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If You're a College Student, a Daily Planner May Help

How to manage time for your coursework.

Key points

  • Time management is a challenge for everyone but especially for some college students.
  • Students often report spending a lot of time on their digital devices, meaning less time to complete course assignments.
  • Notebooks designed for this purpose can help students track due dates for assignments, readings, exams, papers.

I often teach a Human Adjustment class and one of the assignments deals with time management. For a week, or ideally two, I ask the undergraduates in my class to track their daily doings in 15- to 30-minute intervals, much like lawyers track their billable activities. At the end of the exercise, the students look over their data, their daily activities from when they wake until they go to sleep, to make sense of where and how they spend their time.

It should come as no surprise that many students admit to wasting an inordinate amount of time on social media (chiefly but not exclusively on Instagram) or watching videos on TikTok and Youtube or just surfing the web. The other chief platform they spend their time on is watching Netflix, or the equivalent, or playing online games. After that is work (most have part-time jobs) and then hanging out with friends (recreation). School comes next with homework, studying, writing papers, and the like, as well as time spent in class.

Many of these students are astounded to see how much time they spend not doing school-related activities (so am I). They are often very surprised at the hours they spend each day on digital devices or procrastinating about doing their classwork. Of course, not all students behave this way—many are very organized because of:

  • Majors that demand a certain GPA (for example, nursing)
  • Being a student-athlete
  • Preparing for graduate or professional school
  • They are paying their own way through college
  • Or they simply like to feel in control of their current lives as they look toward the future

If you are a college student or if you know one, especially one heading into his or her first year of college, encourage them to use some sort of planner. You might even give them one before they head off to school. Many of my students tell me that maintaining a planning calendar with due dates for quizzes, exams, and papers is an invaluable aid when it comes to organizing their time and workflow. To be sure, many digital devices have calendars and they do work for some students. Other students, however, feel more comfortable with portable planning notebooks they can carry in their backpacks or purses. Some students report crossing out accomplished activities (Tuesday’s calculus quiz) with great enthusiasm. Others like to be able to see two weeks ahead in the semester (such students don’t like forgotten or overlooked surprises).

Still, other students like to maintain lists of what they need to do and when. Students don't need expensive leather-bound daily journals, just a hard record of what work is due in the near and far term.

This may be especially helpful for the college student who has never relied on a planner but has often felt behind or overwhelmed when midterms and finals arrive. Review it at the start of the day and again at the end of the day. This may be a game changer.