Time Management Skills: The Ultimate Guide

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You only have so many hours in a day. As you get older, your responsibilities will continue to increase. You can’t buy more time, but you can make good use of the time that you have.

In this article, we’ll tell you all of our favorite time management tips and tools to help you achieve your dreams without burning yourself out. We’ll start with basic time management skills and progress to more specific tips for high school success and college admissions. 

What is time management?

Time management is the process of planning how to spend each hour of your day in order to increase efficiency and accomplish your goals. This includes careful scheduling and also a variety of tips and tricks to help you use your time more efficiently. 

Why is time management important?

Have you ever found yourself scrambling to meet a last-minute deadline? 

Do you lose sleep finishing your homework or cramming for a quiz? 

It’s amazing how many hours we can waste if we go through our days without a plan. Developing your time management skills will help you to get more done with less stress so that you can accomplish everything that you want to do. 

How to Improve Your Time Management Skills

Start by taking an honest look at your current time management skills. Then make a list of your commitments and goals, and make a schedule that will fit them all with room to spare. If you find that it’s impossible to schedule everything in, your plate might be piled too high. But usually, with proper time management skills, you can get more done than you think.

Track How You’re Currently Spending Your Time

If you’re unsure of whether or not you’re managing your time wisely, start by tracking how you spend your time on a typical weekday. Do this for a week for a more complete picture. 

You can track your time manually (daily planners make it easy; use the pages to record your days in addition to using them to plan) or with an app on your phone. We’ll share some of our favorite tools later in the article.

How much time do you spend watching TV or scrolling on your phone? How much time do you lose bouncing from one task to another without completing anything? Take stock and consider whether or not each item on your list is helping you to live your values and achieve your goals.

As you transition over to spending your time more intentionally, you’ll need to prioritize. 

List Your Commitments

Make a list of everything you’ve already committed to, including the time things happen and the amount of time you need to commit outside of scheduled activities in order to be successful. This may include:

  • Transit time
  • Class schedule
  • Sports practices
  • Estimated study time
  • Work / Internships
  • Family time

List everything you can think of. Get it all out of your head and onto a sheet of paper. 

Combine related tasks so that you’re not running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Before you make your schedule, consider which items on your list go well together. 

Make SMART Goals

SMART Goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. We’ll go into what that means in just a moment. 

Be sure to include both long-term and short-term goals. 

Do you dream of going to an Ivy League school or becoming a veterinarian? Great! Now, what short-term goals do you need to accomplish in order to get there? 

What are the average GPAs for your target schools? Which activities do you want to pursue outside of school in order to make yourself a more impressive applicant? 

What do you need to accomplish this year? This month? This week?

Read on for more advice on creating effective goals and accomplishing them.

Be Specific

Get good grades. Sure, that’s an important goal. But what are the larger goals that motivate you to earn those A’s? And what are the smaller goals that will get you there?

Whether it’s your dream career or simply a fantastic college experience, keeping your long-term goals in mind will help you stay motivated through your long hours of studying and years of school. Be specific with your why.

You need to be specific with your short-term goals too. Say your goal is to get a 4.0 this year. What short-term goals do you need to accomplish to make that happen? Keep track of the projects and exams for each class and stay focused on upcoming milestones. 

Set Measurable Goals

This is one way in which you can set specific goals. 

Say you want to get an A in Spanish class. What’s your current grade in the class? What percentage of correct answers will you need on future tests in order to reach or maintain your current grade? How many hours will you need to devote to studying in order to reach that goal?

Make them Achievable and Realistic

Set yourself up for success by setting realistic goals. You want to push yourself without overextending yourself. Straight As might not be possible if you cram all of your AP classes into one semester and commit to multiple extracurricular activities too. 

A schedule and excellent time management skills will help you to determine ahead of time how much you can take on without feeling overwhelmed. 

Set a Time Frame

Say you want to apply to ten universities. You’ll need to track application deadlines carefully so that you don’t find yourself scrambling at the last minute. Take note of all of the deadlines and schedule your exams and essay-writing sessions far in advance.

