Studying and Learning Part 5: Time Management

This article will discuss time management issues, and how to address them.

Key Messages:

Poor time management is one of the commonest reasons for poor academic performance. (In reality, it is poor self-management, not time-management.)

2017-12-31 09_42_02-Time management issues Connolly The Ultimate Study Skills handbook

Step I: Identify a goal

Before you consider time-management, you must decide on a goal to work towards. Without a credible goal, there is little motivation to manage either oneself, or one’s time.

It is important that the goal is something you are motivated to achieve. If you have multiple goals, prioritise them in order of importance.

Establish objectives and targets that are

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Step II: Perform a time audit

Determine where and how you spend your time. There are 168 hours in a week. The time available for study is a subset of this total.

Calculate the time you spend on various tasks as under:

  • Number of hours sleeping each night x 7 = __________
  • Number of hours on self-care/ grooming (washing, dressing, grooming) per day x 7 = ____
  • Number of hours spent on food per day (including preparation and cooking time; include time taken for all meals and snacks in a day) x 7 = _______
  • Number of hours of scheduled classes and lectures per day x 7 = _______
  • Number of hours spent in travel each weekday x 6 (or 5) = _______
  • Number of hours spent in travel each weekend x 1 (or 2) = _______
  • Average number of hours per day on leisure activities x 7 = _______
  • Average number of hours per day spent on household/ domestic or family/ social commitments x 7 = ________
  • Add 7 extra hours for leeway/ contingencies

Now add the subtotals to get the total committed time per week.

The total time available for independent study is:

168 – total committed time per week = _______

Now that you know where you spend your time, assess how you spend your time. In order to do this, use Stephen Covey’s time management grid:


Create your own time management matrix using the grid shown above, and see where most of your activities fall. Mention the number of hours spent on each task alongside, so you can quantify the time spent.

What do you see?

Step III: Plan your time

In the absence of a schedule (however basic), you will be unable to have meaningful time-management. The goal is to plan study time such that the intended objectives/ targets are achieved.

Remember, any schedule should be realistic and practical– it is always better to aim for lower targets and achieve them, than higher targets and miss them. (Once you’ve missed a few targets, a sense of dejection and doom usually settles in, further worsening the situation.)


In planning your time, be ‘Importance’ driven rather than ‘Urgency’ driven. 

Using the approach in Step II, identify the essential tasks that you cannot avoid performing- eating, sleeping, etc., and determine the total time required for those tasks. Do NOT reduce sleep time, as this will adversely affect learning, memory, and recall.

Next, identify the non-essential tasks, and highlight those that can be eliminated/ minimized/ delegated/ postponed.

Identify your distractors- they will be found in Quadrant 4 of the matrix.

Prepare a schedule for the time available, focusing on Quadrants 1 and 2. (The proportion of time allocated to Qaudrant 1 would vary by your situation- if close to examinations, this would consume more of your time.)

The schedule should be based on realistic expectations of time required for task completion.

Step IV: Managing your time

Have a dedicated study area

  • that has all your study materials at hand
  • is suited to your study preferences- location, lighting, sound, ventilation/ temperature, etc.
  • where you will not be disturbed
  • that is free from distractions

Follow a schedule. If you don’t have one, make one.

Prepare/ refer daily to-do lists

  • that list what you intend to achieve each day

Increase time spent on studying using the 15×4 method:

  • Designate a separate notebook your ‘study diary’
  • Divide each page into three columns:
    a. date and time
    b. specific target
    c. task accomplishment
  • Start by mentioning the date and time. Next, write the specific target for the next 15 minutes. It is better to underestimate what may be achieved. Over time, you will be able to better estimate what can be achieved in 15 minutes of study.
  • Study for 15 minutes (by the clock, not guesstimate), focusing on achieving the target within the stipulated time. This is a time of intense concentration, so stay glued to the book/ reading material. At the end of 15 minutes, if you have achieved the target, place a red tick in the third column, signifying task accomplishment.
  • Take a break for 1 minute (by the clock). You may walk around if you wish.
  • Repeat the cycle 3 more times (for a total of 4 cycles), being certain to specify sufficiently short target, maximising the chance of successful task completion. Tick each task as it is accomplished, and take only one 60 second break between two 15 minute study sessions.
  • Take a 10 minute break after completing 4 cycles of studying for 15 minutes.

Reward yourself for successful daily target accomplishment. Take care that the reward itself does not distract from your studies, and consumes very little time.

Walk away from distractions.

Read effectively, making connections with previous learning/ future requirements

Do not disturb: Tell others not to disturb you during study sessions.

Concentrate on one thing at a time. If a topic is too difficult, return to it after a gap. Alternatively, try reading a different book, or asking a friend/ teacher to explain it.

Do NOT rewrite your notes. Writing is a time-consuming activity. You will cover more ground by reading alone, than by writing the same.

If preparing for examinations, it is prudent to study the first subject last, and vice-versa. The time between papers is less, so unless the material has already been learned, revision will not be possible overnight.

Rehearse the material regularly for optimum recall (see figure below). This will save you time in the long-term.

Effect of distributed practice on recall of learning

Be realistic: You cannot cut off all social commitments/ responsibilities, so make provision for some time to address them in your schedule.

Useful Link:

Link to a document explaining the time management matrix:

Click to access TimeManagementGrid.pdf

Further reading:

1. Sousa DA. How the Brain Learns: A Classroom Teacher’s Guide. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, Inc.; 2001.

2. Uelaine A. Study Skills Strategies: Get the Most from Every Minute of Learning. 4th ed. Axzo Press; 2009.

3. Walsh F. The Regis Study Skills Guide. 5th ed. 2008.

4. Price G, Maier P. Effective Study Skills: Unlock your potential. Pearson Education; 2007.

5. Moore S, Neville C, Murphy M, Connolly C. The Ultimate Study Skills Handbook. Oxford University Press; 2010.

6. Downing S. On Course:Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life. Cengage; 2011.

7. Shain DD. Study skills and test-taking strategies for medical students. 1995.

8. Orr F. Study Skills For Successful Students. Allen & Unwin; 1992.


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