The importance of time management

Time management is one of the major challenges for students as they make the change from secondary to tertiary education. In the first section, we saw that there is much less teacher-directed learning in tertiary settings than there is at school. The challenge in tertiary education is to build significant amounts of time into your program that will help you to learn the material independently through regular reading and revision. Often this type of work is done in classes at school, but the tertiary expectation is that students will do much of this work themselves in their own time. As a tertiary student, if you only complete assessment tasks, such as tutorial and assignment preparation, you will be unlikely to understand the material well enough to be successful at university. Even if you are successful, you will probably not remember enough information to be able to apply it when you graduate and get a job. To learn and retain information, you need to really immerse yourself in the material thoroughly.

Budget time on a weekly basis

Allocating time to all the activities that you need to engage in on a weekly basis is a useful start for developing a time management plan. In most Australian universities, each subject (sometimes called a course) contributes a certain number of points towards your degree. Each subject is worth points which when added together give you enough points to earn your degree. The number of points assigned to each subject may be different at different institutions, but there is usually a relationship between the number of points and the amount of hours you are expected to spend on studying that subject. Usually, the more points, the more hours you are expected to spend studying.

Most full time university courses are based on around 40 hours of study per week. This amount of time includes both private study time and contact time (time spent in lectures, tutorials, practicals or other lecturer or tutor directed activities). So if a full time load is four subjects, you would need to spend about ten hours studying each subject each week. This is a guide only, but can be helpful when you are trying to plan your time. Check on the time expectations per subject at your particular organisation. If ten hours per subject is not the expectation, then find out how many hours you are expected to spend.

It hardly needs to be said that you will probably spend more time on some subjects than others, depending on difficulty. However, it may be useful to try to keep a balance between subjects so that you are not spending all your time on one subject and neglecting another. Within each subject, it also seems wise to allocate time to particular activities such as pre-reading, revising, preparing for tutorials, assignment work and so on. This gives you specific tasks to do when you are supposed to be in private study time, rather than knowing you should be ‘studying’ but not being sure exactly what you ought to be doing! Many students earnestly re-write their notes or endlessly organise their folders instead of getting down to more serious work. While organising your notes is obviously important, you don’t want it to consume your time. For most students, simply copying out their notes neatly is not the best use of their time, whereas creating a summary that reflects your unique understanding of a topic tends to be more effective because you have to think about the material to create your own summary. This requires a lot more thinking than copying notes. See Chapter 10 and 12 for ideas about how to make a keyword summary as a concept map.

Suppose you are required to study for 10 hours per subject, how can you work this into some kind of timetable? One possibility is to think about your time in terms of a budget. Be prepared to put aside certain amounts of time for each of the activities that are required in your course or subject. Start by making a time budget, like the one below. Remember that as you budget your time, you should be prepared to spend most time on the things that are most important to you. So for most tertiary students who are spending a good deal of money on tuition (not to mention lack of earnings) doing well at their studies is a high priority.

You can use the blank timetable below to plan your week with regards to study, work and leisure.

Blank Timetable image

First, fill in all your lecture and tutorial/practical times. Use a different colour for each subject. If you are expected to spend 10 hours studying each subject per week and if you have, say four hours of contact time (lectures, practicals and tutorials) then you need to spend roughly 6 hours in private study. Using the same colour that you used to put in the contact time, put in times for the following, depending on the demands and requirements of your subject:

Activity Time to budget
Pre-reading/preparation before class 1 hour?
Revision/summarising after class 1 to 2 hours?
Additional reading 2 hours?
Preparing for tutorials or practicals 1 hour?
Assignments (including reading, writing, planning 2 hours?


Different subjects have different requirements and you need to budget your time according to its demands and your needs, but the suggestion above is a rough guide. You will notice that the above suggestion adds up to 8 hours in private study. This added to two hours of contact time (lectures and tutorials) gives you 10 hours of study for each subject. You will notice that most of your study time is spent in private study and very little of it is spent in contact time. This is fairly typical of the way most tertiary courses are set up. Usually subjects which have large amounts of contact time built into the program require a little less time in private study, but you should always check with your institution as to what their requirements are. When making a planner, if you put in all the study relating to one subject in the same colour you will be able to see at a glance how much work you are doing for each subject. As you become more familiar with your work load, you may want to make some changes (allocating more or less time), especially if you are having difficulty keeping to your budget. Your timetable might end up looking something like this:

Filled timetable final image

The importance of pre-reading as a weekly habit

One aspect of the study process that should not be ignored is preparation for lectures in the form of pre-reading. Weekly preparation may include downloading lecture notes or reading study guides, but it should also, wherever possible, include time for quickly skimming through the readings (either text book chapters or articles) that have been set for that week. If none have been set, you can read on the topic for the week from a text book. This pre-reading will mentally prepare you for the lecture. If you don’t do this, you can easily lose track in class because you have no idea of what to expect and it is difficult to take in new information if you are not mentally prepared.

