I recently offered to help my procrastination-prone younger brother edit his college applications. He brought his essays to me the night they were due, giving me his analysis of his own study skills: “I always do my assignments last-minute, and I’m doing fine,” which is ostensibly true—he’s a stellar high school student with impressive extracurriculars.
However, I could tell that some of his essays for elite colleges couldn’t be transformed into acceptance-worthy applications within a few hours. For the first time, his procrastination and poor study skills would seriously cost him opportunities.
Time management is one of the most important study skills that you can master as an underclassman. If you can manage your time well, you don’t need to be the smartest in your class to be competitive, plus you’ll have way more free time to do what you want and maintain your well-being.
So how do you do it?
- Keep a calendar. This can be written or online, but it’s important to keep track of your commitments and deadlines, and it’s good to get in the habit of managing a calendar.
- Break up big things in advance. For a paper due in a month, this could mean finding your sources in Week 1, making an outline in Week 2, writing a rough draft in Week 3, and editing your final draft in Week 4. For a test next Thursday, this might look like studying a different chapter each day this week, scheduling a study group for next Monday, taking the practice exam next Tuesday, and reviewing your flashcards one last time on Wednesday.
- At the beginning of each week, figure out what you’re doing each day. I like to give myself three “Most Important Tasks” (MIT) per day, since getting three things done each day feels reasonable, even if some of these things are more time-consuming than others. Try to build some wiggle room into your schedule, and schedule reoccurring commitments for the same time every week to create a routine.
- Schedule regular working hours for each weekday and give yourself time off. When I was in college, I tried to stick to the 8-hour workday schedule, (working until dinnertime), and I was usually able to stay ahead of deadlines this way. I also gave myself evenings and Saturdays off. This often led to lonely weeknights, since most of my peers crammed, but it gave me time to relax and enjoy myself.
- Minimize distractions. Find a quiet place to work, and use an application/website blocker like StayFocusd or SelfControl.
- Cut down on commitments. Quality is more important than quantity. Figure out what you’re the best at and what you enjoy the most. If your commitments are manageable, you’re more likely to stick to them.
- Most importantly, find a time management system that works for you. The rest of the items on this list are suggestions based on what worked well for me, but there are plenty of other people who have developed their own effective study skills.
Feel free to comment on this post with your own time management tips or connect with a counselor from Empowerly, an online college admissions counseling service, to develop a personal organization system.