Adam introduces this section on time management
- Video transcript
Adam: This section is all about time management. Obviously, time management is a key skill to master while you are here at Sussex University, but also in your life beyond. In these pages, we'll provide you advice and guidance on how to handle your workload, on how to set priorities and schedules, and how to tackle procrastination. Please have a look for the workshops that we hold on time management throughout the year.
Remember, we are here to help you.
Learning at university requires a lot of independent studying. This means that managing your time effectively is essential. You need to read and research your subject, write essays and reports, attend lectures and seminars, travel to and around campus, do household tasks, eat, sleep, and have a social life! It sounds difficult to do all these things, but good time management skills will make it possible, and they are skills that will serve you beyond university.
Find out about academic skills workshops and other support.
The Student Centre is at the heart of the student experience at Sussex. The Student Centre brings together our student support services, who provide confidential, pre-booked appointments in-person or via Zoom on a range of issues. They will also be running drop-in sessions, events and other activities throughout the year.
Georgia, Carlee and Sara talk about managing their time
- Video transcript
Georgia: It's constantly a juggling act. I mean, it's never easy to balance. Should I be doing this bit of my essay, or should I spend time with my friends? And I'm definitely someone that overworks. And I think one of the most important things in time management is knowing yourself. Are you someone that tends to prioritise your social life over studies or studies over social life? And neither is a good way to be to the extreme and so for me, time management is about thinking, 'What time do I have and what can I do in the time I have?' - whilst also giving me time for myself. So reminding myself that I need to have at least one full day off a week and for that to be guilt free time off, not sitting at the laptop knowing I should be doing work, but I'm too exhausted to be doing it. So scrolling through Instagram or something instead and then you feel guilty and don't feel rested and you haven't done anything. And that's the worst of all of it.
Carlee: So my diary is my best friend. I put in all of my assessment dates and so I will go through at the beginning of the term and say, okay, this is when this assignment for this class is due by this time and making sure that I have the time in it as well, because then I know how much time I might have in that last day. If I'm cramming down to the minute, at least I know, okay. It's due at 4 p.m. rather than do it at midnight. And so with my assessments, I found out that kind of in the last two years is when I started to get it under wraps. But in the beginning of my studies, I really found that looking at all of my classes that I'd be taking, all of the modules and courses, and seeing when those deadlines were was quite overwhelming. And so what I decided to do was break that down into smaller chunks. And I would say, okay, well I'd like to have, if it was a two-part assignment, part one done maybe two weeks before it's due or one week before it's due, so that way, I know that half of it's done before I'm really cramming in that last week. And I found that was much more manageable for me and it broke down what was a very overwhelming first impression to manageable small tasks.
Sara: I think if a certain assignment has taken too much time or if I'm really struggling with it, I really take the time to think about what I'm doing. What am I doing that's taking so much time or what am I doing that's not being very conducive to my learning? Or if, let's say, like a lecture, I don't understand, that there's a topic I don't understand. Well, is there something I could be doing better? Is there more reading that I can be doing around it? And is there someone I could be reaching out to? Because I think in universities, since you're so independent, it's very important for you yourself to know how you learn, how you are as a student, and you have to kind of mould your university experience to how you are as a student.
How long does it take to do the weekly shop? How long does it take to walk from the library to your seminar room? How long does it take to design and practise a presentation? Knowing the time needed for the tasks that you need to complete is the first stage of good time management. It helps you to plan accurately, and then plan wisely.
How many hours does a degree take?
For every year of study at Sussex, you will gain 120 credits. Each undergraduate module is worth 15 or 30 credits, and the average amount of hours needed to complete each module is approximately ten times the amount of credits. So, a 30-credit module will require 300 hours of work, and for the whole year, you will study for 1200 hours. Different modules have different breakdowns of how much of this time is direct contact in seminars, lectures and labs, and how much is independent study. Overall, a full-time degree is similar to a full-time job since you will need to work between 35 and 40 hours a week.
Once you are skilled at allocating the correct amount of time to your tasks at university, you’ll probably realise that you don’t have enough time to do everything in the day. This means that you need to work out which things can happen today, and which need to be postponed until you have more time.
Even if you have enough time to complete all your tasks, you still need to decide on the best order in which to do them.
Prioritising tasks helps in both these aspects – choosing which activities are most important and working out the best order.
