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Top 5 time management mistakes students make

time management mistakes students make

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

One of the most popular blog topics is time management strategies for students. Time management can be a challenge for everyone, including students, professionals, and adults. That’s why this post is all about the top 5 time management mistakes students make – and what you should do instead.

Top 5 time management mistakes students make

The following is a list of the top time management mistakes I’ve seen students make over my 16+ years teaching thousandsssss of students. Be honest with your assessment of your time management skills, and see what areas you can improve. Start with the list below.

1. Not having total clarity

Every good time management system starts with complete clarity on two primary areas: 

  1. How much time is available
  2. What needs to get done

Students drastically overestimate how much time they have available to do schoolwork and underestimate what they need to accomplish during that time.

If you’re a student, you need to get absolutely clear about how much time you have during the week to dedicate to schoolwork (homework, studying, reading, writing essays). You probably have less time than you think. 

To do this, take out a weekly calendar with hourly time stamps (Google Calendar works fine, and so does a piece of paper) and do the following:

  • Block out school hours
  • Block out meal times
  • Block out activities and commute time around each activity
  • Block out bedtime
time management mistakes students make calendar
All students should complete this time management strategy to get a reality check about how much time you REALLY have in your week to focus on schoolwork.

What’s left (if gray above) is how much time you really have throughout the week to accomplish all your think. Proper time management for students involves getting real about this number. Here is my complete tutorial for using Google Calendar as a student. (I go step-by-step and hold your hand the whole way. Check it out.)

2. Being half-focused while studying

“I studied for hours and still failed!” I hear some variation of these words several times a week.

First of all, studying for hours at a time is a bad idea. You should be studying in short intervals over several days, using the incredibly effective strategy called spaced repetition.

Second of all, you may not like to hear this, but studying, writing, and doing homework takes effort and concentration. YES, it’s hard. YES, it’s uncomfortable. YES, there’s definitely something way more interesting on your phone. But, my friends, if you’re always stressed about time and overwhelmed with the work you have to do, then get real about managing your distractions. 

The more distracted you are while studying, the more time you waste and less you learn. Then you wonder why you “studied for hours and still failed.” The answer is that you didn’t study for hours.

Here’s how to increase focus while studying:

  • Know how long you will study for; give yourself a stopping point.
  • Put the phone in another room. Not upside down next to you, but in a different room.
  • Avoid music with words. If you must listen to music, choose instrumental music. (The language from the words competes with the language of what you’re reading/writing/studying).
  • Take breaks. Here’s how
  • Have a plan. If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing in a homework or study session, your brain will find something “better” to focus on. Go into each study session knowing exactly what you plan to work on.
  • Put yourself in the right environment. You know this. Get out of bed, get off the couch, find a legitimate place to work, and take it seriously. Imagine how ridiculous it would be for a doctor trying to perform surgery in a gym. You studying in your bed is just as ridiculous. Our environments must match the work we’re doing.

3. Doing too much

All the time management strategies in the world won’t work if your plate is too full.

If you go through the exercise in Time Management Mistake #1, make a real weekly calendar to identify free time, and still don’t have enough time to complete your work, you must do fewer things. More is not always better, despite the fact that many students pile on tons of activities to boost their college applications. No. A healthy student with a reasonable amount of activities makes a better college applicant than an overwhelmed, over-busy, unhealthy student who is unable to contribute fully to the activities she committed to. 

4. Not planning long-term projects right

Not planning long-term projects is a very common time management mistake. Long-term projects include writing papers, studying for tests, preparing for presentations, and doing other assignments with a due date longer than two days away.

Good time management for long-term projects means you must break down the larger project into smaller steps. These smaller steps must get put on your calendar to be completed over time, on the days leading up to the ultimate due date. Too many students save long-term projects to the very end, which makes them anxious, overwhelmed, and often unable to complete the work in time.

The image below breaks down an example of planning a long-term project.

time management mistakes students longterm projects
A huge time management mistake students make is not scheduling the individual steps of longterm projects

5. Underestimating how long reading and studying takes

As I explain in Time Management Mistake #1, students are notoriously inaccurate when estimating how long projects take to complete. The two areas where students’ time estimations are the most inaccurate are reading and studying.

Reading and studying take way longer than we expect them to.  When you’re planning your day or your week, make sure you budget enough time to complete the “non-submittable” tasks like reading and studying. Some students forget to count these as homework assignments at all (yikes!). 

So how do you plan enough time for reading and studying? Try this:

  • Get a sense of how long it takes you to read different types of material. For example, if you’re reading Beloved in English class, time yourself reading 10 pages. From that point on, use that baseline time to estimate how long it will take you to do your nightly reading assignment.
  • Do the same for textbook reading: time yourself reading one or two pages. Then use that as a baseline to estimate how long your nightly reading assignments will take you.

Conclusion: We all make mistakes when managing our time

All students (and professionals!) make time management mistakes. That’s because we’re human. The issue isn’t the occasional day when you misjudge your free time or procrastinate too long on an essay – we all do that once in a while. The issue is when we make these mistakes over and over again, and they start to impact our mental health and our grades. 

Managing time is challenging but it’s not impossible. At the end of the day, it comes down to some math, some good planning, and some radical acceptance that hard things won’t kill us.

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