10 Your Use of Time

Sonji Nicholas

What you’ll learn to do: explain time management and factors that can help or hinder your ability to get your work done on time

Photo of a whiteboard calendar filled with handwriting

Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.

—William Shakespeare, playwright

By the end of this section, you will be able to describe time management concerns in college and identify effective steps for proper time management. You will compare time management styles and identify tips for success for each of the four time-management personality types. You will also evaluate techniques for creating an effective schedule and for prioritizing tasks. In addition, you will describe procrastination behaviors and strategies to avoid them and enhanced task and time-management techniques.

Uses of Time in Daily Life

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe time management concerns in college and identify effective strategies for proper time management

Consequences of Poor Time Management

Students often struggle with managing their time effectively in college. Many college administrators and faculty members who work directly with students are aware that a single mishap or a case of poor time management can set into motion a series of events that can seriously jeopardize a student’s success. In some of the more extreme instances, the student may even fail to graduate because of it.

Imagine that a student has an assignment due in a business class. They know that they should be working on it, but they aren’t quite in the mood. Instead they convince themselves that they should think a little more about what they need to complete the assignment and decide to do so while looking at social media or maybe playing a couple more rounds of a game on their phone. In a little while, they suddenly realize that they have become distracted and the evening has slipped away. They have little time left to work on their assignment. They stay up later than usual trying to complete the assignment but cannot finish it. Exhausted, they decide to work on it in the morning during the hours they had planned to study for their math quiz. They know there will not be enough time in the morning to do a good job on the assignment, so they decide to put together what they have and hope they will at least receive a passing grade.

At this point in our story, an evening of procrastination has not only resulted in a poorly done business class assignment, but now they are going to take a math quiz that they have not studied for. They will take the quiz tired from staying up too late the night before. Their lack of time management has now raised potential issues in two courses. Imagine that each of these issues also causes additional problems, such as earning low scores on both the assignment and the quiz. They will now have to work harder in both courses to bring their grades up. Any other problems they have with future assignments in either course could cause a domino effect of circumstances that begins to overwhelm them.

Let’s say this same student had the same academic responsibilities, but they were also working part time in the college bookstore and were asked to cover a shift for a coworker who was sick. Now they have less time to prepare their business assignment and study for their math quiz. How should they proceed? Without re-prioritizing their work or being flexible with their plan, they may end up in the same position, turning in a sub-par assignment and taking their math quiz without a full night’s sleep. Life doesn’t always go according to plan, so it’s important for students to learn how to not only manage their time effectively but to have a back-up plan for when the unexpected happens.

Time Management in College Is Different

If you have come straight from high school to college, you’ll notice that there is a significant difference in time management requirements because a lot of your schedule is left up to you. While it is true that there are assignment due dates and organized classroom activities, learning at the college level requires more than just the simple completion of work. It involves decision-making and the ability to evaluate information. Time management is best accomplished when you are an active partner in your own learning activities.

A student quietly reading her textbook.
Students may set aside specific times and specific places to study.

As an example of how this works, think about a college assignment that involves giving a classroom presentation, such as the Cornerstone Experience Group Project. To complete the assignment, you are given time to research and reflect on the information found. As a part of the assignment, you must reach your own conclusions and determine which information that you have found is best suited for the presentation. In addition, you must collaborate with your team members to incorporate your collective findings into one cohesive project.  While the date of the actual presentation and how long it will last are usually determined by the instructor, how much time you spend gathering information, the sources you use, and how you use them are left to you.

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Students offered their views on these three questions and the results are displayed in the graphs below.

  1. How difficult is it for you to keep track of multiple tasks over the course of a term?
  2. Do you use a particular app to help you manage your time?
  3. Rank the following in terms of what you would most like to improve regarding your time management skills.


How difficult is it for you to keep track of multiple tasks over the course of a term?

How difficult is it for you to keep track of multiple tasks over the course of a term? 10% of students said extremely easy, 33% said somewhat easy, 53% said somewhat difficult, 4% said extremely difficult.