Choosing which tasks are important
A good first step is to create an Eisenhower grid and fill it with all of your tasks. This takes the following format, comparing time urgency with overall importance:
Once you have all your tasks laid out like this, it becomes easier to see where your priorities should lie.
- make sure that tasks which are both urgent and important are completed first
- then, remember to assign time to the important but not urgent tasks. These are the easiest to postpone, but have much more serious consequences if you don’t finish them
- be careful that the urgent but not important tasks do not take over! It is easy to fool ourselves thinking that we are being productive when we work on these, but since they are not important, they should not be prioritised
- if a task is not urgent and not important, then do you really have to do it? Ask yourself if you can postpone or cancel it, or wait until you have made good headway with your other tasks.
Combining time allocation and task prioritisation
Now you look at how you are spending your time, and see if you want to change anything.
Step One: Over 24 hours, note down how you are spending your time, and fill in the following time circle. Include everything, such as sleeping, getting ready in the morning, cooking, travelling, time in lectures and classes, writing, reading, meetings etc.
Step Two: Reflect on your circle and ask yourself if the amount of time you have spent on different tasks represents your priorities. Would you like to have spent more time studying, and less time one your phone? Could you have got up earlier and done an extra 30 minutes of reading? Were there any important activities that you didn't have time for?
Step Three: Complete the time circle with your ideal study day. Try to be as accurate as possible in allocating how long each task lasts. Make sure activities that are important but not urgent have dedicated time. Which activities would you give more time to? Which activities would you like to cut back on?
Step Four. This is now an ideal study day for you. Try to aim for this every day. Remember: it is quite unlikely that your days will exactly match this time circle, but keeping it in mind will help you note when you are off track and bring you back to it. Don't let this time circle become a way to chastise yourself!
Once you have allocated enough time to tasks and prioritised their order, make a schedule of when you will do everything. Research has shown that simply deciding and writing down when you are going to accomplish a task makes it much more likely that you will stick to it.
Emmanuel, Saira and Tavian talk about how they best manage their study time
- Video transcript
Emmanuel: During first and second year., it was something that I was almost doing on a rolling basis, I was just like, OK, here's what I need to do for today let's just get this done and whatnot. And it was very inefficient, to be completely honest. Until last year, I did a placement year, so I was in industry and I was working at Plus X innovation hubs. So I was given a bit more responsibility, a lot more things to do, a lot more things to crack on with. And that's why I learned the art of, you know, how to use your calendar properly and how to schedule things effectively, manage your time, manage other people's time. And I've taken that with me into final year as well. So I'd say the most favourite tool or favourite thing I like to use now is my calendar app on Google. So just scheduling things like, when university work, and when I'm doing that, as well as connect to work, or other curricular work. When I'm like, you know, managing my business as well and everything. So, you know, using the calendar app has been like really effective for me to actually schedule my time. See when I'm free, see when I'm not free and whatnot. That's been like super helpful for me. So my top tip for that is definitely use a calendar app or use something that can help you schedule your time effectively.
Saira: I use the calendar on my MacBook so I can just slot in each hour what I need to do. And a lot of the time, instead of having such a packed schedule, I schedule in breaks or I schedule in buffer hours so that I know that I'm not going to be too stressed thinking I need to get this done within the hour. I do have an extra 3 hours I've given myself and then that way, if I follow my schedule, I'm actually ahead of schedule. So I just feel a lot better about myself rather than feeling like I'm always trying to catch up.
Tavian: I think a really good technique for people is sort of working back from the deadline. So, my exams on the 15th of April, I'm going to give myself a week and a half to prepare. This day I need to have revised this section. Next, next section. Give yourself a day or two to sort of do some practice answers. So, yeah, working back from that date and just realising, it's going to take me about like 3 hours to do a section. I've got ten sections to get through, you know, it's like 30 hours. And then I want to practise a little bit. OK, so dividing it up. And that, I think, is a pretty good way for people coming into university or even for people who maybe are struggling with finding that rhythm.
Making a term plan
Try making a term plan to get a clear, visual overview of the time you have and the tasks you need to do. You can download a term planner timetable template. Put it somewhere you will see it every day, such as above your desk, or in an app such as OneNote.
Breaking down big tasks
A large task like 'write Marketing essay' is not a great entry for a term planner. Firstly, it seems daunting and can easily lead you to procrastinate. Secondly, it's not detailed enough to fit into your term plan. Instead, you need to break it down into smaller tasks.