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Prioritize Your Health

Did you include excellent health on your list of goals? Does your list of priorities include sleep, nutritious meals, and daily exercise? If not, you’ll need to revisit those lists before making your schedule.

If you’re not taking good care of yourself, nothing else matters. 

The occasional all-nighter is one thing (and with good time management skills, you can even avoid those), but if you deprive your body of sleep, your health will start to suffer. You’ll never perform your best if you’re exhausted or if you haven’t given your body the fuel that it needs to get through the day.

For optimal health, include time in your schedule for:

  • Adequate sleep
  • Three meals a day plus snacks
  • Frequent movement
  • Time outside

Consider how much sleep you need to feel fully rested and ready to greet the day. Most high school students are still growing and need at least nine hours of sleep each night to feel their best. Count backward from the time that you need to wake up, and make bedtime the first item on your new schedule. 

Does it feel like you can’t possibly spare that much time for sleep?

Take a step back and reexamine what’s really important to you. Whatever it is, you can’t show up and do your best if you’re chronically exhausted.

Give yourself another chunk of time for your nightly routine. Do you need a shower before bed to fall asleep easily? Does thirty minutes with a good book help you to wind down and get ready for bed? Factor those things in too. 

Give yourself time to sit down and eat real food rather than rushing out the door with a granola bar in hand. 

And don’t forget to budget time for your mental health. Sleep, healthy food, and exercise will all support your mental wellbeing as well, but there’s more to it than that. Leave room in your schedule for whatever you need to feel whole and content. Consider scheduling time for:

  • Nature excursions
  • Getting together with friends
  • Reading for pleasure
  • Doing whatever lights you up

Create a Schedule

Now that you’re clear on your commitments and goals, it’s time to create your schedule. If you create a reliable weekly schedule and make note of all due dates ahead of time, your daily to-do list won’t feel so overwhelming. 

Multitask

Here are some ideas to give you a feel for how you can combine tasks to save time.

  • Combine family time with a bike ride for your daily exercise
  • Walk to school or to work if possible
  • Listen to audiobooks for your classes while you commute 
  • Study flashcards on a treadmill or stair-stepper

Avoid Distractions

Multitasking can be powerful when done effectively, but be wary of doing too many things all at the same time. You can avoid distractions with these tips:

  • Lock your phone for a set amount of time
  • Study in the library if you concentrate best in silence
  • Eat a healthy, satisfying meal before you begin work
  • Study with classmates if that helps you to stay on track
  • Avoid music with lyrics if they distract you

Make Time for Breaks

Schedule breaks into your study sessions. Expecting yourself to sit and concentrate for hours on end isn’t the smartest approach, and you’ll end up burnt out by the end — if you don’t just quit halfway through the time you’ve given yourself. Short, frequent breaks will help you maintain your focus, energy, and health.

Set a timer on your phone for a set amount of time, say 20 to 30 minutes, and give the task at hand your undivided attention. When the timer goes off, check-in with yourself. Do you need water? A snack? Take a five-minute break to move your body, and give your eyes a break by focusing on something in the distance. Repeat.

Time Tracking Tools

Whether you prefer pen and paper or the buzz of a phone, there are countless options to help you succeed. Here are some of our favorites:

Calendars

Extra-large calendars are great for keeping track of all of your important dates and deadlines. You could get a desk calendar or a wall calendar. There are also dry-erase wall calendars that let you start fresh each month.

Journals

Weekly planners are a fantastic way to keep track of everything you need to do. Consider an undated planner. They have the days of the week, but not the months or dates. This means that you can fill those in and not have any wasted space in your journal if you buy it midway through the year.

It’s great to have a static schedule up on your wall and a journal to track your daily tasks. Your static schedule would include that semester’s classes, sports practices, work schedule, etc. Then you can use your journal for homework assignments, chores, and other tasks that change from week to week.

Digital Time Management Tools

There’s an endless array of apps and websites available for free. 

My Life Organized

My Life Organized allows you to create nested to-do lists, meaning that you can easily break big tasks down into more manageable chunks. Organize your goals into daily tasks, weekly chores, and long-term aspirations. The basic version is free.