Do you use a particular app to help you manage your time?

Do you use a particular app to help you manage your time? 34% said Google Calendar, 14% said I used my calendar on my phone, 30% said I use a paper / notebook planer, 4% said I use the calendar in my learning management system, 5% said I use another app or system, and 13% said I don't use any type of planner app.


Rank the following in terms of what you would most like to improve regarding your time management skills.

What you would most like to improve regarding your time management skills? 25% said my ability to predict how much time tasks will take, 21% said my ability to balance various obligations, 39% said my ability to avoid procrastination, and 15% said my ability to limit distractions.

One of the main goals of a college education is learning how to learn. To be successful in college, it’s imperative to be able to effectively manage your time.

In the following Alleyoop Advice video, Alleyoop (Angel Aquino) discusses what many students discover about college: there is a lot of free time—and just as many challenges to balance free time with study time.

You can view the transcript for “Alleyoop Advice: Time Management in College” here (opens in new window).

Effectively Manage Your Time

Schedule Your Assignments and Study Time

As you think about strategies to effectively manage your time, it is important to consider what tasks you need to complete. First review your syllabi to understand when assignments are due and when quizzes and tests are scheduled during the semester. Using a digital calendar is a great way to keep track of when your assignments are due and quizzes and tests are scheduled. Consider using the calendar included with your personal or school email, such as Google Calendar or the calendar app that comes preloaded on your phone such as Apple Calendar, to document these important dates. Working backwards, you can schedule time to work on specific assignments, breaking them down into manageable tasks and scheduling time to study for quizzes and tests.  You may also ask your instructor for additional resources such as Time Management Worksheets.

Now that you know when assignments are due and when quizzes and tests are scheduled along with scheduling time to work on these assignments and study for these assessments, you can now create to-do lists to manage your time. These lists can include a semester to-do list along with a daily to-do list based on what assignments, quizzes, and tests are on your monthly and weekly calendar.

Be Flexible

While having a clear understanding on when assignments are due and when quizzes and tests are scheduled, it is important to be flexible as we all know things will come up during the semester. These unforeseen circumstances mean you may need to increase the number of tasks on your daily to-do list to ensure everything that needs to be accomplished can be accomplished.

Have a Backup Plan

Finally, while being flexible is helpful, it is also important to have a backup plan in case an emergency arises. Have a plan in case you experience technical issues with your computer or phone or cannot access your online classroom because it is down for maintenance. In this case, you should know where you can go for help with technical issues such as the technology help desk at FSW Technology Support or going to the library to use a campus computer. It is important to download important documents from your online classroom at the start of the week to ensure that you have hard copies of documents if there are technical issues or scheduled down-time with the College’s computer system.

Ultimately, managing your time effectively requires that you develop a plan by including all important dates for assignments, quizzes, and tests on the calendar at the start of the semester. Schedule time to study and complete your assignments. Create daily and semester to-do lists to keep you on track, and build in backup plans to ensure you are flexible when you need to be. These safeguards will ensure you are managing your time well.

Identify Your Time Management Style

Learning Outcomes

  • Compare time management styles and identify tips for success for each of the four time-management personality types

Identify Your Time Management Style

Click into the activity below and answer the questions to identify whether your time management style more closely aligns with the early bird, the pressure cooker, the balancing act, or the improviser.

Time Management Style

Assessing Your Responses

Which of the four basic time-management personality types did you select the most? Which did you select the least? Do you feel like these selections match the student you have been in the past? Has your previous way of doing things worked for you, or do you think it’s time for a change? Remember, we can all always improve!

Learn more below about your tendencies. Review traits, strengths, challenges, and tips for success for each of the four time-management personality types.

