Successful Online Learning Strategies: The Importance of Time Management for Students
12 Min Read
As many of us know all too well, time management is deceptively difficult to master. Ostensibly, it seems it should be pretty easy — but, as we realize when we find ourselves deep in the midst of a project, maintaining a high level of efficiency and sticking to a precise schedule can be tricky.
The importance of time management for students cannot be overstated, but for online learners trying to balance school, work, family, and personal obligations, the task is often a daunting one. To help make it simpler and more attainable, so that scholars can work more productively, let’s examine various time management tips, strategies, best practices, and tools that can quickly be adopted as good habits.
Prepare for Success
Set up a dedicated study space
Learning from home on your own schedule allows for great flexibility, but it comes with the challenge of finding an optimal workspace. The comfort of your sofa makes it an attractive option, but it’s also strongly associated with leisure and television-viewing in your mind, which can make it difficult to get work done in that spot.
Having a designated quiet study space is an essential part of all successful online learning strategies. It gives you a clear separation between your school and personal lives, reducing distractions and allowing you to maintain a productive mindset. Even if you live in a studio or one-bedroom apartment and have to create a makeshift study area with a portable divider and a foldable desk, it will help you concentrate better.
Particularly in situations like that, a pair of headphones can go a long way — especially if they have noise-canceling capability. Wherever you learn, make sure you have a reliable internet connection, so you won’t have to deal with many interruptions or a lot of lag when working on your computer.
Routinely practice self-care
Fatigue, illness, and negative feelings such as stress and worry can all lead to procrastination. Even when you’re not putting off your schoolwork, these factors make it difficult for you to concentrate and be productive, significantly increasing the amount of time it takes to complete assignments. Considering the great importance of time management for students, it’s crucial to take care of yourself by eating nutritious meals, exercising on a regular basis, and getting enough sleep, which will improve your focus, energy level, and mood.
Meditation is another practice that makes time management easier by refreshing you mentally and physically, allowing you to stay calm, increasing your awareness, and expanding your capacity to resist distractions. It reduces stress and anxiety, so that your mind is less preoccupied with worries and better able to devote its resources to focusing on the task at hand.
By making you more aware of your thoughts and behaviors, meditation allows you to make fewer mistakes, which means you save the time that would ordinarily be spent correcting those errors. It also enhances willpower and boosts energy levels, increasing your ability to stay motivated and committed to your goals, even when the days are long and distracting or difficult thoughts and stimuli are present.
Perhaps most importantly, meditation helps you be more mindful in the present moment, rather than losing time as your thoughts vacillate between the past and future. The practice trains you to completely focus on whatever you are doing at each point in time, even if it’s just a mundane task, so that you develop great skill in quieting your mind, observing yourself, and giving your full attention to each action in the moment.
Identify & Minimize Time-Wasting Activities & Distractions
Determining the behaviors, actions, and external factors that cause minutes and hours to be wasted, and then greatly reducing the time spent on those things, may be the most important of all time management tips.
Resist the pull of your phone
For many people, the source of the problem is their smartphones, which are almost always close by and provide instant access to endless distractions. If you’re tempted by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube, avoid getting sucked into time-consuming scrolling or video-watching sessions by turning off notifications and logging out of the apps on your phone.
Simply having to enter your password each time you want to access your social media feeds or watch “just one” video can be enough to make you stop for a second, reflecting on whether or not you should be spending time on that activity at the moment.
As a second layer of protection against time-wasting, you can make your passwords more complex and not commit them to memory; rather, write them down in a notebook somewhere, so that you have to get up and go find them before you can log in and view or post content. Unless you’re powerfully motivated to engage with social media or YouTube at that time, you’re unlikely to do that, which means you’ll successfully stay on task instead.
And remember that it’s not just the apps on your phone that can interrupt you and impair your concentration and productivity: receiving calls and texts can be just as disruptive. Consider setting up calls to go straight to voicemail and hiding alerts for text messages during your study sessions.
Turn off the TV
It’s well known that you shouldn’t indulge in televised entertainment while you’re supposed to be studying or working — but how about the news or an educational show? It’s easy to rationalize leaving the TV on in those cases: you tell yourself that it’s just there in the background; you’re just casually listening, and there’s a good chance you’ll learn something valuable.
But dividing your attention between coursework and TV is a recipe for wasted time and lost productivity. And while any TV program will increase your level of distraction, having the news on may actually harm your time management further, due to the amount of anxiety-inducing content to which you’ll be exposed. Keep the two activities separate: for example, watch TV as a reward during a scheduled rest period after an hour or two of hard work.
Doing two or more tasks concurrently sounds great in theory, especially to busy online college students — after all, what could be more efficient than that, right? But in reality, the end result of this approach is usually that each task takes longer to complete and is not done as well.
As the American Psychological Association has reported, studies have found that multitasking, especially when done to a heavy degree, has a detrimental impact on productivity. Our brains were designed to concentrate on one activity at a time, and that’s how we typically do our best work.
Structure Your Study Time
One of the most successful online learning strategies for time management, time blocking involves segmenting your day into chunks, typically by the hour or half-hour, and dedicating each chunk to a work-related task or break. This technique works well because it is straightforward and flexible: should you need more time to complete a task, you can simply devote a second block to it and adjust your schedule for the rest of the day accordingly. It’s also an effective way to establish and maintain a study routine from day to day, which can be especially challenging for those who work from home.
