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Time management for students: Top 3 time-wasting traps and how to avoid them

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

Time management for students is one of the main topics I cover in my blog and YouTube videos. That’s because so many students are overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to get done in the small amount of time they have – all without having been taught proper time management skills. If you’re a student, no wonder you’re stressed out.

In addition to these top 5 time management mistakes that students make, I feel it’s important to highlight the most common ways I see students wasting time, and what to do instead. That’s what this post is about. 

Time management for students: 3 things you’re doing that are seriously wasting your time

The following time-wasting activities may seem harmless, and your response might be “Yeah, but everyone does this” – but when you engage in the following time-wasting traps multiple times a day, every day, the damage adds up.

1. You’re multitasking and pretending it “works” for you.

Let’s make something super clear: Multitasking does not work. You might be able to draw and watch a movie at the same time, or listen to music while you’re completing a super basic homework assignment on material you already know, but we cannot engage in multiple activities while doing cognitively demanding tasks. 

Studying complicated material with the TV on? No. You might prefer to have the TV on, and the TV might make the situation more enjoyable for you, but watching TV while studying will reduce the amount of material you learn and increase the amount of time you spend studying it. This is a huge time-wasting trap.

What to do instead of multitasking

Stop pretending you’re the exception to the rule. Again, we can all agree that doing hard things (studying, reading, etc.) can feel less painful when we pair it with something else, like the TV, our phones, or music. But we become so much less effective when we multitask like this. 

What should you do instead? One activity at a time. Even if it’s hard. Even if you want to escape the hard thing by texting your friends every 6 seconds. Do the hard thing first – without any distractions – and the cool result is that you’ll end up spending less doing it because that’s all you did. Also, here’s my full tutorial about what to do instead of multitasking.

2. You fill every free second with social media.

Bored waiting for class to begin? Grab your phone. Waiting for a ride somewhere? Check your phone. Feeling awkward at lunch? Bury yourself in your phone. Getting stuck while writing an essay? Phone.

You might roll your eyes at this time management trap because you’ve heard it a million times before. But without a doubt, this is one of the top activities that students blindly waste their time on. 

I’m not bashing social media (I mean, I can, but that’s not the point of this post). But I’m calling a duck a duck and naming social media usage as one of the biggest time-wasters of all time

According to a 2022 article by the New York Times, teens ages 13-18 are spending an average of 8 hours and 39 minutes per day on screens. That’s more than a full-time job! Sure, “screens” can also include TV, so even if we were conservative and cut that reported time in half, we still get an outrageous number. Another report by SocialBuddy reveals that people aged 16-24 spend an average of three hours per day just on social media. Again, these numbers are mind-blowing. Mind. Blowing.

I have students in my office and on Zoom all the time practically in tears about how overwhelmed they are and how little time they have to do all the things. Just imagine if they would wave a magic wand and miraculously gain an additional three hours! (This is where I not-so-subtly point to the phone sitting on the desk.)

How to stop blindly wasting your time on social media 

Social media usage is sneaky because it’s not like you’re sitting down with your phone for three hours straight. Instead, you’re likely checking your phone all day long, or habitually grabbing it when you’re bored or waiting for something. 

There are SO many pockets of time throughout the day when you might instinctively grab your phone, but your time could be so much better spent doing something else. If you have 10 minutes before class starts, get a headstart on your homework. If you’re waiting for a ride somewhere, read ahead in the book you know you’re going to have to read anyways. Social media isn’t your only option for filling random pockets of time. The students who are the least stressed out are the ones who use these random pockets of time to get their work done.

No blog about time management for students would be complete if I didn’t tell you to put the phone away. And dare I go one step further and encourage you to remove social media apps from your phone?! Dare I?! There is nothing that’s making you be on social media. You have permission to not use it. I guarantee that you will be happier and feel freer.

3. You fool yourself into thinking you’re being productive when you’re actually procrastinating.

Fake productivity is procrastination in disguise. (Yeah, it’s a good disguise, but still.) A huge time-waster for students is when they avoid the real work (the essay, the assignment, the study session) by engaging in other “productive” activities that look like work.

For example, if you have a research paper due next week that you haven’t started yet, you might convince yourself that you’re not ready to begin writing because you haven’t gathered enough research.

Or, if you have a big test in a few days that you haven’t started studying for, you might convince yourself that you’ll start studying tomorrow because today you really really really have to clean out your backpack and organize your workspace.

Good time management for students involves prioritization. You have to be able to look at your list of tasks and figure out which ones you need to start now, and which ones can wait. We are likely to avoid the hard tasks (it’s basically primitive pain avoidance) by filling our time with less intense activities that cause less pain – even if they are school-related activities. And that’s where it gets tricky. 

How to work on the hard stuff first, even when we don’t want to

I want you to read this post from my Anti-Procrastination Series where I give you 6 tips for how to do the hard things when you don’t want to. The tips are important and helpful, and they will help you stop wasting your time with fake productivity.

Final notes about time management for students

It’s entirely possible that you’re a student reading this post, thinking well dang, I multitask, I use social media, and I sometimes procrastinate on hard things – and I’m just fine! If that’s truly the case (although unlikely), then perhaps you are a) a unicorn, and b) effectively managing your time in other areas of your life, which means that you have room to spare and can get away with some of these time-wasting traps.

But it’s more likely that you’re a stressed-out student reading this post, and you’re starting to realize that the way you’ve been managing your time is just maybe not the best. If that’s you, then I applaud your self-awareness. It’s the students who deny these time-wasting traps who end up in the worst situations. 

So, you being here, reading this post, looking for answers and guidance, is amazing. Your next step is to pick one of the time management traps I listed above and adjust your habits just for that one area. One at a time. You’ve got this.

The post Time management for students: Top 3 time-wasting traps and how to avoid them appeared first on SchoolHabits.

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