Time Management Tips

Time Management Tips & Strategies for Students

October 2, 2020
Author: Sharon Kelly

How to get more out of your day

Do you find yourself constantly fighting a massive to-do list that never gets smaller or struggling with completing assignments on time? Sharon Kelly, VIU’s Success Coach, says conquering the to-do list starts with first knowing your priorities.


Determining your priorities

We all have 24 hours or 1,440 minutes a day. If you want to better manage your time, take a few moments to consider what is really important to you and then make some decisions regarding how you want to spend your day. Time flies by quickly. Invest wisely! Start by asking yourself this question:


How do you currently spend your time?

Try doing a time audit to figure out how you are currently spending your time. How much of your day are you currently spending on activities that are important to you? What is the single biggest thing that zaps your time and does not have significant value for you? Check out the time audit function on your smart devices for starters. How much time are you spending on social media? For me, that can be a huge source of time spent (or should I say sucked from my life) that does not have value for me. Some people watch cat videos. I tend to watch endless episodes of dry bar comedy. What about you?  


Putting priorities into action

Once we know what is important to us, the trick is to align our choices and actions with our priorities, and figure out how to best schedule them into our day.


Rocks and pebbles before sand

Have you ever seen that video where the guy fills the jar with sand and then tries to fit in all the rocks and pebbles and they don’t fit? Then he reverses the order and puts the rocks and pebbles in first and the sand somehow all magically fits in too?  

The moral of that story is to order your use of time by attending to rocks and pebbles first (the important and urgent) and then fit in the sand. The sand represents the small daily tasks we can fill our life with and that will take up all our time if we don’t stop and get clear on our priorities and re-order our use of time. 


Time your activities

Time management is really about self-management, which involves controlling what we do and when we do it. Daniel Pink, author of When, The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing explains that people tend to have different kinds of energy at different points in the day and he advocates for being aware of your energy levels so you can match up the demands of your day with the kinds of energy you possess at particular times of day. Most people, he says, tend to have a high level of both analytical power and vigilance in the morning. What are the best kinds of tasks for that kind of energy? 


Limit distractions

Distractions and obstacles are what gets us off our game and disrupts our well-made plans. If you take time to identify some possible obstacles or enticements that will distract you from your goal and you say IF this happens, THEN I will deal with it by doing X, Y or Z, you might be surprised at how this can enable you to effectively deal with yourself when you are tempted to let distractions take you off course. 



Routines become habit and habits are part of our unconscious operating system. It takes way less energy to perform something unconsciously and without deliberate attention. When we take the time to establish a routine to support our decisions around what’s important, it is easier to follow through and not have to continually make that decision over and over again.  

For example, if logging onto VIU Learn and studying is important, what habits and daily routines will you create to support you in spending the study time you need to be successful in your classes such as scheduling that event daily? Especially if your courses are asynchronous, I assure you that it will be MUCH easier when the going gets tough if you have some well-established routines and habits to support you in getting down to business. They will also help you establish boundaries around your work and your life and give shape to your days in a way that supports you in achieving what you have decided is most important to you. 

A great reference book for breaking bad habits and establishing new habits is a book by James Clear called Atomic Habits.



I would be remiss if I did not address what to do when your day doesn’t go as planned. Instead of being hard on yourself, try creating a habit of being as kind and supportive towards yourself as you most likely are towards a dear friend. Ask yourself, “Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today?” This approach of asking “did I do my best” versus did I get it done (yes or no) helps us stop us beating ourselves up if something has pulled us off track. It helps us progress in this messy quest of habit change without creating a downward cycle of self-criticism that leads to shame and anxiety. 


30-second recap

So, to recap, start with the things that are both important and urgent situated appropriately in your daily agenda. Second, identify your goals for the semester and then break them down into goals for the week. Try to, whenever possible, establish routines and strategies that will help you stay on track with managing your priorities. Once you have set your daily agenda up with tasks, to-dos and people to connect with, figure out a way to be accountable to yourself. Be kind and supportive and ask yourself something like, “Did I do my best to set and achieve my goals today?” This active and affirmative way of keeping tabs on ourself comes from Marshall Goldsmith in his book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming The Person You Want To Be.  


Sharon Kelly is VIU’s Success Coach. You can reach her at Sharon.Kelly@viu.ca. For more information about her services, visit Student Success Coaching and check out her podcast, Successful U.  

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