How to Manage Time 

Managing Your Time

In this next section you will learn about managing time and prioritizing tasks. This is not only a valuable skill for pursuing an education, but it can become an ability that follows you through the rest of your life, especially if your career takes you into a leadership role.


An online calendar is a very useful tool for keeping track of classes, meetings, and other events.

How to Manage Time

The simplest way to manage your time is to accurately plan for how much time it will take to do each task, and then set aside that amount of time. How you divide the time is up to you. If it is going to take you five hours to study for a final exam, you can plan to spread it over five days, with an hour each night, or you can plan on two hours one night and three hours the next. What you would not want to do is plan on studying only a few hours the night before the exam and find that you fell very short on the time you estimated you would need. If that were to happen, you would have run out of time before finishing, with no way to go back and revise your plan. In this kind of situation, you might even be tempted to pull an all-nighter (a phrase that has been used among college students for decades). In essence this means going without sleep for the entire night and using that time to finish studying or completing an assignment. While this method of trying to make up for poor planning is common enough to have a name, it rarely produces the best work.

Of all the parts of time management, accurately predicting how long a task will take is usually the most difficult — and the most elusive. Part of the problem comes from the fact that most of us are not very accurate timekeepers, especially when we are busy applying ourselves to a task. The other issue that makes it so difficult to accurately estimate time spent on tasks is that our estimations must also account for things like interruptions or unforeseen problems that cause delays.

When it comes to academic activities, many tasks can be dependent upon the completion of other things first, or the time a task takes can vary from one instance to another, both of which add to the complexity and difficulty of estimating how much time and effort are required.

Knowing Yourself

While you can find all sorts of estimates online as to how long a certain task may take, it is important to know these are only averages. People read at different speeds, people write at different speeds, and those numbers even change for each individual depending on the environment. If you are trying to read in surroundings that have distractions (like conversations or phone calls), reading 10 pages can take you a lot longer than if you are reading in a quiet area. By the same token, you may be reading in a quiet environment (such as in bed after everyone in the house has gone to sleep), but if you are tired, your attention and retention may not be what it would be if you were refreshed.

In essence, the only way you are going to be able to manage your time accurately is to know yourself and to know how long it takes you to do each task. But where to begin?

Below, you will find a table of common college academic activities. This list has been compiled from a number of different sources, including colleges, publishers, and professional educators, to help students estimate their own time on tasks. The purpose of this table is to both give you a place to begin in your estimates and illustrate how different factors can impact the actual time spent.

You will notice that beside each task there is a column for the unit, followed by the average time on task, and a column for notes. The unit is whatever is being measured (pages read, pages written, and so on), and the time on task is the average time it takes students to do these tasks. It is important to pay attention to the notes column, because there you will find factors that influence the time on task. These factors can dramatically change the amount of time the activity takes.

Time Spent on Common College Activities

Activity Unit Time on task Notes
General academic reading (textbook, professional journals) 1 page 5–7 minutes Be aware that your personal reading speed may differ and may change over time.
Technical reading (math, charts, and data) 1 page 10–15 minutes Be aware that your personal reading speed may differ and may change over time.
Simple quiz or homework question (short answer, oriented toward recall or identification) 1 question 1–2 minutes The complexity of the questions will greatly influence the time required.
Complex quiz or homework question (short answer oriented toward application, evaluation, or synthesis of knowledge) 1 question 2–3 minutes The complexity of the questions will greatly influence the time required.
Math problem sets (complex) 1 question 15 minutes For example, algebra, complex equations, or financial calculations.
Writing (short, no research) 1 page 60 minutes For example, short essays, single-topic writing assignments, summaries, freewriting assignments, journaling (includes drafting, writing, proofing, and finalizing).
Writing (research paper) 1 page 105 minutes Includes research time, drafting, editing, proofing, and finalizing (built into per-page calculation).
Study for quiz 1 chapter 60 minutes 45–90 minutes per chapter, depending on the complexity of the material.
Study for exam 1 exam 90 minutes 1–2 hours, depending on the complexity of the material.

Again, these are averages, and it does not mean anything if your times are a little slower or a little faster. There is no “right amount of time,” only the time that it takes you to do something so you can accurately plan and manage your time.

There is also another element to look for in the table. These are differentiations in the similar activities that will also affect the time you spend. A good example of this can be found in the first four rows. Each of these activities involves reading, but you can see that depending on the material being read and its complexity, the time spent can vary greatly. Not only do these differences in time account for the different types of materials you might read but they also take into consideration the time needed to think about what you are reading to truly understand and comprehend what it is saying.


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