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Main Body

Chapter 3: Time Management

“Time is the only commodity that matters.”

~ Randy Pausch

hand holding alarm clock
Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

You may have heard some of the following sayings:

  • Time flies when you are having fun
  • That is a waste of time
  • Time is money
  • We have all the time in the world
  • That was an untimely death
  • The time is right
  • I’m having the time of my life
  • Time heals all wounds
  • We have some time to kill

Each of these sayings describes some way in which time seems to take on a different significance or value within a particular context, but at its core, time is how we keep track of when and where we’re supposed to be (work, home, class, meeting friends and family, etc.). Think about how many measures of time you have in your home (clocks, watches, cell phones, TVs, DVRs, computers, microwaves, ovens, thermostats, etc.). Time is obviously important to us.

One time challenge for many students is the transition from the structure of high school to the structure of college – or lack thereof. In high school, students spend a large portion of their time in class (approximately 30 hours in class per week), while full-time college students may spend only one-third of that time in class (approximately 12 hours in class per week). Further, college students are assigned much more homework than high school students. Think about how many times one of your high school teachers gave you something to read during class. In college, students are given more material to read with the expectation that it be done outside of class.

This expectation can create challenges for students who are unable to set aside proper study time for each of their courses. Keep in mind for full-time students: your college day should not be shorter than your high school day.

Hourly Recommendations (per Week)

Work Units Study Time Total
40 6 12 58
30 9 18 57
20 12 24 56

Keep in mind that 20 hours of work per week is the maximum recommended for full-time students taking 12 credits or more in a semester. For students working full-time (40 hours a week), no more than six credits is recommended. The total is also a very important category. Students often start to see difficulty when their total number of hours between work and school exceeds 60 per week. As the amount of sleep decreases, stress increases, grades suffer, job performance decreases, and students are often stressed and unhappy.

How do you spend your 168 hours in a week?

  • Class
  • Community Service / Volunteer
  • Commuting / Transportation
  • Eating / Food Preparation
  • Exercise
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Household / Child Care Duties
  • Internet / Social Media / Phone / Texting
  • Party
  • Recreation / Leisure
  • Relationship
  • Sleeping
  • Spirituality / Prayer / Meditation
  • Study
  • Video Games
  • Watching TV or Movies, Netflix, Youtube
  • Work / Career

Identifying, Organizing, and Prioritizing Goals

There has been focused attention on the importance of educational planning. Education plans developed with an advisor can help students determine and explore a program of study and have proven to facilitate student success. Students can follow educational plans like a road map so they can see how to complete required classes in the most efficient and logical order based on their educational goals. Educational planning may appear to be simple: identifying the program of study and then figuring out which courses are required to complete it.

Graphics by Greg Stoup, Rob Johnstone, and Priyadarshini Chaplot of The RP Group is licensed in the Public Domain

However, it can often be extremely complex. Many students have multiple goals. One student might be interested in more than one of these goals: earn multiple degrees, transfer to a four-year college or university, prepare for graduate school or complete requirements for several transfer schools.

Students also have different strengths. Some might be strong in English. Some students excel in Math. Others might be strong in Science, Arts and Humanities, or Social Sciences. Educational planning takes these strengths (and weaknesses) into consideration. Students are encouraged to take English and Math early, as statistics show that those students will be more successful. But the order of courses taken for students with different strengths could vary even if the students have the same goal. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Educational planning may be further complicated by the availability of courses a college or university offers, the process in which a student may be able to register for those courses, and which sections fit into students’ schedules. Transcript evaluations (if students have attended previous colleges or universities), assessment of appropriate English or Math levels and prerequisite clearance procedures may also contribute to the challenge of efficient educational planning.

Further, students have different priorities. Some students want to complete their goals in a certain amount of time. Other students may have to work full-time and take fewer units each semester. Educational planning might also consider student interests, skills, values, personality, or student support referrals. Grade point average requirements for a student’s degree, transfer, or specific programs are also considered in educational planning.

While some students may know what they want to do for their career and have known since they were five years old, many students are unsure of what they want to do and aren’t sure how to choose their major. A major is an area of concentration in which students will specialize at a college or university. Completing a major requires passing courses in the chosen concentration and degrees are awarded that correlate with students’ majors.

It is OK to not know what major you want to pursue when you start college, but I suggest careful research to look into options and narrow them down to a shortlist of two or three. Talking with an advisor or visiting your college’s Career Center may help with your decisions.

Seventy percent of students change their major at least once while in college and most will change their major at least three times. It is important for students to find the best major for them, but these changes may make previous educational plans obsolete.

That simple concept and road map often ends up looking more like this:

Crazy Road Map

Graphics by Greg Stoup, Rob Johnstone, and Priyadarshini Chaplot of The RP Group is licensed in the Public Domain

Due to the complicated nature of educational planning, an advisor can provide great value for students with assistance in creating an educational plan, specifically for each individual student. If you have not done so already, I highly recommend you meet with an advisor and continue to do so on a frequent basis (once per semester if possible).

Break Goals into Small Steps

What steps would you need to complete the following big goals?

