Time Management for Online Students

Time Management for Online Students 

Young woman overworked, burnout syndrome

Time is the most precious resource you will ever have and part of managing your time is learning how to manage your stress level. Learning time management and stress management skills may be two of the most essential skills you will learn in life. It could literally make or break your ability to succeed. We are all stressed during these difficult times as our world manages the COVID19 pandemic. 

Managing time and stress are critical skills only developed and honed through practice and reflection. In this blog, I will help you recognize strategies for effective time management and identify different methods for organizing projects.

As a side note, in the month of March, I switched back from an electronic schedule to a paper planner. I am so happy I did. I haven't missed any appointments and I am now able to mute my computer notifications (there were way too many distractions) and focus on my work. I do various tasks throughout the day including web meetings with clients, phone calls with my staff, and putting together a curriculum for new courses. Each one of those requires intense focus to make the most of my time. The electronic notifications interrupted my workflow. Even when I turned OFF my email I was still getting computer notifications - it all became too much. I found a great company on Etsy called Made to Plan and had a custom planner designed. You can check it out on my Instagram page. It really is a beautiful planner. 

Planning and Goal Setting - Time Management Techniques

How do you know if you are good at managing your time? Do you ever feel rushed, behind on deadlines, overwhelmed, or disorientated? If you answered YES to any of these points, you may find something to learn! 

Essential Habits of Time Management

There are seven habits that drive excellent time management. These include: 

  1. Know where the hours are going – keep a written or electronic schedule and write down the time you spend on tasks
  2. Keep focused on the end result – know what your overall goal is and remind yourself of it often
  3. Work to defined priorities – after you identify your desired result you should set milestones, using the smart goals techniques you will learn next
  4. Schedule time for important issues – make sure you have scheduled the events and tasks that take priority. This will help ensure that you have enough time to complete each task and reach your goal
  5. Delegate routine tasks and responsibility for them – when working in a team environment at school, it may be helpful to delegate tasks for a project, assigning different parts of the project to different individuals. In this way, you are using all the resources available and making the best use of your time
  6. Confront your own indecision and delay – accept that you are a procrastinator sometimes, and then seek to change that by proper planning!
  7. Take the stress out of your life – make time to relieve stress, and schedule time to do the things you enjoy!

Managing Yourself

Young man struggling with time management

Learning how to manage yourself is really about how you prioritize your to-do list. You can prioritize your list using many different criteria. You may find that prioritizing based on stress level works the best. In other words, what deadline or project causes you so much stress that it is hampering your ability to succeed in other areas? Often, targeting and completing the project hanging over your head frees you up to complete other assignments. It also gives you time for yourself to relax and recuperate. 

There will also be times when a high-stress assignment must take a backseat to other assignments with more immediate deadlines. In those cases, it would be unwise to ignore items that you need to complete now. 

Prioritizing is also about perspective. You must be able to look at your to-do list using many perspectives in order to determine what needs to be finished now, as opposed to what can be completed later. The only way you can truly look at everything under different perspectives is to list them out with corresponding deadlines and realistic estimates on how long they will take to complete. You may wish to use a chart like the one that follows or create your own. 

Developing a Strategy

Everyone has a different strategy for what works. Some people use different strategies at different times. The most important thing is to have a strategy and to use it. The second most important thing is to not waste all of your time developing the strategy. Put something together and give it a try. Learn and improve using your experiences.

How to Use Unscheduled Time

Use unscheduled time. Even with the majority of your time accounted for in your weekly schedule, small segments of unscheduled time should still exist. For instance, while waiting for your child after ball practice or before an appointment, you can read your next assignment. Always carry a book or article you need to read with you in order to take advantage of these opportune moments. If you use a laptop computer and have Internet connectivity, use this time to check your e-class Web site for new announcements or assignment submissions by your classmates. Having a to-do list on hand at all times can help to maximize the use of unscheduled time.

What is a Plan?

Young woman using time management skills

A plan is a road map set in real-time to reach an objective or set of objectives through the use of defined resources. You need to know what you have to plan. Once this is established, you can:

  • Break the task into manageable chunks.
  • Gauge the time required for each chunk.
  • Schedule each chunk into a logical sequence.

