6 Best Time Management Tips for Online College Students

Online college classes aren’t new. It's actually become the norm now that the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down college campuses across the United States. We are seeing more and more students learning to adapt to attending college online.

We know working and studying from home can present some challenges. So, we reached out to our experts and asked them for their best time management tips for college students. Here’s what they had to say.

#1: Create and Stick to a Study Routine

When you attend college classes in person, you must be present in the classroom at the scheduled time. There’s no opportunity to listen to a lecture later if you oversleep or just don’t feel like going.

With online college classes, it’s common for professors to record their lectures. Students can watch them at a time of their choosing. While that might sound like a good thing, it can lead to procrastination.

Dr. Deb Geller is the Associate Dean of Students at UCLA. She suggests the following:

“Find out whether your classes are available pre-recorded so you can time-shift, or if you must participate at a specific time. Double check time zones if you are staying in a different state than your school. Create a schedule for your classes and stick to it, even if you have the ability to timeshift.”

Sticking to a schedule makes it less likely that you’ll procrastinate and miss important lectures. Your school work must be a priority and creating a schedule will help you to make it one.

#2: Use a Calendar

Our next time management tip builds on the first one. It comes from Jennifer Fonseca, M.Ed. She is the Destiny Activator and Assistant Director of Career Development at Palm Beach Atlantic University. She says:

“… Schedule class and homework time as calendar appointments. This helps with accountability. I tell students to think of these calendar appointments the same way they would think about scheduling a doctor’s appointment or a date with a friend – you show up, so show up to the schedule that you set that accounts for all of your priorities. I have students write out priorities like academics, hygiene, sleep, self care, social life, work, spiritual life, etc. For each priority they make a list of the activities… then they plot it out on a weekly calendar.”

We love the idea of using a calendar app to schedule your schoolwork. You can set up appointment reminders. Remember that it may take some trial and error to figure out how long assignments will take. Make adjustments as needed and you’ll give yourself the best chance of success.

Megan Mwaura, the co-creator of AllDigitalSchool.com, offers an additional perspective on scheduling. She says:

“If you think procrastinating is rampant in a traditional school, more so with online education. Setting a deadline and a timeline for a task allowing time for work and fun is a good start and bumping up your deadline two days before the deadline set by your professor will encourage you to work on tasks earlier and better.”

In other words, don’t let the fact that your classes are happening online be an excuse for procrastination.

#3: Minimize Disruptions

Time management tips aren’t all about scheduling. Working at home means dealing with distractions you might not have elsewhere. You may be sharing study space with family members or roommates who are working (or playing), noisy pets and other things that can pull you away from your studies.

Evan L. Kropp, Ph.D. is the Director of Online Graduate Programs at the University of Florida School of Communication and Journalism. He offers this tip about time management for online college students:

“Have a conversation with other household members to let them know how they can help you succeed. These individuals should see themselves as your support team. When you're in your study space, should they limit interruptions? Should they try to keep noise-levels downs in other areas near you?

“Invest in a good pair of headphones. This will help you hear and be heard better if you buy a pair with a built-in microphone. If you can afford it, get a pair with noise-canceling features to help block out distractions.”

We strongly recommend the use of headphones. It won’t always be possible to avoid noise from the other occupants of your home or from outside sources. A good set of noise-canceling headphones will help you use your time efficiently without getting sidetracked by distractions.

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#4: Take Breaks

It might seem counterintuitive to say that taking breaks can help you manage your time. However, if you’ve ever put your nose to the grindstone and kept it there for hours at a time, you know that you’ll get diminishing returns on your work if you don’t break up your time.

Our experts agree. Jennifer also suggests taking regular scheduled breaks to reward yourself and give your brain a rest. She writes:

“Make sure to build in short breaks. I like using a timer so that I study for 30 to 50 minute spurts of time with five to 10 minute breaks in between. This keeps a student focused and allows them to remain on task. The breaks serve as rewards. There does need to be a balance.”

One well-known technique you may want to try is the Pomodoro Method, which has a lot in common with our expert’s recommendation. Created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, the method originally used a tomato-shaped timer to create 25-minute blocks for work or study. After each 25-minute block, you should take a break for five minutes. After every four blocks, you should take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

The benefit of breaking your work up is that it gives your brain a chance to rest. The breaks reinvigorate you. It’s much easier to concentrate for a limited time than it is to do it for hours on end.

#5: Practice Good Self-Care

One of the ways that online college students can sabotage themselves is by failing to practice healthy habits overall. When you take care of your body and mind, it will be easier to stick to your study schedule and manage your time wisely.

Stacy L. Peazant, an Academic & Research Administrator at the University of Florida, talked to us about the importance of self-care as a time management aid. She wrote:

“Vigilantly practice self-care. Eat healthy, enjoy some sunshine, indulge in regular sleep, pursue hobbies and stay connected with others. All these things contribute to productive scholarly work.”

Many of us are struggling as we learn to cope with extended periods of isolation. It may be tempting to throw your hands up and do whatever you want because nothing is normal. That’s a mistake. Instead, we suggest paying attention to your body and mind and giving them what they need to be healthy and functional. That may mean turning off your phone after 10 or 11 o’clock at night, making a special effort to eat healthy meals and finding new hobbies to entertain yourself when you’re not doing schoolwork.

#6: Use School Resources

Time management isn’t something you need to do alone. We’ve already mentioned calendar apps and timers, but many colleges are providing productivity and time management tools to students during this challenging time.

Evan also said:

“Reach out and connect with your instructors, they want to hear from you. My instructors regularly tell me that building relationships with students and seeing them succeed is one of the greatest benefits of their jobs. Start with an introductory email at the beginning of the semester and stay in touch regularly. It is possible to build strong and long-lasting relationships with your online instructors who can help you in the future with letters of recommendation, finding internships or providing job advice.”

Find out when your instructors are holding virtual office hours. You may also want to check your school’s website for resources. Allen Koh, the CEO of Cardinal Education, adds:

“When looking for an advantage, students should first seek recordings of their lectures. This can be life-changing as they can play it again and again in case they do not understand something. Second, better technology. Tablets can be a game-changer: take them anywhere and study anytime. Finally, seek psychological support from family and friends: learning is easier with a calm and confident mind.”

Your school may offer emotional support as well as online tools – including scheduling tools, conferencing apps and other learning software that you can use to study efficiently and productively at home.

Those are our six best tips for online college students. We hope you’ll use them to get the new school year off to a good – and productive – start!

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