  • Buying a house
  • Getting married
  • Attaining a bachelor’s degree
  • Destroying the Death Star
  • Losing weight

Prioritizing Goals

Why is it important to prioritize? Let’s look back at the sample list. If I spent all my time completing the first seven things on the list, but the last three were the most important, then I would not have prioritized very well.

Planner and coffee
Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

It would have been better to prioritize the list after creating it and then work on the items that are most important first. You might be surprised at how many students fail to prioritize. After prioritizing, the sample list now looks like this:

  • Go to class
  • Work
  • Study
  • Pay bills
  • Exercise
  • Eat lunch with friend
  • Go to grocery store
  • Text friends
  • Social media
  • Watch TV

One way to prioritize is to give each task a value. A = Task related to goals; B = Important—Have to do; C = Could postpone (or even eliminate). Then, map out your day so that with the time available to you, work on your A goals first. You’ll now see below our list has the ABC labels. You will also notice a few items have changed positions based on their label. Keep in mind that different people will label things different ways because we all have different goals and different things that are important to us. There is no right or wrong here, but it is paramount to know what is important to you, and to know how you will spend the majority of your time with the things that are the most important to you.

  • A Go to class
  • A Study
  • A Exercise
  • B Work
  • B Pay bills
  • B Go to grocery store
  • C Eat lunch with friend
  • C Text friends
  • C Social media
  • C Watch TV

Time Management Reality

There is a difference between a goal and a wish. A goal is something that requires action to complete. A wish is something we simply hope will happen without doing anything to achieve it. Students often confuse goals with wishes due to the expected probability of the outcome. For example, a student might say that owning a Ferrari or becoming a movie star were wishes, not goals because the chance of them happening is slim. We could debate about realistic goals for a long time, but for the purpose of this lesson, the probability of a goal is irrelevant. Think of it like this: the chances of winning the lottery may in fact be slim, but we have no chance to win the lottery if we do not purchase a ticket. Purchasing a ticket requires action, and that distinguishes a difference between a goal and a wish.

When we apply this to education, there are many areas that require action in order to be successful. If I wish for good grades, but spend my time at parties instead of studying, I may not get my wish. But if my goal is to attain good grades, and I take action to achieve them by studying, reviewing, being prepared, etc., then I am much more likely to accomplish my goal.


Procrastination is the act of putting something off. It’s doing something that’s a low priority instead of doing something that is a high priority. We all procrastinate sometimes. But when we procrastinate on an assignment or studying for an exam until there is little or no time left, our grades suffer and it can be stressful. Learning about why we procrastinate can help us overcome.

Reasons We Procrastinate

  • I don’t feel like it. I would rather play a video game, watch TV, hang out with friends, sleep, etc. than start my assignment. (The problem is – you might never feel like starting it.)
  • Perfectionism. I want to do it perfectly and there is not enough time to do it perfectly so I am not going to do it at all.
  • Fear of success. If I study my tail off and I earn an A on an exam, people will start to expect that I will get A’s all of the time.
  • Fear of failure. Without confidence, I can’t do the assignment well, no matter how much time or effort I put into it.

These reasons have been keeping some students from completing assignments and studying for exams. Do you procrastinate? Why?

Tim Urban’s Ted Talk shines a light on procrastination.

Video: Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, Tim Urban

Overview of Time Management Strategies

You must make time for the things that are most important to you. In order to make time, you may need to decide you will not do something else. The ability to say “no” cannot be underestimated. It isn’t easy to say “no,” especially to family, friends and people that like you and whom you like. Most of us don’t want to say “no,” especially when we want to help. But if we always do what others want us to do, we won’t accomplish the things that we want—the things that are most important to us.

  • Ask yourself:
    • ○ What am I doing that doesn’t need to be done?
    • ○ What can I do more efficiently?

Have you ever ordered an appetizer, salad, beverage, or bread, then felt full halfway through your entrée? In situations such as this many people claim, “my eyes were bigger than my stomach.” This is also true with planning and goal setting. It may be that your plan is bigger than your day. Experiment with what you want to accomplish and what is realistic. The better you can accurately predict what you can and will accomplish and how long it will take, the better you can plan, and the more successful you will be.

Managing time well comes down to two things. One is identifying (and then prioritizing) goals and the other is having the discipline to be able to work towards accomplishing them. We all have the same amount of time in a day, week, month, and year, yet some people are able to accomplish more than others. Often, the difference is being able to set goals, prioritize them and then work on them relentlessly and effectively until they are complete. We can all develop this skill.

Don’t Do Anything Academically “Half-assed”

Half-assed is defined as poorly or incompetently done.

Think of it this way: You’ve made the decision to come to college. You’re investing time, energy, and money into your commitment. Why would you want to half-ass it? Students who miss class, turn in work late, or wait until the last minute are half-assing it. Make college a priority and do your best in all of your college work and preparation.

Apply these basic principles and you will be giving yourself the best opportunity to achieve success. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: apply this to all aspects not just academics and you’ll find success in life!


CC By licenseEnd of Chapter Credits Time Management by Eva Menefee, Tammy Root, and Martha Madigan is adapted from REBUS Community-Blueprint for Success in College and Career and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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ACAD100: Success Pathways at Lansing Community College by Root,T, Eaton, T, Madigan, M and Menefee, E. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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