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Academic Skills

University student, studying on his computer and trying to figure out its time management. Trent University

Academic Skills

Time Management Strategies

Short-term and Long-term Planning

  1. General Expectations
  2. Short-Term Planning
    1. 24/7 Schedule
  3. Long-Term Planning
    1. 4-month calendar
    2. Assignment Analysis
  4. Your Daily Planner
  5. Keys to Successful Time Management

The schedule of a university student varies from week to week and day to day. With little structure and a lot of independence, it can be difficult to know how to balance all the parts of your life: school, work, family, friends, sports, volunteering, and more.

Many university students quickly learn the paradox of time management: the more time you have available, the more difficult it is to manage your time.

By developing good time management strategies, you can work to define and achieve your goals, reduce your stress, and improve your marks!

General Expectations

The course syllabus will tell you a lot about your professor’s expectations and the time and work you will need to commit to the course. What the syllabus may or may not say is this: for students to be successful, they must engage with the course material. You are expected to analyse materials, not consume them. So, you will need to take time and make an effort - perhaps more than you have with your past schoolwork - to actively engage with the course.

As a general rule, full-time students should treat their studies like a full-time job, spending 40-50 hours per week in class, doing lab work, reading, reviewing, writing, and thinking.Some weeks, the workload may be light, while in others, you may have multiple assignments or tests.  It is important to plan by day, week and month to manage the ebb and flow of the term.

Short Term Planning

Short term planning involves creating a weekly schedule that allows you to complete your work. Creating a 24-hour schedule is an excellent way to start your planning; it helps to create structure to your days and illustrates how you use your time and how much time you have available. A 24-hour schedule sounds daunting, but it allows you to be flexible and to work at times which suit you best, whether you prefer the moonlight or early morning sun for study. Download a blank template to make your own schedule.

How to Create a 24/7 schedule

  1. Block off all of your class, seminar, and lab times. Consider time getting to and from classes if you have to commute or take public transit.
  2. Block off your paid work hours, volunteer commitments, training schedule, or program placement.
  3. Block off times for sleeping, eating, exercise, household tasks, and socializing.  If you know you will be spending Friday nights out with friends, block it off – don’t try to plan to do work at a time when it is unlikely to happen.  (Also consider how early you will rise the following Saturday.)
  4. Read the syllabus for each course and identify the weekly workload. Estimate the time you need to complete readings or practice questions, to review, or to do an online quiz. Expect to spend two to four hours per week per course for these tasks, which can be in one large block or in a few smaller blocks of time (for example, you might find it easier to focus on your psychology text book if you read it in a few 45-minute blocks instead of a 3-hour slog). Enter blocks of time for this work where there is time available (and when you are likely to do the work) in your schedule.
  5. Schedule in “major assignment” time each week; this may vary based on your course requirements, but many students find they need 8-10 hours weekly for research, writing, and preparation for essays, labs, projects, or exams. Each week, you can decide which major assignments you need to focus on based on your long term planning.

The 24/7 schedule is a grid; the header row lists the days of the week and the header column lists hours of the day beginning at 6am and ending at 5am. This schedule shows blocks of time for class, reading, group study, assignment time, sleep, and socializing. There are several blank slots of time as well.

Two approaches

Standard Routine: You may wish to establish all of these academic and personal activities in specific blocks of time (i.e. laundry on Wednesdays, 4-6pm; reading for Bio on Thursdays 8-10pm). 

Flexible Schedule: You may find it more useful to know, based on the space available in your 24/7 schedule, that you have 3 hours available on Tuesday afternoons and 4 hours on Tuesday evenings; you can then decide, on a weekly basis, what tasks fit in those time slots (i.e. this week: research for Psychology Tues. aft.; math problem set and bio pre-lab Tues. eve.). 

Long-Term Planning

In addition to having a weekly schedule, it is essential to create a long term plan that will allow you to know when your major assignments are due and whether you have crunch periods during which you have many assignments due at once. A 4-Month Planner can be an excellent tool to use; it allows you to see all the months of a term without turning a page or changing screens.

You can download a term-at-a-glance calendar or use a four-month wall calendar, whichever is more convenient for you.

Using a Term-at-Glance Calendar Effectively

  1. Go through the course outline for each class and carefully note all assignment due dates and exams. Put these dates onto your 4-month calendar. You can use a different colour for each course if this helps. Keep this calendar in plain view for quick reference.
  2. Be sure to include important birthdays and planned trips home as you often need to work around them.
  3. Identify your “crunch times,” periods when you have multiple assignments or exams. Plan for these times by deciding when you need to start each assignment in order to get it done in time.
  4. Don’t forget to note Reading Week in your calendar; it’s a great time to catch up or get ahead!
  5. Make intermediate deadlines for different stages of each assignment and put these on your calendar. You can determine your intermediate deadlines (or mini deadlines) by following our steps for Assignment Analysis.
  6. Remember that learning to make and follow a plan takes time. Be flexible. If a week looks full, try to move some work to an earlier week. Don't worry if you need to adjust your calendars a few times. That's part of the trial-by-error process, and it's useful.