The Early Bird

  • Traits: You like to make checklists and feel great satisfaction when you can cross something off of your to-do list. When it comes to assignments, you want to get started as soon as possible (and maybe start brainstorming before that) because it lets you stay in control.
  • Strengths: You know what you want and are driven to figure out how to achieve it. Motivation is never really a problem for you.
  • Challenges: Sometimes you can get more caught up in getting things done as quickly as possible and don’t give yourself enough time to really mull over issues in all of their complexity.
  • Tips for Success: You’re extremely organized and on top of your schoolwork, so make sure you take time to really enjoy learning in your classes. Remember, school isn’t all deadlines and checkboxes—you also have the opportunity to think about big-picture intellectual problems that don’t necessarily have clear answers.

The Balancing Act

  • Traits: You’re naturally gifted with keeping things balanced. Maybe it’s a skill that you have developed over time; in any case, you should have the basic organizational skills to succeed in any class, as long as you keep your balance.
  • Strengths: Your strength really lies in your ability to be well-rounded. You may not always complete assignments perfectly every time, but you are remarkably consistent and usually manage to do very well in classes.
  • Challenges: Because you’re so consistent, sometimes you can get in a bit of a rut and begin to coast in class rather than really challenging yourself.
  • Tips for Success: Instead of simply doing what works, use each class as an opportunity for growth by engaging thoughtfully with the material and constantly pushing the boundaries of your own expectations for yourself.

The Pressure Cooker

  • Traits: You always get things done and almost always at the last minute.
  • Strengths: You work well under pressure, and when you do finally sit down to accomplish a task, you can sit and work for hours. In these times, you can be extremely focused and shut out the rest of the world in order to complete what’s needed.
  • Challenges: You sometimes use your ability to work under pressure as an excuse to procrastinate. Sure, you can really focus when the deadline is tomorrow, but is it really the best work you could produce if you had a couple of days of cushion?
  • Tips for Success: Give yourself small, achievable deadlines and stick to them. Make sure they are goals that you really could (and would) achieve in a day. Then don’t allow yourself to make excuses. You’ll find that it’s actually a lot more enjoyable to not be stressed out when completing schoolwork. Who would have known?

The Improviser

  • Traits: You frequently wait until the last minute to do assignments, but it’s because you’ve been able to get away with this habit in many classes.
  • Strengths: You think quickly on your feet, and while this is a true strength, it also can be a crutch that prevents you from being really successful in a class.
  • Challenges: As the saying goes, old habits die hard. If you find that you lack a foundation of discipline and personal accountability, it can be difficult to change, especially when the course material becomes challenging or you find yourself struggling to keep up with the pace of the class.
  • Tips for Success: The good news is you can turn this around! Make a plan to organize your time and materials in a reasonable way, and really stick with it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for help, but be sure to do it before, rather than after, you fall behind.

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Time Management Techniques: Create a Schedule

Learning Outcomes

  • Evaluate techniques for creating an effective schedule

a woman reads her laptop with a cell phone in her hand

Create a Schedule

Before we discuss evaluating techniques for creating an effective schedule, take a minute to think about your own plans for the upcoming week. If you have a job, you have a schedule of your shifts or your projects. If you have kids, maybe you have to help them organize their school schedule and extracurricular activities. If you live near members of your family, such as your parents or grandparents, maybe you offer them assistance with doctor’s appointments or errands. You get the picture. Your schedule is not just your own. Now that you are a college student, you have one more schedule to add to the list. What you may think of as your schedule is actually a combination of many plans and commitments. There are only so many hours in the day, so what are some techniques for creating an effective school schedule?

Scheduling Study Time Outside of Class

It’s important to keep in mind that being a student is not just about the time that you spend attending class meetings; you also have to schedule time to study, read, and complete assignments and projects. Signing up for classes is just the start of planning your schedule. For each credit hour that you are enrolled in college, you should plan on dedicating 2-3 hours outside of class for studying in that subject area.

Where do you start? Begin with reading your syllabus. Search for important due dates for assignments and projects. Will you have quizzes and tests? Is there a group project? Do you have online discussion board posts assigned in this class? If so, when do you have to post? When do you have to respond?

Now that you have the syllabus and the list of dates, where will you keep track of all these assignments? You might think that you can use the syllabus, but consider that you are taking other classes.

