Chapter 3: Time & Space

Using Time

Time management self-assessment

  • Assess your time management skills by using the “How Good is Your Time Management” self-assessment.
  • Reflect in writing on your current time management skills, and discuss how you might apply new strategies to improve time management in your life.
Photo of a whiteboard calendar filled with handwriting

The bad news is time flies. The good news is that you are the pilot. – Michael Altshuler

Using Time in Daily Life

The two areas most students struggle with when acclimating to college life are studying and time management. These issues arise from trying to manage newfound freedoms in college and from misunderstanding expectations of college classes. Time management is a means to build a solid foundation for college success.

In high school students’ time is often very scheduled. In college, students structure their own time to balance work, social life, family responsibilities, and coursework. For many students, college is the first time they are “on their own” in an environment filled with opportunity. And while this can be exciting, some students find that social opportunities conflict with academic expectations. It is easy to fall behind when there are so many choices and freedoms.

One of the main goals of a college education is learning how to learn, especially key academic and life skills. In this section, we zoom in on learning how to skillfully manage your time. To be successful in college, it’s imperative to be able to effectively manage your time.

In the following Alleyoop Advice video, Alleyoop (Angel Aquino) discusses what many students discover about college: there is a lot of free time—and just as many challenges to balance free time with study time.

How Do I Allocate My Time Based on My Values & Goals?

Success with any goal (education, family, career, finances) is essentially a three-part process:

  1. Identify your long-term, mid-term and short-term goals based on your values (completed in the goals chapter but continually refined)
  2. Set priorities to accomplish these goals.
  3. Manage your time according to the priorities you’ve set.

By following these three straightforward steps, you can more readily achieve goals because you clearly organize the process and follow through with commitment. Focus your sights on what you want to acquire, attain, or achieve; prioritize the steps you need to take to get there, and then organize your tasks into manageable chunks and blocks of time.

Identifying, Organizing, and Prioritizing Goals

The universal challenge of time is that there are more things we want to do than time available to do them.

We all have aspirations, dreams, goals, and things we want to accomplish. Similarly, we all have commitments and interests that take up our time. Some students can become discouraged by the length of time it is taking them to complete a goal, such as completing their education, reaching their career goal, buying a home, or getting married. And every semester there are students who drop classes because they have taken on too much or they are unable to keep up with their classwork because they have other commitments and interests.

There is nothing wrong with other commitments or interests. On the contrary, they may bring joy and fulfillment, but they can get in the way of educational goals. For instance, dropping a class because of a required surgery or a need to take care of a sick family member may be important and valid reasons to do so. Dropping a class to binge watch a favorite show, play more Minecraft, or spend more time on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, maybe a more difficult decision to justify, but it is still a decision to make. Sometimes students do not realize the power they have over the decisions they make and how those decisions can affect their ability to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.

Many people have a long list of things that they want to accomplish today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and in their lifetime. It’s not uncommon for people to have many more things on their lists than the time they have to complete them.

“The way we spend our time defines who we are.”  -Jonathan Estrin

Without goals, we aren’t sure what we are trying to accomplish, and there is little way of knowing if we are accomplishing anything. Time management is lifelong learning progress. As we change our roles and priorities, we shift our use of time. College is certainly a time we are making a shift and a great time to add strategies and reexamine current strategies.

To-do Lists, Weekly Planners, and Monthly Calendars

Managing To-do Lists

Try the following activity:

Make a list of all the things you want to accomplish tomorrow.

  • Here is a sample to-do list:To Do List Do List Tasks Pen Plan To Do Li
  • Go to grocery store
  • Go to class
  • Pay bills
  • Exercise
  • Social media
  • Study
  • Eat lunch with friend
  • Work
  • Watch TV
  • Text friends

Your list may be similar to this one or it may be completely different. It is yours, so you can make it however you want. Do not be concerned about the length of your list or the number of items on it.


To help us examine the importance of prioritizing, let’s look at the sample list. If we spent all our time completing the first seven things on the list, but the last three were the most important, then we would not have prioritized very well; it would have been better to prioritize the list after creating it and then work on the items that are most important first. Prioritizing our list of tasks makes it easier to identify our most important actions and move them to the top so they’re done first.

After prioritizing, the sample list now looks like this:

  • Go to class
  • Work
  • Study
  • Pay bills
  • Exercise
  • Eat lunch with friend
  • Go to grocery store
  • Text friends
  • Social media
  • Watch TV

One way to prioritize is to give each task a value. A = Task related to goals; B = Important—Have to do; C = Could postpone. Then, map out your day so that with the time available to you, work on your A goals first. You’ll now see below our list has the ABC labels. You will also notice a few items have changed positions based on their label. Keep in mind that different people will label things differently because we all have individual goals and varied things that are important to us. There is no right or wrong here, but it is paramount to know what is important to you so you can spend the majority of your time working on those tasks.