Calendar for September to December laid out in grid. Deadlines labelled and colour-coded. Most weeks have multiple quizes, and some weeks have multiple assighment or lab deadlines, particularly mid-October and end-November

Assignment Analysis

We often put off fa task because we don’t appreciate how much time it will take to complete or we don’t know where to start. By breaking down an assignment into smaller steps, you can better understand where to begin your assignment and when you should start (and complete) it.

In the example below, the assignment is broken into specific tasks and these tasks are spread out over the course of 18 days. This breakdown allows a student to approach the assignment thoughtfully and provides them to complete work for other courses without the stress of completing the assignment.You can download a template to help you with this task.




Estimated time to complete

Complete task by

Research Paper:

6-8 pages

min. 6 sources

Due Oct 10


Read assignment instructions

Select a topic

Brainstorm ideas

0.5 – 1 hr

Sept 22

Preliminary research

  • Course materials
  • General web search

1-2 hrs

Sept 22

Research Questions

Working Thesis Question


Sept 24


Find Sources

Read Sources

Take notes

6-10 hrs


Start Sept 24

Finish Sept 30

Thesis & Outline

0.5-1 hr

Oct 1

First Draft

6-10 hrs

Start Oct 1

Finish Oct 6

Revise (second draft)

2-3 hrs

Oct 7

Edit (third draft)


2 hrs

Oct 9



Oct 10


Your Daily Planner

The final step in your time management process is to record all of the critical information in your daily planner or in daily to-do lists. Referring to your 24/7 schedule to identify blocks of time for school work and using your deadlines and mini-deadlines to prioritize your work, you can effectively plan your week and your day to keep up with your readings, stay on track with essays and assignments, and maintain your personal interests and social life.You may wish to use a planner you buy, a calendar application you like, or you can download this two week planner.

Sample To-Do List






ERS pre-lab (1 hr)

IDST read chp 4 (2 hrs)

HIST find 4 articles for research paper (1-2 hrs)

HIST read/sum 1 article & create citations (1.5 hrs)

GEO outline & draft 2 pgs (2.5 hrs)

ERS data analysis (2 hrs)

GEO draft 3 pgs (2 hrs)

POST read chap 3 (2.5 hrs)




Work 4-8pm


Call home



Make time to manage your time: Plan your week on the same day every week

Tips for Planning Your Work Week

  1. Use your time wisely: don't plan to spend too long on one task. Establish a comfortable time span during which you can focus. Take lots of small breaks to re-energize.
  2. Vary your tasks: don't spend all night just reading or just writing. Do some research, some thinking, some editing.
  3. Plan your tasks so that you blend more enjoyable tasks with less pleasant ones. Don't leave all the things you don't want to do until the end.
  4. Consider your habits.  If you are not normally at your best first thing in the morning, schedule an activity that is more active or that you are motivated to do (perhaps you enjoy reading for History or writing essays for ERS – do this at times when it might be difficult to convince yourself to tackle readings for Philosophy or Chemistry).
  5. Reward yourself for staying on track, but also take time to re-assess if you think things are derailing.

The Keys to Successful Time Management

Be Honest

Forget what you "should" do or what you think others are doing or what you wish you could do; stick to what you actually do. Remember, no one is judging you- this process will work only if you are completely honest with yourself. Everyone approaches time management (and life!) differently, so you are the best judge of how to adapt these strategies to you and your work.

Be Realistic

Unless you are superhuman, it is best to stick with what you know about yourself. If your approach to these time management tools is unrealistic, you won't use them. Don't try to take on too much, but don't sell yourself short either. Above all, get to know your own capabilities.

Build in Personal Time

Everyone needs to take care of non-school things too. Be sure to build recreational, social, and personal time into your schedule. Do this first, not as an afterthought.

Be Flexible

Review your plan constantly; update it often. If you fall behind, don't worry - simply rearrange your schedule. If something unexpected happens, go with it and rearrange your plan later. Remember, you control it; it doesn't control you.

Stick with Your Plan

The best plan in the world will fail if you don't use it. Get in the habit of using the daily/weekly planner for everything, every day. Be sure to record all of your appointments and activities in the appropriate place.

Give it Time

If you need to change what you do or how you do it, try to change one thing at a time. Things will get better as you get better. After all, that's why you are at university - to learn.

Having a time management plan can give you control over your work and your life. Review your plan constantly; update it often. If you fall behind, don’t worry, simply rearrange your schedule. If something unexpected happens, go with it and rearrange your plan later. Remember, you control it; it doesn’t control you.

The Academic Skills Centre offers many time management resources on our website. You can also book an appointment with an instructor to create a personal time management plan.