Academic time management
Guidance on managing your time effectively in an academic context
Time management tips and tools for organising your postgraduate studies
A postgraduate programme can be an intense year if you are studying full time. If you are studying part time you may be equally busy, as you will need to organise your study time around work or other commitments. Either way, you will need to make efficient and effective use of your time – and particularly your independent study time.
Putting some thought into how to organise your time to accommodate your studies, your work and your personal life will help you to keep your life balanced, reach achievable goals and stay motivated, reminding you of where you want your studies to take you.
There are lots of tools and techniques you could use, and Study Hub has lots of support which may be helpful
The kind of tools we find useful depends on our personal preferences. Some people like to use electronic apps while other people find pen and paper tools works for them. The important thing is to find a system that suits you. It can be helpful to ask others about the tools they use, however remember that their systems may not work for you.
It is easy to imagine that outside timetabled classes the rest of your time in your week is free. However, you are expected to study in your own time and need to complete assignments by the deadlines.
Start early and prioritise
The way you choose to prioritise will depend on how much you have to do and by when. Some things will be more important than others and some may be less important but more urgent. Prioritising can be for different periods of time: an academic year, semester or a week and usually change over time.
A good place to start is to get an overview of the deadlines for a period of weeks or a whole semester. You may need to set yourself mini-deadlines because a number of assignments may be due for submission around the same time.
You can check the semester dates on the university's website:
It can be helpful to sit down once a week and prioritise the most important things you need to do and the most urgent. Once you have sorted out what you need to do and by when, you can break these down into manageable tasks and allocate them.
You will need to put in fixed commitments first (e.g. scheduled classes). You may need to set aside times agreed with others for group work or group discussion. Secondly, add in any pre-class preparation you need to do, texts you need to read and any essential recordings you need to view. Then allocate your other study tasks, such as work for assignments, follow-up reading and times to review and consolidate your learning.
Consider when you study best when allocating challenging tasks requiring a lot of concentration or creative thinking.
Some people like to plan to a tight time schedule; others like to get two or more tasks done in half a morning. Try out our two alternative week planners; you might find not having an hourly timetable is more flexible.
Include down time in your plans. Rest and exercise are essential parts of being an effective learner and healthy sleep helps to consolidate memory – important when you are learning new material. If you do not allow your brain time off from your studies you will not be at your learning best. Putting down time in your plans means you are more likely to take it without taking too much.
Do you use your time effectively?
Do you ever feel like the whole day has passed by and you have achieved a fraction of what you wanted? Perhaps you tend to procrastinate by putting off work and doing other tasks instead. Getting distracted is very common.
Check how you are actually using your time by recording what you actually do for a few days on a week planner (above) or using the worksheet on our handout. This needs honesty.
Once you have identified what disrupts your effectiveness, you can consider how you can remove or minimise the causes. The Student Counselling Service offer a variety of self-help options and support services which can help you find ways to start dealing with any issues getting in the way. The University also offers advice to support your general wellbeing and health.
The Timer method
Sometimes we have a lot we need to get done and we only have a limited time to get it all done. The timer method can help to focus on the tasks you need to do and make progress. You need to minimise distractions to work in this way and incorporate shorter and longer breaks to relax a bit between periods of intense concentration.
Dissertation and project planning
Longer assignments will take up a lot of your time over several weeks or even months. You will need to consider all the different stages involved and assess how long they will take.
Our dissertation planner can help you get a general overview of writing an academic dissertation and remind you of some of the things you will need to do. However, there will be other tasks that are specific to your research project and your discipline context.
One approach to project planning is to make a diagram first so you can see how the parts of your project are connected, what the main tasks are likely to be and start to think about subtasks. You can then think about when you want to do what and how long it is likely to take.
Constructing a Gantt chart is a popular way to plan a project or dissertation. Using a chart you can visually plan what you need to do and how long it will take to get to get it done. An overview on a chart can help you explain your project to others (e.g. your supervisor). It can also help you to see whether you’re still on schedule or not.
Whatever planning method you select, you will need to review it regularly and readjust your deadlines. Things don’t usually go exactly to plan.