Goal Setting

By setting goals that relate to performance and conform to SMART criteria, you will improve productivity. SMART stands for:

  • Specific and well-defined objectives
  • Measurable outputs and inputs
  • Attainable in terms of resources available and expectations
  • Relevant to the overall business strategy
  • Time-bound with an operational schedule

To achieve time-based management, you will need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the allotted time for completion of plans realistic?
  • In the effort to achieve results, is efficient use made of the available time?
  • For teams - how can the time available be used to generate the optimal results?
  • Is task-related time management appropriate and realistic in the situation?

Time Log 

A time log is an effective way to see where your time actually goes during the working day. Record the information for about 2 weeks to get a representative picture of the time spent. By logging activities and the time taken to complete them, the time-log provides useful information that can identify:

  • Estimate time on task
  • Estimate time for tasks
  • Time stealing activities
  • Level of interruption
  • Loading during the day
  • Crises points/tasks

Time logs will help you understand how you use your time so that you can identify and eliminate all time-wasting activities. As a result, time logs will allow you more time to do your work and can increase your productivity at work. In addition, it will also free some time so that you can achieve a greater work-life balance.

When you set out first to record your time, you will more than likely be surprised at the amount of time-wasting activity you engage in. In addition, you will soon realize that what you thought you did every day may be quite different than the reality. Be patient and keep filling in the time log and the benefits will soon pay considerable dividends.

As you become more confident at completing your time logs, it is important to turn your attention to analyzing these logs. To do this, simply review your log and consider what time spent is valuable, what activities you should continue to follow, and how could you free up time by doing things differently.

The important aspect of this technique is that it allows you to record and review what you do and what time is used. Always remember that time is not an endless commodity. 

Work on Projects That Excite You

If you find yourself slugging through a task and going nowhere fast, change gears. Are there any important tasks on your list that intrigue or excite you? If motivation or inspiration exists, use it, because it may not last. When you are motivated or inspired, the task will be easier and faster to complete.

Understand Your Physiological Clock 

Everyone has periods during the day when they are tired and other times when they are energetic. Some people are morning people, while others are night owls. More than likely, your task list includes things that require concentration and things that do not. I like to work on projects that require lots of concentration in the morning when I am refreshed, motivated, and have fewer distractors. While in the evenings, when my brain has checked out for the day, I prefer to complete my more mindless tasks that require little if any concentration and risk of failure is low. Examples include doing laundry or giving the dog a bath. 

You can double your productivity without burning yourself out just by understanding when the best time is to do tasks. In other words, it will allow you to use your time more effectively. 

If you are tired and feel that you can only handle one item on your list, which happens to be a low priority, tackle that item. Crossing something off your list is always better than doing nothing at all. Shortening the list can also act as a good motivator. 

The Tortoise and the Hair – Not Quite!

Life is a long-distance race, not a sprint. If you work too fast, you risk mistakes and burnout. If you work too slow, you will never get anything done. Find a pace that you can maintain for the long haul that also allows you to make reasonable progress and complete your goals. 

Avoid Procrastination

There is a saying that a student has the cleanest house. The message is that students prefer to clean their houses than to study or do homework. (We all know those students who have a messy house but that is probably more due partying more than anything else). Dealing with procrastination is all about identifying it. If you find yourself interrupting a task in order to do things that can wait or taking too many unnecessary breaks, you need to hold yourself back and continue working, or scan through your priority list and identify other priority tasks that you can work on. 

Organization

Organized people are generally more productive. They spend less time searching and more time doing. I am very organized with my electronic files, but if it is not electronic it is lost. Fortunately for me, I do not have very many home projects, but when I do, even the simplest task can become an all-day affair. I typically spend at least 70% of my time searching for the right tool or going back and forth to the garage looking for the screw I put down while searching for the tool I lost. I waste so much time on home repair projects that I avoid them at all costs. Sometimes it gets to the point where I need them to build up enough where it is cost-effective to hire someone to do them for me. I will probably never learn to effectively organize my garage. 

Do not let this happen to you with your school and work life. For one thing, there is no one to hire, for another thing, being organized will give you more time to do the things you want to do

Order of Importance

In life and at school, you will come across tasks that are low in importance. Nice to-dos, but not necessary if they mean sacrificing critical to-dos. You would not want to take the scenic route on an empty tank when the alternative route takes you to the only gas station. Organize your schedule around the priority points in your day. 