To prevent boredom due to following the same schedule for many days, you can divide bigger, more time-consuming projects into smaller blocks and fit other tasks and short breaks in between them. Make sure that your breaks feature a healthy balance of rest and fun, which can sometimes be combined in the same activity, such as a leisurely nature walk.
Get work done before deadlines
Stay well ahead of deadlines as you’re studying or doing projects. This is especially important for partner or group assignments in which you have to work with multiple people to coordinate meetings and contributions. Often, you don’t know exactly how long the work is going to take, so don’t fall prey to procrastination and be forced to rush at the end.
Pretend that the deadline is a different date significantly earlier than the real one, and keep yourself on pace to complete the work by that day. Then, if the assignment takes longer than anticipated, you have given yourself a buffer and don’t need to stress or stay up all night to finish in time.
Pick the best time to study
Most students have higher levels of energy and motivation during specific times of the day or night. Perhaps you are most focused and inspired early in the morning after a cup of coffee or two; or maybe you find that you can get work done more effectively late in the evenings, once the other stressors and obligations of the day are behind you.
Whenever it is, find that window of greatest alertness and cognitive functioning, and try to get your most difficult tasks done during that time; save the easier assignments for those periods when you feel your mental acuity and energy waning.
Use Time Management Tools to Your Advantage
There are myriad organizational tools available to help you with time management. 1Password provides a simple method of storing, managing, and using strong passwords, enabling you to log into websites and securely fill out forms with just one click.
With Evernote, you can keep your notes, to-do list, and schedule all in one convenient place. Additionally, create and assign tasks with deadlines, flags, and reminders to ensure everything gets done on time. The resource also gives you the ability to scan vital documents to eliminate clutter and find records and communications more quickly.
Another effective tool to keep you organized is RescueTime, which helps you find periods of time in between scheduled tasks and meetings when you can fully focus and get work done. Its recommendations are tailored based on your agenda and the daily focus goals you indicate. The program also keeps track of how much time you have left in the current task or meeting and offers insights and coaching to help you improve your time management skills.
A creative resource for visual brainstorming, MindNode assists you in capturing your thoughts, organizing them, and transforming them into a clear mind map. You can utilize various themes and styles to match your preferences and easily keep related thoughts and details connected. MindNode also lets you keep track of your progress on various tasks.
Pocket ensures you can stay focused on the assignment at hand without missing out on the other things you come across along the way. This tool allows you to save and curate articles, videos, and stories from any publication, webpage, or app for later consumption whenever you have the time. Content is accessible both online and offline on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
With ZenDay, you have access to a calendar and to-do list featuring a three-dimensional timeline, instead of the traditional vertical list format. Tasks “float” within the interface, and ZenDay conveniently and automatically reschedules them into open time slots in your agenda. The program also uses a color-coded system and changes the hues of tasks that are nearly due or overdue, so you can easily keep track of your priorities and act on them.
Try brain.fm for a unique approach to getting in the zone. This resource uses science to create music that affects your brain in ways that support greater productivity. It utilizes technology to promote strong neural phase-locking for more focused, coordinated cognition, while removing the distractions in the sound.
If you’re often drawn by the siren call of websites unrelated to your work, Cold Turkey may be a good solution. It gives you the ability to block everything from particular sites and applications to virtually the whole internet. Once put in place, its blockades are next to impossible to remove until the designated time period is over.
Are you a fan of the pomodoro technique? This is the practice of studying in fairly short bursts of 25-30 minutes, using a buzzer or alarm to alert you to the end of each session and then taking a short break of two to three minutes before starting the next one. Once you’ve completed four cycles, you take a longer break to refresh yourself further. The rationale is that the sessions are long enough to let you get some work done but not so long that they feel tiring, overwhelming, or unpleasant. If this sounds appealing, try focus booster, which puts the technique to digital use, offering insightful time tracking and helping you stay laser-focused to work efficiently for 25-minute stretches. View your progress and rhythm on the dashboard to help you improve over time.
With Any.do, you can organize your tasks, lists, and reminders in one intuitive app that will sync this content across your devices. With its flexible calendar and smart reminders, including location-based notifications, you can reliably keep track of all work and personal events and obligations in the same space. Additionally, the app integrates seamlessly with other calendars, such as Google, iCloud, and Outlook.
Take time-tracking to the next level with Toggl, a tool that offers a multitude of ways to achieve that goal. One-click timers work across laptop, desktop, and mobile platforms, with automatic syncing. Background tracking uses a timeline to track time spent on every application you engage with for more than 10 seconds. Calendar integrations let you assimilate your other calendars, e.g., Google or Outlook, into the Toggl app and start tracking time for events scheduled on those. The resource also gives you insightful, customizable reports.
For partner or team assignments, Avaza is a great way to collaborate on, manage, and discuss projects. The tool allows you to quickly switch from Kanban to Gantt to List views; visualize, filter, and group tasks in one or multiple projects; and complete budgeting and billing flexibly. Avaza also makes it easy to manage the resources dedicated to each project and offers drag-and-drop scheduling and editing of tasks.
Take Control of Your Future
Now that you understand more about successful online learning strategies and the importance of time management for students, are you ready to use these tips, techniques, and tools to further your education and advance your career?
Explore Concordia University St. Paul’s online programs here and discover the opportunities that await you. With associate, bachelor, master, and doctorate degree programs, as well as certificates, CSP offers something for every learner, wherever they may be on their educational path.