Time Management

We live in a time pressured world where it is common to have multiple overlapping commitments that all require immediate attention now. From classes and work to family commitments and personal time, urgency is no longer reserved for special occasions — it is an everyday occurrence. So, how can one manage the flood of responsibilities, do excellent work and maintain a positive frame of mind? Take a look at some of the tools below for tips on how to organize your time most efficiently.

How are you managing your time?

Blank Time Management Grid

The Covey Time Management Grid is an effective method of organizing your priorities. As you can see from the grid to the left, there are four quadrants organized by urgency and importance.

Quadrant I is for the immediate and important deadlines.
Quadrant II is for long-term strategizing and development.
Quadrant III is for time pressured distractions. They may not be as important, but someone wants it now.
Quadrant IV is for those activities that yield little of any value. These are activities that are often used for taking a break from time pressured and important activities.
Time Management Quadrants

The grid has many applications however two will be suggested here:

The first use of the grid is to take your current ‘to-do’ list and sort all the activities into the appropriate box. Then, assess the amount of time you have to accomplish the lists and, if necessary, reallocate activities.

The second approach is a one-week assessment strategy. Make six copies of the grid (on page 4) and use one grid for each day of the week, listing each activity and time spent on each task.

At the end of the week, combine the five individual day data onto one summary grid (number 6) and calculate the percent of time in each grid. Then evaluate how well your time is spent and whether you work load needs to be reorganized. The Bottom Line: Do Important things First!

Weekly Calendar

If you find yourself struggling with time management, try filling out a Weekly Calendar (Google calendar, a physical planner, or any other tool that works for you) to see “where your time goes.” Below, we have illustrated the current and “ideal” breakdowns of time management for a student who is working to improve their time management skills.

Keep in mind that “ideal” time management is different for every person. You know your needs best!

Current Time Management Balance
Ideal Time Management Balance
Sample "current" chart of a student's time management Sample "ideal" chart of a student's time management
Yearly Calendar/Planner

Create a calendar that has all your significant events and due dates. This provides an overview of the semester. Write down papers, exams, presentations, meetings, job and internship, etc. Filling in this information will give you a sense of when these need to take priority and may prevent you from procrastinating.

Tips and Tools

Conquer Procrastination
Reward yourselfThe first step to conquering procrastination is to recognize when you are procrastinating (filling your day with low-priority things, saying yes to unimportant tasks, waiting for the “right time”).  Next, work out why you are procrastinating.  Is the task unpleasant? Do you feel overwhelmed by the assignment? Do you need more information? Finally, adopt some anti-procrastination strategies such as developing a reward system, asking someone to check in on you, or identify unpleasant consequences for not doing a task. To have a good chance of conquering procrastination, you need to spot right away when you are doing it, identify why you are doing it, and take appropriate steps to overcome the block.


Schedule your time every day to make sure you accomplish the most important things first. Be sure to leave room for the unexpected and for interruptions. Remember that things that are scheduled have a better chance of working out than those that are unscheduled.

Ask for Help Ask for help

It is a sign of strength to be able to say, “I am not sure how to balance this on my own.” Asking for help is never a sign of weakness. 

  1. Have realistic expectations for the kind of help you are seeking
  2. Express your needs simply and clearly
  3. Let others know you are there to help them as well
  4. Praise people for their assistance and pat yourself on the back for asking for help
Say No

When you are overcommitted and under too much stress, you are more likely to feel run down and possibly get sick. By saying no, you are honoring your existing obligations and ensuring that you will be able to devote quality time to them. Saying no is not selfish and saying yes all the time is not healthy.

  • How to Say No
    • Say No – Be careful about using substitute phrases, such as “I’m not sure” or “I don’t think I can.”
    • Be Brief
    • Be Honest
    • Be Ready to Repeat – You may find it necessary to refuse a request several times before the other person accepts your response. Calmly repeat your “no”, with or without your original rationale.
Set Realistic GoalsSet realistic goals

By setting realistic goals you are more likely to get your tasks completed and feel good about the progress you made. Unrealistic goals set you up for failure and will likely increase stress, which can decrease work production.

  • Unrealistic Goal: Read 5 chapters today and take notes on each chapter.
  • Realistic Goal: Read 1 chapter today and take notes on the chapter.
Daily To Do ListsMake daily to-do lists

Look at your calendar each day before planning your daily to do list. Determine the hours of the day that are not flexible and write these down. (Class times, meetings, eating, sleeping, exercising, work, student organizations, church, volunteer activities, family time, social time). Then begin filling in each hour with times to study or things you want to do. As you complete each task, cross that task out. It feels so good putting a line through something you have completed.

Let Go

Sometimes we get caught up in making something perfect and this can cause us to fall behind and not complete our other obligations. A good way to deal with this is to set rules with yourself. For example, “I am going to read over my essay one more time and then I am going to turn it in.” There are always changes that can be made but reminding yourself that you have done your best and sticking to that reminder will help you manage your time better.

Set Time LimitsSet time limits

Set time limits for every task you undertake. Record a time log periodically to analyze how you use your time. Keep bad time habits out of your life. Remember to set time aside for yourself.

Institute a Quiet Hour

Institute a quiet hour in your day which is a block of uninterrupted time for you. This can be before bed or first thing in the morning. Finding consistent time for you will help you better manage your time.

Finish what you start

Develop the habit of finishing what you start. Do not jump from one thing to another, leaving a string of unfinished tasks behind you.