You can assign due dates to individual items, and the software will automatically input each task into a calendar and create a list showing you which tasks need to be accomplished by a given day. It even offers location-based reminders. 

RescueTime

RescueTime offers a two-week free trial, which gives you plenty of time to take advantage of its automatic time tracking feature. It will show you exactly what you’ve been sinking your time into so that you can become more conscious of how you’re spending your time. It also allows you to schedule FocusTime, which blocks distracting websites for a set amount of time.

Trello

Trello is another time management tool that’s available for free online. You can use it to organize and prioritize all of your tasks and goals. It’s particularly useful for collaborating, whether that means tracking your family schedule (who gets the car on Wednesday?!) or organizing projects and study groups with friends.

Notion

Notion is another easy-to-use object for tracking tasks and collaborating with classmates. Tasks are listed by status: Not Started, In Progress, and Complete. They can also be assigned to specific group members, so everyone can see who’s responsible for which task as well as what’s been accomplished so far. Notion can sync between your phone and computer for free.

Asana

Asana is another collaboration tool. It tracks goals, timeline, and even shows the workload that each person is carrying. The basic version (for teams of 15 or under) is free, and it includes file storage. It can integrate with other apps and sync your computer and phone. In-app messaging makes it easy for your team or study group to communicate about specific projects.

Tips for Highschool Success and College Applications

Here are some tips specific to your high school career and the college application process.

Balance Your Course Load Carefully 

Speak to your school counselor about balancing your course load when it’s time to sign up for classes. Plan ahead, considering all of the classes that you’d like to take. 

Consider other commitments. If your schedule is heavy with track meets or volunteer work at a certain time of year, consider saving your most challenging classes for a semester when you’ll have more free time to study. If you want to take a number of challenging classes, see if it’s possible to split them up instead of taking them all at the same time.

Schedule Your Studying

Avoid all-nighters by scheduling your study time in small increments over a period of time. As soon as you know the date of a test or quiz, add it to your schedule and make time for a number of study sessions. This is so much easier than cramming it in all at once, and works better at cementing the information in your long-term memory (so you won’t need to learn it all over again for the final exam).

When you make your study schedule, consider your environment. Do you want to plan on spending some time at the library for complete silence? Or do you want to make plans with classmates to prepare for a test together? This brings us to our next tip…

Experiment with Different Study Strategies

Everyone learns differently. You may find that you learn best with background music or that you can only concentrate in complete silence. You may need a group to help you get through a certain class, while the work for another class can be completed much more quickly on your own.

Here are some study techniques to try:

  • Read the material all in one go without taking notes
  • Write down key information when you read through a second time
  • Move through the material slowly, rewriting each section in your own words
  • Work with a group of classmates
  • Tell your family what you learned today; give as much detail as you can
  • Make paper flashcards and quiz yourself
  • Use a flashcard app on your phone 
  • Copy diagrams, graphs, and other relevant images 
  • Experiment with either concentrating on one subject for long blocks
  • Rotate tasks frequently, moving from one subject to another

If you try out a wide variety of study strategies, you’ll be able to find the ones that are the most effective and efficient for you, which will save you time in the long run.

Leave Time for Extracurricular Activities

Academics are important, but they’re not the only thing that matters. College admissions boards want to see that you have interests outside of school too. As you plan out your high school years, leave time for extracurriculars. 

Explore as many different activities as you need to in order to find something that sparks your interests and matches your natural talents. Once you’ve found something you love to do, devote enough time to develop your expertise. Colleges love to see students who are passionate about things and have had the opportunity to develop their teamwork and leadership skills.

Schedule Your SAT and Other Tests Early

Even if your dream college is test-optional, we recommend taking the SAT test. It’s best to schedule your tests early enough that you’ll have the opportunity to test a second time if needed. You’re almost certain to get a better score on your second try.

Begin Your Essays With Time to Spare

Whether it’s an essay for AP English or a college admissions essay, you never know how many revisions it will take to get an essay to its final draft. With school assignments, write up your outline or first draft as soon as possible. With colleges, begin taking notes on essay ideas and writing early drafts as soon as you learn the prompts for your target schools.

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