Based on what I hear day after day in my job as a student retention coordinator, time management for online students is among the most common of challenges. Why is it so problematic? The answer may be that many students are adding yet another responsibility to their already busy lives. Another reason could be that they are now expected to do things they haven’t done before, or haven’t done in a long time.
Regardless of the root cause, you have to embrace the fact that being a student requires more than just watching recorded lectures. You must make time to read, research, post discussions, respond to what other students have written, write papers, etc…etc…etc… There is plenty of work to be done, so how do you juggle it all? After 7 years of working closely with online students, I’ve devised some strategies to help with effective time management.
A vital aspect of effective time management is organization. While getting organized sounds simple, it’s easier said than done. Think about how much time you’ve wasted before working on a project because you couldn’t find something, or how you missed an important event because you didn’t write it down. Nothing is more stressful than knowing you could have done better if you had been organized. Getting organized for success doesn’t have to take a lot of money and time.
Think of the three S’s: supplies, space and same time. This means getting the right supplies ahead of time, keeping them around where they are easily accessible, maintaining a clean and organized work space, and checking your “to do” list or calendar at the same time each day.
Supplies for success: Gather all the basics—pens, pencils, notebooks, paper, calculator, highlighters, whiteout, calendar, planner, dictionary, thumb drives, textbooks—whatever you can think of that you may need. It’s best to know where things are ahead of time, so you don’t have to waste your study time looking for them. Keep them somewhere accessible, along with the following:
- Your class syllabus
- A calendar—electronic or paper, your preference. Be sure to note:
- Things that are due each week
- Life events that are happening each week
- Appointments, errands
- Daily to-do list—this is vital to your success as an online student! Actually plan what you are going to read, study, write, and research, as well as when you are going to accomplish that task. Don’t just write “study” in your calendar, put details. Example: “ClassXYZ read pages 118 – 145. Take notes, write summary of reading.”
Space considerations: The right supplies and the ideal calendar are first steps to managing your time well, but there is more you can do. Create a clutter-free space, an area that will allow you to thrive and perform your best work efficiently. It has to be a place where you want to be, or it will be difficult to go there and stay on task. Some important elements to consider are:
- Comfort: You want to find an area that’s conducive to sitting for long stretches of time. But don’t get too comfortable, or you may get too relaxed to give your work full attention.
- Distractions: While a good rule of thumb is to eliminate distractions from your environment, the extreme to which you have to do this varies by person. Some people require absolute silence, while others might find the silence itself to be a distraction, and instead work better with some low-level activity around them. Try working in a few different environments and see which suits you best.
Same time, same place: Many online students perform better with a structured schedule. For those who need it, a good system is to study at the same time, in the same place every day. Even though you are not physically going to class, you still are going to class. Another strategy that all students should employ—whether you need the structure of a class schedule or not—is to routinely write down and assess your goals. Set aside some time every evening to write down your goals for the next day, and every morning to review what you need to accomplish. This little bit of structure can pay off in a big way when managing your time.
Do you have any additional advice on time management for online students? Don’t keep it to yourself — share your advice, and this article, with your online peers!