Pre-reading should be quick. The easiest way to pre-read is outlined in the section on effective reading, but it should involve some selective highlighting or underlining the text and writing one or two key words in the margin of each paragraph to identify what that paragraph is about. It is important to make time to pre-read because it will enable you to go to lectures with some idea of what might be said as well as some questions that you may want answered. You will find that if you don’t pre-read, you will most probably be so busy trying to write down as much as possible, that you will have very little time to think and understand in the lecture. Thus, you may have a complete set of notes, but no real understanding of the material that was covered!

If you take your text or a brief written outline of the headings, subheadings and keywords in the text to the lecture, you will be able to compare what was said in the lecture and what you read in the text. This will keep you alert in long lectures and also help you to make decisions about how much you want to write down in the lecture itself. Do not think that if you quickly look through the lecturer’s notes (often power points) that you will be adequately prepared for the lecture. In most cases these notes are brief with all the links between the ideas left out. The key words may be there, but how the ideas fit together is often less clear. Usually, a quick text book read will give you a much better overview of the topic than spending a lot of time trying to decipher power point notes before class.

While a ‘skim’ pre-read may seem too quick and not detailed enough, resist the urge to read every word of every reading before the lecture. There are exceptions, but many students who start off doing this find it is much too time consuming and they soon fall behind. As soon as possible after the lecture, make time for revision. At this time you can read in more depth, and because you have had a quick read and labelled the paragraphs with key words or written quick notes when you pre-read, you will be able to find parts that you need to read in more depth. Thus you will be able to read more selectively and in detail as necessary.

The importance of taking time for weekly revision

When revising, try to make a one page summary. Use A3 or A4 paper and make a visual summary such as a concept map, flow chart, table or anything else that helps to identify the major points (not all the details) of that week’s lecture. This summary should be your synthesis or drawing together of material from different sources, for example, the lecture, the text book, any extra readings and information from practical or tutorial work. This is a critical step for most successful students and one that many unsuccessful students leave out. It is an important part of the process of becoming a strategic student.

Revision is important because it constitutes your thinking and understanding about what you have learnt. Until you have tried to summarise the lecture, you will not know if you really understand it. Similarly, if you don’t take the information and do something with it for yourself, it will not ‘belong’ to you or become part of your personal bank of knowledge and understanding. It will remain the lecturer or the author of the text book’s understanding and you will not learn it effectively until you have worked with it and really understood it for yourself.

Notes synthesis map png

Making time for life

In addition to including times for pre-reading, revision and other aspects of study, strategic students also budget time for activities such as paid work, chores, relaxation, exercise and time for travel to and from uni. It is very important that you don’t feel constrained to always do what is down on your budget at a particular time, because life does not always happen according to a timetable. What is important is that your life is balanced and you spend a certain number of hours per week on all the different activities that are part of your study and life plan. If you do less one week for reasons beyond your control, then you probably will want to do a little more the following week to catch up. Try to avoid spending large chunks of time on one activity like writing an assignment and neglecting other activities like revision.

Many students find it useful to treat uni as though it were a paid job. In this sense, they work hard Monday to Friday and as much as possible have the weekends free. This means that if they don’t have much contact time during the week, they still plan to study (often at uni) from say 9 to 5, so that they can have most of the weekend and possibly evenings to themselves.

Make semester and daily plans

As well as a weekly planner, it is useful to have a semester planner which outlines and task analyses all your assignments for each subject over the course of the semester. The task analysis should state which part of the assignment will be worked on each week until the due date. This will be covered in more detail in Chapter 5.

Additionally, it is useful to make a list of things to do each day, making sure that you prioritise the list so that you attend to the most important items first. This can be done by writing A, B, C or 1, 2, 3 next to the items on the list. Crossing off items on your list often helps to give you a sense of achievement and satisfaction with the progress you are making. Here is an example of what a daily list might look like:

To Do:

Pay electricity bill A
Read chapter 3 A
Buy bread, milk and chocolate A
See Prof. Ziggles @ 10.30 A
Check out gym C
Call Robin B

Reflection and Conclusion

Budget your time

What will be the challenges for you in budgeting your time for pre-reading, classes, assignments and revision? How can you overcome some of these challenges?

Make time for all activities

Think about which activities are the most important and how much time you should spend on them. Are you spending the most time on the most important activities? How much time will be reasonable for you to spend across paid work, study, socialising and all the other activities that make demands on your time?

Make time for yourself

Think about the possibility of working hard all week so that you can have time to yourself on the weekends.
Do you think that devoting about 40 hours per week to study (for a four subject load) will be enough for you?