for Non-School Leavers
Time Management for Adult Learners
When trying to organise your time there are two issues:
finding the time in the first place and then using it properly (Chamber and
Northedge, 1997:9). If you don't do the second, there is little point in
doing the first.
Luckily, your life and work experiences often mean that you are usually
already a better manager of time than most school-leavers. You are used
to having too many things to do in too little time.
What can you do to manage your time?
You need schedules for each week of the university Semester and for the Semester
as a whole. The weekly plan is where you set short term goals: what needs
to be done this week and so on. The Semester planner is where you plan your
work over the entire Semester.
Download a yearly planner (pdf)
Download a weekly planner (pdf)
Calculate how much time you have, or could find, for your work.
Although there are 24 hours in a day, not all of those hours can be used
to study. After removing time for sleeping, eating, shopping and so on, you'll
arrive at a number that represents the 'real time' that can be devoted
More about filling in a study planner
Make the most of the time you do have
The idea that it's only effective to study if you have large chunks of time
is a common misconception. In fact, studying uninterrupted for hours on end
can be counter-productive in terms of concentration.
- Use small blocks of
time for completing minor study tasks.
- Break large tasks down into segments,
which are easily achievable.
- When you arrange a few hours to study, always
be ready to make the most of it. Save this time for thinking and
writing or focused reading.
Work out your optimum study method
Find out when, and under what circumstances,
you work most efficiently.
- Do you prefer to work early in the morning
or late at night?
- Do you prefer working on one assignment exclusively,
or several at the same time?
- Is it best to work at night
after the kids are in bed, or while they're doing their own homework?
- Do you need complete silence to concentrate, or do you find a background
buzz more conducive to effective study?
Working out your preferences will make you a more efficient and effective
student. Be honest with yourself about your preferences.
Don't plan to get up and study at 5 am if you're not a morning person, and
don't plan to study after dinner if you always fall asleep by 8.30 pm.
Be realistic about how much time is required to complete particular
tasks. Generally, academic
work takes longer than you think, especially if you want to do your best.
Avoid perfectionism—you don't have time to make every single assignment
perfect. Also, if you spend all your time making one assignment perfect,
then it uses up the time that you need to complete all your other work.
Allow yourself adequate 'thinking time' when doing assignments. Students
are often aware of the time it takes to find research material, to make notes,
and to actually write the assignment; what they don't always consider
is the time it takes to do the necessary thinking.
Prioritise your work
Start work on assignments well before they are due. Sometimes
you may have two or more assignments due on the same day, so leaving things
until the last moment is not recommended. Not only will this make university
a real chore, but you will not do as well as you are able.
If you have a Semester-long
assignment that requires a short weekly activity or entry (such as a reflective
journal), select a fixed time each week to devote to it. Completing each
activity weekly will prevent a 'log jam' of work at the end of Semester when
you will have other assignments due.
Also: while an extension will help you cope with a single assignment, the
duration of the extension eats into time that needs to be spent on others.
So, an extension is not a ‘get out of jail free card …'!
Time is always a limited commodity for non-school leavers, so make the most
of it, and try creating some!
A few tips to create time
- Visit your local municipal library. They might have resources there that
you can use. This will save traveling time to uni. Your local library's
catalogue is likely to be searchable through the web too.
- If you are doing a library search on campus why not get materials for
two assignments at the same time?
- Make the most of time spent on public transport—can you read on the
train or bus? Can you read while you are waiting? If so, do so (reading
while you are driving is, however, discouraged!). If your reading material
is heavy or bulky, then perhaps you could photocopy some of the relevant
sections and carry them will you in a pocket or bag.
- Think about the timing of 'moveable' assignments. While most assignments
have a fixed submission date, others, like tutorial presentations and
tute papers, are more flexible. When choosing a particular presentation
slot, take into account the timing of other assignments. Generally speaking,
it is good to do your presentations in the first half of the course if
you can (weeks 2-7) as it clears the way for the major assignments that
are normally submitted towards the end of the Semester.
- Make sure you attend lectures, or at least listen to them online.
