Establishing a routine
One of the challenges for university students is working out how to manage unstructured time. Most of the important study will occur outside of face-to-face classes. In order to make the most of your time, you need to establish a realistic routine that works for you. A good way to do this is to think about a typical week.
An important point to remember at this point is that good routines take time to establish. A common mistake that students make is to assume that their plan hasn't worked before they have had a chance for it to become a habit. Think about how long it takes to establish good exercise or eating habits. Give it a chance to stick.
Every semester the pattern of your week will change. The hours of face to face teaching will differ, as will the committment required for the different courses you are completing. On top of that, you have the rest of your life to consider - your social and family commitments; sporting, cultural and religious activites; not to mention just having some time to relax, unwide and recharge the batteries.
Completing a time budget using our Weekly Planner (PDF, 61.47 KB) each semester can be very helpful in working out if you are being realistic with your time management, but it also has the added benefit of helping you to identify your key study periods.
Step 1: Colour all the times in the week that your time is committed such as set class times, paid work and regular must do/non negotiable activities ("must do" activities).
Step 2: Using a different colour, mark the times where you have activities that you would like to be able to do, but could use for study if needed (aspiration time).
Step 3: All the spaces that are left over are the times in the week that you have left for study blocks. Add up this time. The average student should be aiming for 40 hours per week for classes and study (this will vary throughout the semester). Have you allowed enough? Too much? Maybe you need to rethink some of your priorites?
Step 4: Identify you key study times. These will be the times that you will get the bulk of your work done. But don't forget the smaller blocks of time - these can be great opportunities to get short tasks done such as summarising lecture notes, preparing for class or some quick research in the Library.
In order to make your routine realistic and therefore more likely that you will stick to it, factor in the following:
- Consider what times of day you are most alert. Try planning your time so that you do the more difficult tasks when you are most alert (for example reading and notetaking), and do less demanding tasks when you are tired (for example re-writing notes). Make sure you take a short break every hour to refresh you mind and body.
- Leave time for food and exercise. Regular physical activity - a walk, a visit to the gym, a game of tennis, whatever you enjoy-helps you clear 'the cobwebs' and to think and work better. Similarly, ensuring you eat a good balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner-rather than skipping meals for lack of time-also helps your body and mind work more efficiently through the day.
- Be realistic about how long things actually take. Consider travel time and down time to relax once you get home. How long will certain study activities (reading, finding sources, writing your essay) actually take? Your first few plans may turn out to be unrealistic because of misjudging these things.
- Use the pomodoro technique. By using a timer to break up your work into small blocks, e.g. 25 minutes, with a short 5-10 minute break in between, you can stay focused more easily. There are plenty of pomodoro websites and apps availalbe, such as mytomatoes.com. An advantage of the pomodoro technique is that you can create a list of the tasks you've achieved, which makes it easier to see realistically what you can achieve in a day. Another advantage is that taking regular breaks helps to prevent procrastination!
- Allow room for the unexpected. You are not programming a machine when you timetable, you are setting out a realistic as well as flexible plan of work for the coming week. The best timetable is the one that gives you sufficient padding for when the unexpected happens (illness, sudden visitors, friends in need, homesickness etc). So don't schedule every minute of every day or schedule time to do nothing!
- Consider the flow of the university week. You are required to complete the assigned reading before the tutorial, so make sure you schedule your time to read accordingly. Also ensure you have time to answer any tutorial questions before the tutorial - not only will you get more out of the class and be able to contribute better but you will have the opportunity to ask your tutor about any questions you were unsure of. If you don't prepare fully for the tutorial you may miss your opportunity for clarification, and next week's work will probably build upon the current week - if you get behind it's difficult to catch up.
Now consider what you need to do to complete each of your tasks, to help to determine and what you will do in your study blocks.