Using a Calendar

You have a lot to manage between your personal life and your school schedule. Do you keep a calendar on your phone? Do you prefer a paper calendar where you can cross out the days and take notes? Do you like to keep a calendar on your laptop? How you keep track of your schedule is up to you.

Let’s say you’re going to use a calendar app, such as Google Calendar, on your phone because you can synchronize your work calendar and your family’s calendars. Synchronizing gives you a chance to see everything that you need to do at a glance. You can also set notifications so the calendar app will help you remember important dates and obligations.

A screenshot of a Google Calendar showing events Sunday through Saturday. The events are color coded to show what category of events (Class time, social life, etc.) each event belongs to.
An online calendar is a very useful tool for keeping track of classes, meetings, and other events. Most learning management systems contain these features or you can use a calendar application.

Competing Priorities

Go through each syllabus for all your classes and make a note for each assignment, quiz, test, and project for each course. Do you have days where two different classes have an assignment due? Are there days when two or more classes have a quiz or a test? Do you have midterms on the same day? Do you have group projects to plan for throughout the term? Will these projects require arranging meeting times with your group’s members? Some weeks may be a bit more stressful and challenging than others. Having a big-picture view of the entire term can help you get a sense of how to manage your time. This scheduling may seem tedious and time-consuming, but keep in mind that you only have to do this once a term.

Important School Dates

Now that you have your course schedule planned, what else do you need to plan for as a student? You may also want to take note of important dates at your college, such as the following:

  • When is tuition due?
  • What is the last day to drop a course?
  • When is finals week?
  • When are your own final exams?
  • What is the last day to make changes to your grade options?
  • When do you register for the next term?

You should review the official FSW Calendar found on the FSW website.  Having these important dates at your fingertips will help you manage your time.

Holidays and Personal Life

And last but not least, now that you have all your student obligations recorded, let’s spend some time thinking about holidays and personal obligations. Are there holiday breaks during your academic term? Will you use those holidays for recreational activities, working extra hours at your job, or relaxing? You might also want to record important family holidays such as birthdays or religious holidays. It’s important to plan for joyful experiences that will help you decompress from the challenges of being a student.

Not all of these suggestions work for everyone, and part of being a college student is figuring out what works best for you. We have 168 hours in our week, so what will a week look like for you? The University of Pittsburgh has a helpful Interactive Time Management Calculator you can use to get a visual aid for how you spend the hours in your day.

Spend a few minutes entering the time that you spend each week. Where will you spend most of your time?

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Get Better at Prioritizing

Learning Outcomes

  • Evaluate techniques for prioritizing tasks

Get Better at Prioritizing

Due dates are important. Set your short and long-term goals accordingly. Ask yourself the following:

  • What needs to get done today?
  • What needs to get done this week?
  • What needs to get done by the end the first month of the semester?
  • What needs to get done by the end the second month of the semester?
  • What needs to get done by the end of the semester?

Prioritization: Self-Management of What You Do and When You Do It

Prioritization is a key component to time management. Prioritizing tasks requires you to decide which tasks are most important and in what order you plan to complete them. This process depends on a number of factors, including how important that task is to your goals and values, what is required for each task, and whether or not you need to complete that task to move on to other items in your to-do list.

This next section provides some insight into prioritizing and how to better understand the factors that contribute to prioritization.

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How to Prioritize

The enemy of good prioritization is panic, or at least making decisions based on strictly emotional reactions. It can be easy to immediately respond to a problem as soon as it pops up without thinking of the consequences of that reaction and how it might impact other priorities. It is natural for us to want to take care of a stressful situation as soon as we can. But when it comes to juggling multiple problems or tasks to complete, prioritizing them first can mean the difference between completing everything satisfactorily and completing nothing at all.

How Important Is this Task?