Step One: Think of all the different stages that go into the large task. For example, for 'write 2000-word Marketing essay', you might need to:
- write basic essay outline
- select texts for focused reading
- write first draft
- read selected texts and take notes
- add references and bibliography
- read and understand the essay question and assessment criteria
- proof read final draft
- read first draft and improve to make second draft
- make a detailed essay plan
- do some initial research in order to choose essay topic
- decide on a position.
Step Two: Order all the different stages and allocate time needed for each one:
- read and understand the essay question and assessment criteria (2 hours)
- do some initial research in order to choose essay topic (1 day)
- select texts for focused reading (2 hours)
- read selected texts and take notes (5 days)
- decide on a position (1 hour)
- write basic essay outline (1 hour)
- make a detailed essay plan (2 hours)
- write first draft (3 days)
- read first draft and improve to make second draft (2 days)
- add references and bibliography (3 hours)
- proof read final draft (2 hours).
Step Three: Working backwards from the deadline in your term planner, add in each stage so that you know when you need to complete each one.
Step Four: Repeat the process for any tasks that you find overwhelming. Reading a whole textbook can be divided into a certain number of pages per day; presentations can be organised into research, content writing, creating slides and practice. Even tasks like housework are easier to deal with when you tackle them room by room!
Making a weekly timetable
As well as a term planner, make a weekly timetable. This allows you to schedule your regular tasks, such as daily study time, attending lectures and seminars, reading, social events, shopping, etc. You won’t need to spend time each day deciding when to study since it is already written down, which makes it much more likely you will do it.
You can download a weekly timetable template. Write a paper timetable, fill in an online diary, use a task management app - whatever works best for you.
Step One: Enter lectures, seminars and other fixed academic commitments. Check Sussex Direct for your teaching timetable.
Step Two: Add times that you will commit to study sessions. In busy weeks, you'll need to include more sessions.
Step Three: Add regular commitments such as paid work, club meetings, sports fixtures and training.
Step Four: Try to have some unallocated free time to be flexible. If something comes up, or you need more time to study, you'll have time for it.
Task management apps
There are many apps that can help you keep track of your commitments. Here are some task management apps you might like:
Do you find it hard to start studying? Do you easily get distracted once you start? Don't worry - this is perfectly normal.
Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED
One of the worst things you can do when you are procrastinating or getting distracted is feel bad about yourself. This usually makes the problem worse.
A better idea is to reflect on the times you haven’t worked as well as you would like and use the insights as information to refine your study habits and understand what works best for you.
Like exercise, getting down to hard work is a muscle that can get stronger and stronger, so you get closer and closer to becoming the student you want to be. Unfortunately, it isn’t something you will conquer once and not have to worry about ever again.
Alessandro, Amelia, Georgia and Tavian talk about the best time for study
- Video transcript
Alessandro: So the best time for me for studying is early in the morning. So I wake, if I really want to, if I really have to get something done. Like notes for an essay or revision for an exam. I wake up at like six, 6:00 in the morning and then six until eight I just make notes or I prepare my essay. That really helps me because you wake up fresh, you know, nobody is there to distract you.
Emelia: I have to write everything down that I'm doing and I really like checking things off, but I try everything down and I am very busy, but I love being busy. But writing every single thing down, even like if I have a project, I'll be like, okay, I need to write 500 words and they need to be these two ideas I'm going to write about. And it's kind of annoying before I do it because I'm like, can I just write, you're going to write for 2 hours. But if I write what I'm going to write, then I'm going to do it and then I can create a whole schedule of how I do it. I think another part of time management is also knowing when you study best.
Georgia: I know some people who study the best in the morning when they first wake up. I know people that study best in the night. And if you know that you are a night worker, don't try and do your stuff in the morning or vice versa because you're just going to waste time and that would be better spent resting or doing things like cooking, shopping, other things that you need to do. So for me, I know that my brain just doesn't really work after about 6 p.m., so I know to meet up with friends and do stuff more in the evening than in the morning.
Tavian: Studying, keeping concentration. I used to try and do sort of two hour blocks and then I'll give myself like a half an hour break. But I found that after, you know, an hour or so, really, the returns that you're getting from the effort you're putting in just keeps getting lower and lower. And I found that having smaller blocks and giving yourself a little bit shorter breaks, so I'd say 45, five, 45, ten really helps a lot with that, making sure that you can keep concentrated. I also find studying with friends helps a lot, especially people doing the same course, same exam that they might be preparing for. It's super beneficial to have someone there going through the pain with you.