Completing Tasks

Student using time management skills

Many tasks require sequential steps that must be completed in a specific order. Baking a cake is a good example. The first thing you should always do is make sure that you have all of the ingredients. The next step is to review the process. Are there steps that can be taken out of order that can allow you to multitask? One example step might be to pre-heat the oven so that it is ready when you finish mixing the ingredients. In school, you may find that you have questions about an assignment once you get started. Asking questions early can avoid a very stressful situation later. 

Like baking a cake, you need to understand the process and gather any needed tools, information, and supplies, so that you can intelligently prioritize the project. If you have kids in school, you may have learned this lesson the hard way as the entire family scrambles on Sunday night to complete that poster for which you have no poster paper, unclear instructions, and no idea how it is going to happen. Canine consumption of homework is not a viable excuse in college. 

Managing Your School Schedule

It is impossible to manage your time if you are overloading your schedule with more work than any mere mortal could ever successfully complete. When you enroll in school, choose a good balance of difficult and easier classes. If you excel in humanities and English, but struggle in science and mathematics, choose just one or two courses from the science and math category and fill the rest of your schedule with the courses that are traditionally easier for you. The point to be made is that you only have so many cognitive faculties. You don't want to spread them so thin that you succeed in nothing, while you also do not want to waste these resources and create a difficult future situation. 

Stress Management 

In today's fast-paced world, it is easy to feel overburdened and stressed by everyday things. As a student, you have even less time for recreational pursuits so it becomes necessary to make time for yourself. Often, students such as yourself may find it difficult to relax even once they have set aside the time to do so. 

In this section, you will learn what stress is, how your body reacts to stress, and what you can do to manage, reduce, or even eliminate the stress from your life!

Managing Stress

The following steps will help you manage stress in your life. 

  • Add balance to life; don't overdo studies or play
  • Know and accept what kind of person you are: strengths and weaknesses
  • Get a thorough physical exam
  • Take "time outs", especially while studying
  • Expand your support network, reinforce friendships
  • Exercise regularly
  • Watch your breathing
  • Walk more
  • Learn and practice relaxation skills
  • Study each subject regularly for moderate periods of time
  • Discuss problems with friends, family, or your instructor 

Reducing and Eliminating Stress

An important step in Stress Management is stress reduction or elimination if possible, and there are several different techniques you can use to squelch the stressors in your life. 

One approach is to emulate people who are naturally resistant to stress. Some people weather devastating experiences with uncanny serenity. By studying them, researchers have discovered that they share certain habits.

  • They tend to focus on immediate issues rather than global ones.
  • Stress-resistant people also tend to share an optimistic "explanatory style."
  • They assume their troubles are temporary ("I'm tired today") rather than permanent ("I'm washed up") and specific ("I have a bad habit") rather than universal ("I'm a bad person")
  • They credit themselves when things go right, while externalizing their failures ("That was a tough audience," instead of, "I gave a horrible speech").

Many people learn to manage stress through meditation and other relaxation exercises. 

  • Participants concentrate on breathing to quell the mind's restless forays in the past and future. 
  • Then, they lie down and relax their mind and body one muscle at a time.

Physiotherapist giving back massage to a patient in clinic to help with stress management

Massage is another proven antidote to stress. No one knows precisely how the kneading of muscles quells the stress response, but the effects can be dramatic.

If massage and meditation are not for you, you may want to consider exercise. Exercise increases the body's production of morphine-like endorphins, while improving the brain's oxygen supply, and releasing tension from the muscles. In this time of quarantines and “stay at home” measures, exercise is an essential component to reducing stress levels. 

There are many other options, from yoga to music therapy, and none of them excludes the others. The important thing is that you do something good for yourself. So get out there and experiment until you find the technique that is right for you!

Conclusion

Many people overlook the importance of managing time and stress in their lives. They live with time and stress issues as a normal part of their life. They suffer through the consequences and deal with the symptoms. If you are one of those people, consider making a change. You can use many of the techniques discussed to both reduce stress and work more effectively both now and in the future!

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