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Managing Your Time

Doing well academically is more a matter of good organization than brilliance.

Staying on top of your work will help you learn more and do better in your courses – and feel better. In fact, research shows that enhancing time management is one of the most effective ways to decrease academic stress.

Three things to be mindful of:

  1. Avoiding over-commitment.
    Many Northwestern students find they have committed so much time to extra-curricular projects that they aren’t able to focus as well as they’d like on academics. Often, students feel pressure to get involved with lots of activities, and to socialize even more than they really want to, because they don't want to miss out. Those are perfectly understandable feelings, but they can lead to feeling overwhelmed.  Know that it's OK to say no, and consider choosing just one or two activities that are the most meaningful for you.

  2. Purposefulness.
    Most people don’t think “strategy” when it comes to study time, but purposeful planning can make a big impact on the quality of studying. Studies have shown that students who are purposeful in managing their time have better grade outcomes, and feel happier and more optimistic, than students who take a more off-the-cuff approach.

  3. Long-term thinking.
    When you feel stressed about your academic work, it’s natural to want to dive in and study, without taking the time to plan. But research finds that managing your time well can actually relieve academic stress, reducing the need for the “dive in” approach. Taking a long-term, strategic view of your study needs, rather than a short-term, reactive view, can help your grades and your mood.

5 steps to better time management:

  1. Prioritize.
    Experts say that setting priorities is the first step in time management. Think about what activities will contribute to your learning most, including not just your own study time, but also studying with others, visiting faculty office hours, or attending tutoring sessions.

  2. Be realistic.
    Consider how long it will realistically take to achieve your academic goals for the term. How much study time will you need to allocate for each class? How often might you want to go to office hours or TA review sessions? Also be realistic about how often you will need study breaks and leisure activities. Consider tracking your time, too, to give yourself a better sense of how you're actually filling your days.

  3. Create a master schedule.
    Based on your list of priorities, create a calendar for the term, and enter each of your commitments — including classes, meetings, and work. Next, go through each of your syllabi and note all quizzes, midterms, and due dates. Having all assignments listed on one calendar will help you work backwards to develop a study plan.

  4. Plan your study time.
    As noted above, being purposeful is key. Use the big-picture view to determine priorities for the week and goals for each day. Schedule individual and group study, plans to attend office hours, and time for breaks. Also allow time for review before and after class: research shows that a quick before-class preview of information can help you learn more effectively – as can spending some time reviewing material after class.

  5. Take time for yourself.
    Remember to allow time for relaxation, health, exercise, and spending time with family or friends. Try not to over-commit.

And remember, if you don’t follow your schedule perfectly the first week, keep trying. Time management is a practice that takes time to perfect.