The importance of a task can be measured in many different ways. You might measure the importance of a school assignment by how many points it’s worth, when it’s due, or whether it’s for a class you’re doing well in or doing poorly in. You will certainly have other priorities in your life beyond school work. Perhaps the most important task for the day is making the deadline for a job application or getting your grandmother to her doctor’s appointment. Truly understanding the importance of each task can take some time, and may change depending on the day, but try to keep your long-term goals and personal values in mind as you evaluate the importance of your daily tasks, and you’ll be able to better evaluate your priorities with time.

What Are the Requirements of This Task?

You need to understand the requirements of each task to make a good decision about prioritizing your workload. If you have multiple assignments to complete and you assume one of those assignments will only take an hour, you may decide to put it off until the others are finished. If you find, once you begin the assignment, that there are several extra components that you did not account for and the time to complete will be four times as long as you estimated, you won’t be able to finish your assignment, or you’ll stay up late or have to cancel other plans you’d made when you thought your assignment would be done in an hour.

Are Other Tasks Depending on this Task?

Or, one of the assignments may be dependent on the results of another—like participating in a study and then writing a report on the results. If you are not aware that one assignment depends upon the completion of the other before you begin, you could inadvertently do the assignments out of order and have to start over. Because of situations like this, it is critically important to understand exactly what needs to be done to complete a task before you determine its priority.

Many learning activities have multiple components and sometimes they must occur in a specific order. Some elements may not only be dependent on the order they are completed, but can also be dependent on how they are completed. To illustrate, we will analyze a task that is usually considered to be a simple one: attending a class session. In this analysis, we will look at not only what must be accomplished to get the most out of the experience, but also at how each element is dependent upon others and must be done in a specific order. The graphic below shows the interrelationship between the different activities, many of which might not initially seem significant enough to warrant mention, but it becomes obvious that other elements depend upon them when they are listed out this way.

See image caption for link to appropriate alternative text.
Many of your learning activities are dependent on others, and some are the gateways to other steps. Access the text only version of this image here.

As you can see from the graphic above, even a task as simple as going to class can be broken down into a number of different elements that have a good deal of dependency on other tasks. One example is preparing for the class lecture by reading materials ahead of time in order to make the lecture and any complex concepts easier to follow. If you did it the other way around, you might miss opportunities to ask questions or receive clarification on the information presented during the lecture.

Understanding what you need to do and when you need to do it can be applied to any task, no matter how simple or how complex. Knowing what you need to do and planning for it can go a long way toward success and preventing unpleasant surprises.

Task Urgency

To better see how things may need to be prioritized, some people make a list of the tasks they need to complete and then arrange the tasks in a quadrant map based on importance and task urgency. Traditionally, this map is called the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. Before becoming the 34th president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower served as the Allied forces supreme commander during World War II and said he used this technique to better prioritize the things he needed to get done.

Two by two matrix labeled urgent, non urgent, and important, not important, Urgent and Important: paper due tomorrow and apply for internship by deadline. Not urgent and important: exam next week and flue shot. Urgent and Not Important: amazon sale and laundry. Not urgent and not important: check social and TV show.
The Eisenhower Matrix can help organize priorities and ensure that you focus on the correct tasks.

Eisenhower Matrix Activity

Make a list of things you need or want to do today and then draw your own version of the grid above. Write each item in one of the four squares; choose the square that best describes it based on its urgency and its importance. When you have completed writing each of the tasks in its appropriate square, you will see a prioritization order of your tasks. Obviously, those listed in the Important and Urgent square will be the things you need to finish first. After that will come things that are “important but not urgent,” followed by “not important, but urgent,” and finally “not urgent and not important.”

Who Is Driving Your Tasks?

Many of your tasks are being driven by a number of different individuals in your life. These people are likely not only unaware of the other things you need to do, but they often have goals that are in conflict with your other tasks. This means that different instructors, your manager at work, or even your friends may be trying to assert their needs into your priorities. An example of this conflict might be a boss that would like you to work a few hours of overtime, but you were planning on using that time to do research for a paper.

