achieve with the time you have available for studying and the progress you’ve made. It’s a positive thing to want to do well, but overcommitting yourself may leave you feeling more stressed than motivated.

  • Time: Have a deadline for when you want to achieve your goals. These might be tied to exam periods or the end of the semester. Having mini-deadlines along the way can also help you to stay focused.

Create a master calendar

A master calendar is like having a bird’s-eye view of the upcoming weeks or months. Writing down all your exam dates, assessment deadlines and important social events in a calendar can help you to avoid clashes. 

Plus, taking notice of your key dates early on means you can factor in enough time for studying and not feel as rushed. You can work backwards from these dates to figure out a plan for how to achieve your goals and how to prioritise your study. 

You could use a physical calendar and hang it on your wall, a digital template, the calendar app on your laptop or phone, or a free task management tool like Notion or Trello

If you live with your family, it could even be a good idea to add your key exam dates and deadlines to the family calendar. That way, everyone can keep track of when you’ll be really busy with your studies and when you might need extra support.

Daily strategies for study time management

Build a weekly schedule 

Once you’ve put together your master calendar, you can plan your study schedule for the week ahead. By spending a bit of time on this at the beginning of each week, or at the end of the week just past, you’ll have better control over how you manage your time for study. It also helps you to allocate your time evenly. (Colour coding your schedule can help you to see this at a glance.) 

Use a planner, or download a copy of our study schedule template to get started. One hack for using our study schedule is that once you’ve filled it out, you can take a screenshot of it and set it as your desktop background, so that it’s always top of mind.

Here’s how you can build out your schedule:

  • Start by adding in all your existing commitments, such as school or uni tutorials, work shifts, sports practice, and appointments.

  • Block out a few hours at a time for your study sessions. Be specific about the tasks you want to complete in each session.

  • Factor in enough time to de-stress to avoid burnout. This is done through self-care, hobbies, socialising, exercise and sleep. Taking care of yourself in this way will also boost your concentration.

  • Leave some time free as a buffer, and be flexible about moving things around your schedule as your priorities change.

Limit distractions

Once you’re in your allocated study time, focus on your set tasks. The more you’re able to concentrate on studying now, the less likely you’ll need extra time later to make up for any distractions. Here are some tips for staying focused during study time:

  • Set up a dedicated study space at home. If possible, choose a room where you can close the door, and ask the other people in your house not to interrupt you. Make sure the space has everything you need, such as chargers, headphones, a clock, pens and paper, etc.

  • If you can’t focus at home, find some alternative places to study. This could be the library, a friend’s house, a café, or even a park if you don’t need Wi-Fi for some of your studying.

  • Understand your study style and work to your strengths. Take this quiz to find out your at-home study style.

  • Set your phone to ‘do not disturb’ so you don’t get distracted by notifications, or leave it another room. 

  • Turn off the notifications on your computer and close any browsers and tabs you don’t need while studying.

  • Turn on time limits on your social media apps.

Remember: it’s hard to concentrate when you’re not feeling great mentally, so check in with yourself every now and then to reflect on how you’re dealing with things. Get support whenever you need it

Take regular breaks

It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the key aspects of learning how to manage your time while studying is actually to take breaks. This can help you to study more effectively over the long term and prevent burnout. If you study for long stretches at a time, you might find yourself losing concentration after a while or only putting in half the amount of effort. But giving yourself regular breaks allows your brain some time to process everything it’s learnt so far and helps you to feel more refreshed and recharged once you’re ready to study again.

Here are some ways you can make the most of your breaks:

  • Take rests of 5–10 minutes every 30–60 minutes, and longer breaks every 3–4 hours.

  • Plan your breaks in advance, so that you have something to look forward to. Short breaks could be spent checking social media, having a snack or listening to music. Longer breaks can be used for self-care, going for a walk or having a nap.

  • Check in with your friends. See how they’re doing with their study and give each other motivation and support.

  • Talk to your older family members or carers about any stress or time management challenges you’re experiencing. They can help you or guide you to where you can get extra support.

One thing to remember about time management is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. And what works for you now, may not work for you next week or next month. Instead of trying to follow these time management strategies rigidly, adapt the techniques to your own style and changing needs. No matter how you do it, any way that you can improve your time management will help to reduce your stress while studying.

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