  • A Go to class
  • A Study
  • A Exercise
  • B Work
  • B Pay bills
  • B Go to grocery store
  • C Eat lunch with friend
  • C Text friends
  • C Social media
  • C Watch TV

Obviously, spending the majority of our time on “C” tasks instead of “A” tasks won’t allow us to complete our goals. The easiest things to do and the ones that take the least amount of time are often what people do first. Checking Facebook or texting might only take a few minutes, but doing it prior to studying means we’re spending time with a “C” activity before an “A” activity. Over time with repeated application, prioritizing becomes easier and spending more time on important actions becomes almost second nature.

Hurry Stress Time Management Timetable Sch

Assessing Your Use of Time

One challenge for many students is the transition from the structure of high school to the structure of college. In high school, students spend a large portion of their time in class (approximately 30 hours in class per week), while full-time college students may spend only one-third of that time in class (approximately 12-15 hours in class per week). Further, college students are assigned much more homework than high school students. Think about how many times one of your high school teachers gave you something to read during class. In college, students are given more material to read with the expectation that it is done outside of class.

Most of us know there are 24 hours in a day, but we might not think about how many hours are in a week. There are 168 hours in a week. It helps to know the hours in a week when we start to look at how much time we have, how we want to spend our time, and how we actually spend our time. How are you spending your week? Most likely you know your work hours and class times. These are easy to place in a schedule or on a calendar because they are predetermined. But study time is the one area that consistently is left out of students’ schedules. It takes initiative to include study time into a busy week and self-discipline to stick to it.

Write your study time into your schedule or calendar. It’s important to do this because it’s easy to skip a study session or say to yourself, “I’ll do it later.” While there would likely be an immediate consequence if you do not show up for work, there is not one if you fail to study on Tuesday from 3 pm – 4 pm. That consequence may take place later if the studying is not made up.

It is widely suggested that students need to study approximately two hours for every hour that they spend in class in order to be successful.[1] Thus, students taking a class that meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 pm-5:30 pm (three hours per week) would want to study outside of class six hours per week.

This ratio is designed as a guide and is not an exact science. You might need to spend more time than what is recommended if you are taking a subject you find challenging, have fallen behind in, or is a short-term class. You also might need to study more than what is recommended if you are looking to achieve better grades. Conversely, you might need to spend less time if the subject comes easily to you or if there is not a lot of assigned homework.

Let’s revisit the recommended time to study and weekly time commitments per credits by looking at the following chart:

Recommended Study Time:

When choosing the best course load for you, remember that for every 1 credit hour in which you enroll, you will need to spend approximately 1 hour in class per week and 2 additional hours studying. What this looks like in reality:

Credit Hours Time Commitment Calculation Total Estimated Weekly Time Commitment
3 (1 course) 3 hours in class + 6 hours study time 9 hours
6 (2 courses) 6 hours in class + 12 hours study time 18 hours
9 (3 courses) 9 hours in class + 18 hours study time 27 hours
12 (4 courses) 12 hours in class + 24 hours study time 36 hours
15 (5 courses) 15 hours in class + 30 hours study time 45 hours
18 (6 courses) 18 hours in class + 36 hours study time 54 hours

Now let’s figure out how much time you have to study given your current habits and commitments.

Study Time Calculator:

Use this calculator to estimate how much time you spend each week on various activities and how much time you have leftover to study:

Study Time Calculator

Here’s an example:


Balancing Work and School:

If you are working, it is important to figure out the right balance for you between school and work. To get started, refer to these general suggestions:

Employment Obligations Course Load
Working 40 hours a week 3-6 credit hours
Working 30 hours a week 3-9 credit hours
Working 20 hours a week 6-12 credit hours
Working less than 20 hours a week 12-18 credit hours

Keep in mind that 20 hours of work per week is the maximum recommended for full-time students taking 12 or more credit hours in a semester. For students working full time (40 hours a week), no more than six units is recommended. The total is also a very important category. Students often start to see difficulty when their total number of hours between work and school exceeds 60 per week. The amount of sleep decreases, stress increases, grades suffer, job performance decreases and students are often unhappy.

There is also the time it takes for college students to adjust to college culture, college terminology, and college policies. Students may need to learn or relearn how to learn, and some students may need to learn what they need to know. What students in their first college semester need to know may be different than what students in their last college semester need to know. First-semester students may be learning to locate their classrooms, learn the hours and locations for college resources, and understand the expectations of college students. Students in their last semester may be learning about applying for their degree and confirming they have all of their requirements completed for their goal. Whatever it is students may need to learn, it takes time.