Taking the time to assess how others may be influencing your available time can be an important part of time management. In some cases, keeping others informed about your priorities may help avert possible conflicts (e.g., letting your boss know you will need time on a certain evening to study, letting your friends know you plan to do a journal project on Saturday but can do something on Sunday, etc.).

It will be important to be aware of how others can drive your priorities and for you to listen to your own good judgment. In essence, time management in college is as much about managing all the elements of your life as it is about managing time for class and to complete assignments.

Making the Tough Decision When It Is Needed

Occasionally, regardless of how much you have planned or how well you have managed your time, events arise where it becomes almost impossible to accomplish everything you need to by the time required. While this is very unfortunate, it simply cannot be helped. As the saying goes, “things happen.”

Finding yourself in this kind of situation is when prioritization becomes most important. You may find yourself in the uncomfortable position of only being able to complete one task or another in the time given. When this occurs with college assignments, the dilemma can be extremely stressful, but it is important to not feel overwhelmed by the anxiety of the situation so that you can make a carefully calculated decision based on the value and impact of your choice.

Priority Conflicts

As an illustration, imagine a situation where you think you can only complete one of two assignments that are both important and urgent, and you must make a choice of which one you will finish and which one you will not. This is when it becomes critical to understand all the factors involved. While it may seem that whichever assignment is worth the most points to your grade is how you make the choice, there are actually a number of other attributes that can influence your decision in order to make the most of a bad situation. For example, one of the assignments may only be worth a minimal number of points toward your total grade, but it may be foundational to the rest of the course. Not finishing it, or finishing it late, may put other future assignments in jeopardy as well. Or the instructor for one of the courses might have a late assignment policy that is more forgiving—something that would allow you to turn in the work a little late without too much of a penalty.

If you find yourself in a similar predicament, the first step is to try to find a way to get everything finished, regardless of the challenges. If that simply cannot happen, the next immediate step would be to communicate with your instructors to let them know about the situation. They may be able to help you decide on a course of action, or they may have options you had not thought of. Only then can you make the choices about prioritizing in a tough situation.

The key here is to make certain you are aware of and understand all the ramifications so you can make the best decision when the situation dictates you make a hard choice among priorities.

Stop Procrastinating

Learning outcomes

  • Describe procrastination behaviors and strategies to avoid them

Procrastination Checklist

Do any of the following descriptions apply to you?

  • My paper is due in two days and I haven’t really started writing it yet.
  • I’ve had to pull an all-nighter to get an assignment done on time.
  • I’ve turned in an assignment late or asked for an extension when I really didn’t have a good excuse not to get it done on time.
  • I’ve worked right up to the minute an assignment was due.
  • I’ve underestimated how long a reading assignment would take and didn’t finish it in time for class.
  • I’ve relied on the Internet for information (like a summary of a concept or a book) because I didn’t finish the reading on time.

If these sound like issues you’ve struggled with in the past, you might want to consider whether you have the tendency to procrastinate and how you want to deal with it in your future classes. You’re already spending a lot of time, energy, and money on the classes you’re taking—don’t let all of that go to waste!

What Is Procrastination?

Simply put, procrastination is the act of delaying some task that needs to be completed. It is something we all do to greater and lesser degrees. For most people, a little minor procrastination is not a cause for great concern. But there are situations where procrastination can become a serious problem with a lot of risk when it becomes a chronic habit, when there are a number of tasks to complete and little time, or when the task being avoided is very important.

Because we all procrastinate from time to time, we usually do not give it much thought, let alone think about its causes or effects. Ironically, many of the psychological reasons for why we avoid a given task also keep us from using critical thinking to understand why procrastination can be extremely detrimental, and in some cases difficult to overcome. To succeed at time management, you must understand some of the hurdles that may stand in your way, including procrastination.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

There are several reasons we procrastinate, and a few of them may be surprising. On the surface we often tell ourselves it is because the task is something we do not want to do, or we make excuses that there are other things more important to do first. In some cases this may be true, but there can be other contributors to procrastination that have their roots in our physical well-being or our own psychological motivations.

