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10 Steps to Improving Your Time Management Skills

Much of time management comes down to staying focused, modifying your behavior and being organized.

Time management is the process of intentionally planning how long you spend on specific tasks in order to increase your overall efficiency. When you’re able to do this successfully, you may see benefits like decreased stress, improved focus and more confidence. As Strayer Student Services Coach Michael Horvath notes, effective time management skills can serve you well in both an academic and professional setting. In both places, people have a variety of commitments and daily obligations, making time management critical.

Try mastering these ten steps to improve your time management skills.

1. Look ahead

It’s hard to manage your time when you don’t know everything you’re managing. One of the first steps you can take is to look at all your upcoming tasks. Maybe you have a paper and a test due at the end of the week, but you also have a family party to attend. Once you know everything that’s approaching, you can better plan how to prepare for them all. 

Laurie Lee, senior student services coach, says you can plan for the week ahead or even just the day ahead. It’s the forethought and organization that’s key. “Try to set a daily goal of how much time you need to spend on each class to complete the weekly assignments, and stick to that. If you know the following week is going to be busier than usual, try to work ahead,” says Lee.

2. Use a calendar

Using a calendar is an important part of time management. Michael Horvath says that a calendar can be a very helpful tool. When you see a visual of your projects and to-do items mapped out, you’re more likely to stay on task. Horvath suggests, “Use a different color for each type of time use, such as green for work, red for family obligations, etc. It’s easier to see how much time you’re devoting to each ‘chunk’ this way.” You can create a digital calendar that can be used across all devices or, if you prefer to go old school, use a blank paper calendar to fill in. Either way, it’s a great tool to sharpen your time management skills.

3. Prioritize

Not everything has to be done at once. Some things are more important than others, so tackle those first. Learning how to prioritize your to-do list is key to successful time management. You'll stretch yourself thin if you have too many “urgent” goals. Is that fast-approaching final exam more important than that paper due next week? Choose one as your primary focus before starting the other one. Lee suggests making a list. This way you’ll easily be able to see the big and little tasks at hand. Lee says that making a list is a good visual aid to help you quickly prioritize which jobs you should tackle first. Prioritizing puts your goals in perspective and helps you focus.

4. Break goals into small, actionable items

When final exams roll around, instead of studying material for the quarter as a whole, break it down into topics or chapters, studying one section at a time. This makes your goals digestible – smaller, more manageable – and can help you reach the larger goal. Apply this habit to any major task.

Michale Horvath suggests trying the Pomodoro Technique, which involves breaking tasks into 10-, 15-, 20- or 25-minute blocks of time. When your time ends, you can take a short break and then start the timer again. Being timed may help you stay more focused, so it can be an effective time management tool to accomplish academic and personal tasks.

5. Do one thing at a time

Multitasking is a great skill to have, but when it’s time to really buckle down, spreading your attention between too many things actually hinders you. You’ll only devote a fraction of your energy and this can lead to mistakes you’ll have to go back to fix, missed deadlines and overall mental burnout. Stick to that schedule you created and focus only on your current task.

6. Use visual reminders and cues

Visuals are a great way to – well, visualize – your time. A colorful calendar is stimulating and attention grabbing. Bright but well organized sticky notes can be great reminders, especially if they are color-coded by type of task. For to-do lists, it’s satisfying to have something you can physically check off, which may motivate you to accomplish more.

7. Take advantage of breaks

If you have a break, take a break. Don’t work during your downtime – you don’t need to, especially if you’ve scheduled the break. We get burned out when we work too much, and breaks provide a much-needed opportunity to recharge. If you can leave work at the office, don’t take it home over the weekend. And try not to do school work during your lunch hour. Whatever you do, just incorporate some dedicated time to step away from your tasks.

8. Stay energized

Eating right, sleeping well and exercising are crucial to staying energized. You need to maintain energy to stay on top of your time. Don’t let simple things like snacking on healthy foods or taking a morning jog fall to the wayside. Staying healthy keeps you energized and able to accomplish more. 

9. Learn to say no

The demands on our time come from many directions: family, coworkers, classmates. While teamwork is important, especially for class projects or tasks at work, it's important to keep in mind your goals and values when determining your to-dos. Learn how to politely decline some invitations or requests, especially during times when you already have a lot on your plate. You’re not helping anyone, especially yourself, if you’re stretched too thin.

10. Look for ways to improve efficiency

Do you often find yourself losing time doing the same things over and over again? Are there ways you can reduce the amount of time you spend on mundane or repetitive tasks? You should always look for ways to work faster and more efficiently. Keep an eye out for bad habits that waste time like checking social media or taking phone calls unrelated to the task at hand. Find ways to stay focused and optimize your time.

Time management is key to reaching academic and personal goals. Incorporating these steps may help you achieve success with less stress and more confidence. 


Thinking about making the most of your time by going back to school? Strayer University offers convenient online learning, or you can take courses at one of our 50+ campus locations. Explore our degree programs.

Category: Motivation & Inspiration

Published Date: NOVEMBER 2, 2023