Although missing a lecture may seem like a way to save an hour, you'll
find that lectures are a very effective way to get to the heart
of your course. An hour saved in one week might lead to many hours of extra
work later in the Semester: skipping lectures is a false economy.
- If you're on campus for the day, are there any errands you could run
during breaks between classes? UNSW has banks, medical clinics,
pharmacists, a post office and other shops. Make the most of proximity
to these services to use your time efficiently.
- Reprioritise your life outside study. Once you begin uni, there may be
some tasks or commitments you will have less time for, or will need to
do less frequently. Certain things will just have
to move down on your priority list. However, remember that leisure and
exercise are important.
Combining Life and Study
Studying around the demands of a family will challenge your time management,
but won't make it impossible. Planning ahead is the key. Here are some strategies:
- Try to arrange your study timetable so it reduces disruption to your
existing commitments. it’s a good idea to look out for any flexible options on offer, such as programs that may include evening classes, weekend courses or online
- Study at a regular time so that the children become familiar with
your routine: your routine will become part of theirs. Explain to them
the importance of what you are doing and tell them how the family will
- Plan ahead for your peak study periods. Plan activities to help keep
the children occupied, because if the children aren't occupied then
you will be.
- Consider getting a babysitter for those occasions when you just have to
get things done. For example, when you are studying for exams or when
you are trying to meet a deadline for a group project, you might 'outsource'
- Establish a Semester-long timetable so that, by taking on
primary child care responsibilities, your spouse, partner, friends
and family may help you create time for your academic work. The more notice
you give them, the more they are able to help you.
- If you are juggling family demands with study, realise that things will
take you longer and plan accordingly—having children to look after
always increases the possibility of unexpected occurrences and, therefore,
interruptions to your well-planned schedule.
- Leaving things
until the last minute is never advisable, even more so when your
time is never totally your own. If you can't get it all done, get something
done. It is better to have achieved something rather than nothing. Give
yourself credit for what you have done, rather than what you should've
Undertaking tertiary study can
be a source of tension between you and your loved ones. Partners and children
may not always be entirely happy with the time you spend on study, especially
if you have put family first in the past. Your friends might find it difficult
when you are suddenly less available.
- Make sure your family knows why study is important to you. Remind them
of the possible benefits—these
may include your happiness and wellbeing, you future employment prospects
or the possibility of increased household income. Discuss
their concerns openly and encourage communication.
- Ask your family or housemates to respect
your at-home study times and avoid interrupting you. It may help to hang
a “do not disturb” or “study in progress” sign
on your door to remind them. Schedule study time
at your local or university library so some of your study is separated
from the home environment. Show them your timetable. Keep a copy on
the fridge so everyone knows what you are doing on any given day. Let them
know how much work is involved for you.
- Make your family and friends
feel included. Tell them how best they can support you – for example, you
might need quiet time alone, a meal prepared for you, or you may be tired
and would like to be taken out for dinner.
- If you have performed the majority of household tasks, let your family
or housemates know you won’t be able to do as much now you
are studying. Renegotiate some household tasks and decide who can do which
- It is easy to get caught up with your studies and lose sight of your
friends, especially when deadlines are looming. However,
if you don’t spend much time with your family, they might feel like they
don’t matter to you. Suggestions include:
- Don’t rely on spontaneity. Schedule regular time with your family. Plan
something special for when exams are over. Arrange a proper ‘catch up’
with friends during semester breaks.
- Plan for leisure/ family time. Schedule ‘appointments’
into your weekly timetable to help you enjoy yourself without guilt. Consider
setting your own deadlines for assignments a few days earlier than the
actual deadlines. A week or so of breathing space allows for the interruption
of unexpected events, such as family illness.
- If studying has meant quitting an existing job or reducing working hours
to part-time, plan a new weekly budget if there’s been a drop in household
- If you intend to work while studying, you will also need to get the support
of your manager and colleagues, particularly if you will be adjusting your
work hours or taking periods of study leave.
Your studies are important. Try not to feel guilty about the time you spend
on them—your family will survive. Be assertive with family and friends until
they get used to your student role.