We Don’t Have Energy

Sometimes we just do not feel up to a certain task. It might be due to discomfort, an illness, or just a lack of energy. If this is the case, it is important to identify the cause and remedy the situation. It could be something as simple as a lack of sleep or improper diet. Regardless, if a lack of energy is continually causing you to procrastinate to the point where you are beginning to feel stress over not getting things done, you should definitely assess the situation and address it.

We Can’t Focus

Much like having low physical energy, a lack of mental focus can be a cause of procrastination. This lack of focus can be due to mental fatigue, being disorganized, or allowing yourself to be distracted by other things. Again, like low physical energy, this is something that may have farther-reaching effects in your life that go beyond the act of simply avoiding a task. If your lack of focus is recurring, you should properly assess the situation.

We’re Afraid of Failing

This cause of procrastination is not one that many people are aware of, especially if they are the person avoiding tasks because of it. To put it in simple words, it is a bit of trickery we play on ourselves by avoiding a situation that makes us psychologically uncomfortable. Even though they may not be consciously aware of it, the person facing the task is afraid that they cannot do it or will not be able to do it well. If they fail at the task, it will make them appear incompetent to others or even to themselves. Where the self-trickery comes in is by avoiding the task. In the person’s mind, they can rationalize that the reason they failed at the task was because they ran out of time to complete it, not that they were incapable of doing it in the first place.

It is important to note that a fear of failure may not have anything to do with the actual ability of the person suffering from the fear. They could be quite capable of doing the task and performing well, but it is the fear that holds them back.

Think about it

Consider something right now that you may be procrastinating about. Can you identify the cause?

The Effects of Procrastination

  • Loss of time: When we fail to use time effectively to complete a task, we may lose out on time.
  • Failing to achieve goals: Completing a task leads to achieving a goal. These goals can be large or small (e.g., from doing well on an assignment to being hired for a good job). When we procrastinate on the tasks that bring us closer to our goals, we risk not achieving those goals.
  • Self-esteem drain: Procrastinating can lead us to become frustrated and disappointed in ourselves for not getting important tasks completed. Over the long term, we can begin to develop a low opinion of ourselves and our own abilities. We begin to suffer from low self-esteem and might even begin to feel like there is something wrong with us. This thinking can lead to other increasingly negative mental factors such as anger and depression.
  • Stress: Procrastination causes stress and anxiety, which may seem odd since the act of procrastination is often about avoiding a task we think will be stressful in itself! Anyone who has noticed that nagging feeling when they know there is something else they should be doing is familiar with this.

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Strategies to Combat Procrastination

Below are some effective strategies for overcoming procrastination:

  1. Keep your studying “bite sized”: When confronted with 150 pages of reading or 50 problems to solve, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Try breaking it down: What if you decide that you will read for 45 minutes or that you will solve 10 problems? That sounds much more manageable.
  2. Limit distractions: Turn off your phone, close your chat windows, and block distracting websites. The best advice we’ve ever heard is to treat your studying as if you’re in a movie theater—just turn your phone off.
  3. Set up a reward system: If you read for 40 minutes, you can check your phone for five minutes. But keep in mind that reward-based systems only work if you stick to it.
  4. Choose a study spot: Study in a place reserved for studying ONLY. Your bedroom may have too many distractions (or temptations, such as taking a nap), so it may be best to avoid it when you’re working on school assignments.
  5. Use checklists: Make your incremental accomplishments visible. Some people take great satisfaction and motivation from checking items off a to-do list. Be very specific when creating this list, and clearly describe each task one step at a time.
  6. Be accountable—tell someone else: A strong motivational tool is to hold ourselves accountable is by telling someone else we are going to do something and when we are going to do it. This tool may not seem like it would be very effective, but on a psychological level we feel more compelled to do something if we tell someone else.

Strategies for Time and Task Management

Learning outcomes

  • Describe enhanced task and time management techniques

Over the years, people have developed a number of different strategies to manage time and tasks.

What follows here are three unique strategies that have become staples of time management. While not everyone will find that all three strategies work for them in every situation, enough people have found them beneficial to pass them along with high recommendations.