At this point, you may be wondering how you’ll fit everything into your schedule. A great way to start is with an organized plan. First, create a weekly schedule that outlines the activities you need to do and that will help you achieve your goals.

Creating a Weekly Planner

Start with Fixed Time Commitments

First off, mark down the commitments that don’t allow any flexibility. These include class meetings, work hours, sports practice and the like. Capturing the “fixed” parts of your schedule can help you see where there are blocks of time that can be used for other activities.

Consider Your Studying and Homework Habits

When are you most productive? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Block out your study times accordingly. You’ll also want to factor in any resources you might need. For instance, if you prefer to study very early or late in the day, and you’re working on a research paper, you might want to check the library hours to make sure it’s open when you need it.

Plan Ahead

Even if you prefer weekly over monthly schedules, write reminders for yourself and keep track of any upcoming projects, papers, or exams. You will also want to prepare for these assignments in advance. Most students eventually discover (the hard way) that cramming for exams the night before and waiting till the last minute to start on a term paper is a poor strategy. Procrastination creates a lot of unnecessary stress, and the resulting final product—whether an exam, lab report, or paper—is rarely your best work. Try simple things to break down large tasks, such as setting aside an hour or so each day to work on them during the weeks leading up to the deadline. If you get stuck, get help from your instructor early, rather than waiting until the day before an assignment is due.

Consider Leisure Time and Self-care

It might seem impossible to leave room in your schedule for fun activities, but every student needs and deserves to socialize and relax on a regular basis. Try to make this time something you look forward to and count on, and use it as a reward for getting things done. You might reserve every Friday or Saturday evening for going out with friends, for example. Or, if a club you’re interested in meets on Thursdays during a time you’ve reserved for studying, try to reschedule your study time so you can do both.

Monthly Planners

At the beginning of each semester, you will receive a syllabus in many of your classes. One excellent organizational habit is to transfer all major due dates and assignments from all your courses into one main calendar. Some students choose a wall calendar that they refer to daily and is easy to see for reminders. Other students like a calendar they can carry in their book bag, so they can add assignments in class. Many opt for an online calendar, which can be set with reminders that appear on your phone. As you think about what option might work well for you, keep the following tips in mind:

  • If possible, keep one calendar for all of your life activities. Include when your bills are due, doctor & dentist appointments, and any other deadlines you want to hold yourself accountable. that way, you’ll have one place to add tasks and check for reminders.
  • Keep your to-do list near your calendar, so you can add to it as you look at approaching deadlines.
  • Post your weekly planner inside your monthly calendar, so you can plan when you’ll be able to complete tasks.

Video: Randy Pausch on Time Management

Randy Pausch’s was known for his lecture called “The Last Lecture,” now a bestselling book. Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, Pausch passes along some of his ideas for best strategies for uses of time in his lesser known lecture on time management. Who would be better suited to teach about time management than someone trying to maximize their last year, months, weeks, and days of their life?

What tips does Randy Pausch offer that will help you with managing your time?

“There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”

– Bill Watterson

Video: How to Gain Control of Your Free Time, Laura Vanderkam TED Talk

Laura Vanderkam’s TED Talk helps with perspective on free time.

You must make time for the things that are most important to you. In order to make time, you may need to decide you will not do something else.

The ability to say “no” cannot be underestimated. It isn’t easy to say “no,” especially to family, friends and people who like you and whom you like. Most of us don’t want to say “no,” especially when we want to help. But if we always do what others want, we won’t accomplish the things that we want. It’s important to spend our limited free time on the things that are most important to us.

Another method to maximize free time is to ask yourself:

  • What am I doing that doesn’t need to be done?
  • What can I do more efficiently?

Have you ever ordered an appetizer, salad, beverage or bread, then felt full halfway through your entree? In situations like this many people claim, “My eyes were bigger than my stomach.” This is also true with planning and goal setting. It may be that your plan is bigger than the day. Experiment with what you want to accomplish and what is realistic. The better you can accurately predict what you can and will accomplish and how long it will take, the better you can plan and the more successful you will be.

Estimating task time

One of the biggest challenges college students face is accurately estimating how much time it will take to complete a task. We might think we’re going to be able to read an assigned chapter in an hour. But what if it takes three hours to read and understand the chapter?

For each of the items on your to-do list, create a prediction of the amount of time it will take you. Monitor your predictions as you complete the task. Think about why assignments or activities took longer. Then, readjust your schedule moving forward to better reflect the time needed for each task.

Having the skill to know how long a homework assignment will take is something that can be developed. But until we can anticipate it accurately, it is best to leave some time in our schedule in case any given task takes longer than we had anticipated.


  1. Jeffery Young. Homework? What Homework? (Ipswich, Massachusetts: Chronicle of High Education, 2002). A35-A37.


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