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A Time Management Program for Students

Time management is one of the most important skills for success in higher education, especially in online classes that do not give students a set schedule for organizing their studies. For this reason, I have developed a time management program for online students that

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Time management is one of the most important skills for success in higher education, especially in online classes that do not give students a set schedule for organizing their studies. For this reason, I have developed a time management program for online students that guides them through the process of setting a realistic weekly study schedule and that any instructor can implement.

First step: Explain the problem

Step one is to give students information on the dangers of poor time management and its causes. This comes in the form of a video I created entitled “Why Students Fail.” A number of colleagues have questioned this title on grounds that it is negative, but all communication begins with getting the audience’s attention, and often negative titles do that better than positive ones. For instance, which of the following headlines would more likely get you to read further: “Five Strategies for Building Your Retirement” or “Five Common Retirement Mistakes to Avoid”?

The video provides advice directed at the two most common causes I see for student time management problems. One is that traditional, full-time students with little else but studies on their plates often procrastinate because they don’t have immediate deadlines and eventually fall behind. The other is that nontraditional students who must balance their educations with work and family responsibilities do not understand the importance of restructuring their home responsibilities to make time for their educations. I talk about both issues and then provide a program that works for both traditional and nontraditional groups.

I spend much of the video on the need for nontraditional students to get their entire families on board with their educational planning. They know that they need to set aside time for their studies but often think to themselves, I work eight hours a day and sleep eight hours, so that leaves eight hours a day during the week to study, which is plenty of time. This ignores how much of their free time they spend on family responsibilities and that family often beckons during their free time. Thus, I talk about the importance of offloading some responsibilities onto other family members and setting specific blocks of time that everyone understands are for uninterrupted study. I explain that they need to have a meeting with their family members to divvy up some of their responsibilities and get agreement on a plan. Children need to know that “after work is Mommy’s study time, so you need to go to Daddy for homework help” or that “Saturday is Daddy’s study time, so Mommy will be taking you to your soccer games.” Of course, traditional students also need to set up a schedule, so I discuss the same principles in relation to the friends and roommates that traditional students interact with, but these relationships tend to involve fewer obligations than family relationships, and so I give them a more cursory discussion. 

Second step: Set a schedule

The introductory video is followed by a worksheet that asks students to carve out a weekly study schedule. I provide an estimate for the amount of time they will need to spend per week on the class given the length of the course. For a traditional 14-week class, it might be six hours per week. For classes compressed into seven or eight weeks, I might recommend 12 hours per week. Other instructors will need to adjust their estimates for their own topics and course schedules.

The worksheet contains a sample weekly schedule like the one below as well as a blank week with fields that they fill in. I then require them to submit the worksheet within a week of the beginning of the class. It’s not worth a grade; I just check to make sure they’ve done it.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday 
7–9 p.m.   7–9 p.m. 7–9 p.m. 7–9 p.m. Open 9 a.m.–5 p.m.   Open 
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday 
[Add schedule here.]        [Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.][Add schedule here.]

Step three: Track and analyze results

Students get their worksheets back after the first week. Then, for the next two to three weeks, they log the amount of time they actually spend studying by activity type (reading, video, quiz, etc.). The worksheet has a template for this, like the one below:

DateTask typeTime on taskNotes
 Example: Reading: 10-page articleExample: 60 minutesExample: 6 minutes per page. Note difficult reading.
 [Enter task type here.][Enter time here.][Enter notes here.]
 [Enter task type here,][Enter time here.][Enter notes here.]

The purpose of this exercise is twofold. One, it gives students a sense of how much time they spend on different types of tasks. For instance, they may learn that they average six minutes per page on a reading or generally spend 30 minutes on the end-of-week quiz. They can use this information for future planning. Two, they learn whether their study schedules are realistic. They may discover that on certain days they have other activities that interfere with studying and so need to modify either their study schedules or their outside activities. Overall, the analysis forces students to reflect on their schedules while being reminded of them daily. Once again, they submit this worksheet to show that they have done it.

Step four: Plan the upcoming week

Once they have a couple of weeks of data on their actual study time, the final step is for students to plan out each coming week for the rest of the class. The template looks similar to the one used for the original plan, but instead of merely setting aside blocks of time for general study, they specific time blocks for each of the following week’s activities. The original schedule was based on the suggested number of hours to budget per week and when they had time in their schedule. Now that they understand how much actual time different activities will take, they can start planning specific weeks according to upcoming work. This is closer to what real time budgeting requires. A week’s schedule will look something like the following:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday 
Reading 1 (30 mins)
Reading 2 (30 mins)
Reading 3 (30 mins)
Review (15 mins)
Quiz 1 (30 mins)
Reading 4 (30 mins) Reading 5 (30 mins) Review (15 mins)
Quiz 2 (30 mins)
Reading 6 (10 mins)
Reading 7 (10 mins)
Reading 8 (10 mins) Assignment 1 planning (30 mins)
Review (15 mins)
Quiz 2 (15 mins)
Assignment 1 workbook (45 mins)
Review notes (15 mins)
Assignment 1 (2 hours) 
Review notes (15 mins)
Assignment 1 (2 hours)
Revise (30 mins)

The entire time management program is hosted on a single worksheet with directions, examples, fillable templates, and a link to the opening video; they return to it and submit it at various times during the class. I also suggest that they consider using one of the homework planner apps listed on this Educational App Store page. The program not only leads to greater success in my class but also develops a skill that serves students well in their future studies and beyond.