Daily Top Three

The idea behind the Daily Top Three approach is that you determine which three things are the most important to finish that day and these become the tasks that you complete. It is a very simple technique that is effective because each day you are finishing tasks and removing them from your list. Even if you took one day off a week and completed no tasks on that particular day, a daily top three strategy would have you finishing 18 tasks in the course of a single week. That is a good amount of things crossed off your list.

Think about it

Think about what would be your top three tasks for today? What would you have on the list tomorrow?

A kitchen timer that looks like a tomato.
The Pomodoro Technique is named after a type of kitchen timer, but you can use any clock or countdown timer. (Marco Verch /Flickr / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo. The basic concept is to use a timer to set work intervals that are followed by a short break. The intervals are usually about 25 minutes long and are called pomodoros, which comes from the Italian word for tomato because Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to keep track of the intervals.

In the original technique, there are six steps:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the timer to the desired interval.
  3. Work on the task.
  4. When the timer goes off, put a check mark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four check marks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to Step 1 or 2 (whichever is appropriate).
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your check mark count to zero, and then go to Step 1 or 2.

One benefit of this method is that it is derived from quick cycles of work and short breaks. This helps reduce mental fatigue and the lack of productivity caused by it. Another benefit is that it tends to encourage people to break tasks down to things that can be completed in about 25 minutes, which is something that is usually manageable. It is much easier to squeeze in three 25-minute sessions of work time during the day than it is to set aside a 75-minute block of time.

The Pomodoro Technique: Decide on the task to be done, set a timer for 25 minutes, work on the task until the timer rings, take a short 5 minute break. Repeat this sequence a total of four times, and then take a 15 to 30 minute break.
The Pomodoro Technique contains five defined steps.

Eat the Frog

A frog stares directly into the camera.Of our three quick strategies, Eat the Frog probably has the strangest name and may sound the least inviting. The name comes from a famous quote, attributed to Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Eat the Frog is also the title of a best-selling book by Brian Tracy that deals with time management and avoiding procrastination.

How this applies to time and task management is based on the concept that if a person takes care of the biggest or most unpleasant task first, everything else will be easier after that.

Although stated in a humorous way, there is a good deal of truth in this. First, we greatly underestimate how much worry can impact our performance. If you are continually distracted by anxiety over a task you are dreading, it can affect the task you are working on at the time. Second, not only will you have a sense of accomplishment and relief when the task you are concerned with is finished and out of the way, but other tasks will seem lighter and not as difficult.

Try It


Enchanced strategies: application

Over the next two weeks, try each of these three methods to see which ones might work for you. Is there one you favor over the others? Might each of these three approaches serve you better in different situations or with different tasks? Do you have a creative alternative or possibly a way to use some combination of these techniques?

In addition to these three strategies, you could also develop whole new approaches from suggestions found earlier in this chapter. For example, you could apply some of the strategies for avoiding procrastination or for setting appropriate priorities and see how they work in combination with these techniques or on their own.

The key is to find which system works best for you.


active partner: the self-regulating status that a college student assumes in contrast to the ready-made schedules of high school, which entails greater responsibility for managing one’s own time within the parameters set by one’s teachers

daily top three: the time management strategy that requires making a list of three top priorities to achieve each day

eat the frog: the time management strategy that suggests we should get the hardest task done first, which reduces anxiety and makes subsequent tasks seem easier

pomodoro technique: the time management strategy that uses a timer to break large tasks into smaller, more manageable segments

prioritization: the process of deciding which tasks are the most important and in what order we plan to complete them

procrastination:  the act of delaying some task that needs to be completed, often for subtle psychological reasons that are worth understanding and addressing

synchronization: the practice of checking for schedule alignment between your student responsibilities and other areas of your life such as family and work commitments

task urgency: the degree of importance we ascribe to different tasks, a measure that helps us place them in an appropriate order

time management style: one’s particular way of organizing workload in accordance with deadlines and other requirements



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