Hints and tricks to help with procrastination
Here are some different methods for helping with procrastination and distractions. Try one for a few days and see if it helps. If so, adopt the habit and then pick another technique to try!
1. Do one task immediately
Do one task, however small, towards your goal. Then make another tiny step towards the goal. Keep going until you are on a roll.
2. Most important task
Brian Tracy recommends completing the most important and daunting task of your day first. You will feel a sense of acheivement and have mental clarity to work on other smaller tasks.
3. Be selective
You don't need to read all the books on your reading list from cover to cover. Take some time to look at the contents page and check the chapter introductions so you know exactly where to focus your reading.
4. Set your own deadlines
If having deadlines helps to motivate you, set yourself some mini-deadlines. For example:
- Finish my lab report by 5pm.
- Done all the reading by the end of the week.
- Finished my first draft in a fortnight.
5. Good location
Find a place to study where you won't be interrupted. You may find it easier to concentrate in the library or a quiet spot on campus than at home.
6. Find the best time
Work out when in the day you concentrate best. If you work most effectively in the morning, try organising your time so you study early in the day and take breaks or socialise later on.
7. Give yourself incentives
Arrange something to look forward to after your study session, even if it's just a small treat. It will help to motivate you.
8. Work in short bursts
Try the Pomodoro Technique – work in chunks of 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. Committing to 25 minutes is much easier than a full hour, and the 25-minute chunks really add up over time.
9. Sounds can help
Different people find different background sounds can help: classical music, movie soundtracks, ambient nature noises. Experiment and find out which helps you concentrate the best.
10. Start with the interesting bit
You don’t have to start writing the introduction to an essay first, or start the reading from page one. If you're struggling to start a task, begin with the most enjoyable part first! Just get going until you are in the zone.
11. Reduce digital distractions
You can use apps to restrict access to websites that may tempt you away from your work:
12. Get feedback on your habits
If you find yourself spending too much time on the internet, try a tool like RescueTime (Lite). It tracks your time on websites and apps so you can see where you could save time.
13. Deal with your mobile
If you are distracted by notifications, turn off your phone or put it in your bag or another room while you study. Then give yourself half an hour to catch up on messages after your study session.
The Forest app rewards you for not touching your mobile by growing trees, which expand into beautiful forests the more you study and keep away from your phone.
14. Learn to say No
Sometimes, a way to deal with a task is simply not to do it. If it isn’t important or urgent, think about dropping it. Do you have to be the person to organise the night out? Do you need to reply to every single message? Try taking on fewer responsibilities outside your study and see if this causes fewer distractions.
15. Gamify your studies
There are various ways to gamify how much you study. Apps like Toggl track how long your spend studying – can you increase this by one minute per day?
Habit-tracking apps such as Habit List measure how many days you kept up studying. How long can you keep your study streak?
Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable, advocates timeboxing – filling every single moment of your schedule with all the tasks you have, including sleeping, time with friends, showering, watching TV, etc. He argues that by doing this, you will know what you have planned to be doing at any moment, which takes out any in-the-moment decision making. You will also know whether you are sticking to you schedule or not, which is data you can use to improve your timeboxing. Include times when you can look at your phone, or play video games etc, to help make sure you have a balance between hard work and relaxation.
17: Kanban boards
Project managers often use Kanban boards to keep focused on what needs to be done. All tasks are written out separately, and put into three columns: To Do, Doing and Done. The important thing is to only ever have two or three tasks in the Doing column, in order to keep focus. See apps like Trello for free online versions.
This is probably the most important tip on the list. Keep reflecting on what is working for you and what isn’t. If you have a bad week of procrastinating and getting distracted easily, think about why that was. What can you adapt from this week to next week so that you manage to do a little more work?
19: Take advantage of social pressure
Try making pacts with your friends to all work on your individual tasks and check in with each other to see if you completed them. Your fear of breaking the pact may be stronger than your desire to procrastinate! Alternatively, try Focusmate – a website that connects you via video call to a random person across the world who is also having trouble getting work done. You briefly explain to each other what work you want to do and then work quietly for 50 minutes while they do the same. The enforced social pressure and soft sounds of a stranger working can help you to remain focused.