Time Management for Online Students

A number of factors play a role in online students’ success. One crucial factor is the ability to balance professional and family responsibilities against educational commitments.

A 2019 study by education researchers Richelle V. Adams and Erik Blair found that learners who successfully integrate their studies into their day-to-day lives not only have lower levels of anxiety, they also tend to perform better academically. The study found that time management plays a critical role in helping students plan, structure, and control their activities — and how students perceive their ability to manage their time correlates positively with academic success.

Whether you’re new to online learning or have enrolled in online classes in the past, fine-tuning your time management skills can help you get the most from your education. Below are some practical time management tips for online students.

Create a Schedule

Keeping track of reading assignments, coursework deadlines, and test schedules in your head can feel like a fool’s errand. Using a planner or scheduling app to break down your responsibilities can help. For example, if you have a term paper due in three weeks, use your calendar to map out dates and times for various tasks, such as conducting research, writing an outline, and finalizing your draft.

A college student doing homework in the park.

Setting a schedule will not only help you manage your time; it can help ensure that important deadlines and dates don’t fall through the cracks. If structure isn’t your strong suit, you can help take control of your time by using a few simple strategies.

Perform a time audit: To manage your time effectively, you need to be aware of how you spend it. For a week, track your hours each day to see how much time you spend on different tasks, then look at ways to reduce wasted time. If you spend an hour each night making dinner, consider preparing and freezing multiple meals once or twice a week. Prepping grab-and-go meals and snacks can help you gain time back each day.

Establish daily and weekly priorities: As you look at your week, map out fixed and flexible commitments. While a weekly Monday morning conference call may be a fixed commitment, grocery shopping, course reading, and exercising can be more flexible. Listing your fixed, must-complete tasks can help you decide when to schedule other tasks such as working on class assignments.

Invest in a planner: If you prefer to keep tangible, written reminders of your commitments, buy a weekly planner. If you work better in the digital realm, try apps such as Any.Do, a calendar app that stores your tasks, lists, and reminders in one place; and ZenDay, which organizes tasks and helps you manage work/life balance.

Establish (and Stick to) a Routine

Committing to a routine can help you stay on track. People who make a habit of going to the gym each morning before work often find they are more likely to keep up with their fitness goals. The same holds true for studying. Establishing habits can ensure you’re not scrambling to “find” a time to study or write a paper, because that time is already built into your week. Sticking to a schedule can also ensure that study time doesn’t get lost in the mix of a hectic day.

Set Goals for Study Sessions

Another time management tip for online students involves setting goals for study sessions. Each session should have a goal designed to help you reach a task-related milestone, such as completing research for a project or prepping flash cards to help you study for an exam. Setting goals will not only keep you accountable, it can help you meet deadlines.

For example, your Monday study session might be dedicated to outlining an essay, while your Tuesday session might be spent writing the first half of the essay. Other study goals might include finding a certain number of sources for a research paper, reading a set number of textbook chapters, or completing a set of practice test questions.

Start Assignments Early

Keeping a calendar and setting daily and weekly to-do lists can also help ward off procrastination. Be sure to schedule time to work on long-term assignments to avoid rushing work at the last minute. Starting assignments early can bring many benefits:

  • You’ll have buffer time should something come up (a broken computer, a sick pet, a surprise work deadline).
  • You’ll have time to change direction if you’re not happy with an assignment’s progress.
  • You’ll have extra time to proofread and edit your work.
  • You’ll be more likely to produce a higher-quality final product.
  • You’ll feel less stressed.

Work on One Thing at a Time

A study published by the American Psychological Association found that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40%. Online learners are likely to find they’re more efficient when they fully focus on one assignment or one class session at a time. When you start to organize your daily and weekly tasks, organize them according to their level of importance, and complete each task before moving on to the next.

Practice Makes Perfect

Remember that learning and refining time management skills is a lifelong process. Practicing sound time management will not only help set you up for success throughout your academic career, it’s a transferable skill that’s valuable in any profession.

Recommended Reading

How to Stand Out as a Career Nomad

College Student Wellness Guide for Remote Learners

Know Your Worth: How to Negotiate — or Renegotiate — Your Salary


American Psychological Association, Multitasking: Switching Costs Any.do

The Balance Small Business, “Best Planner Apps”

Canva, How to Create an Effective Schedule

Education, “7 Reasons to Finish Assignments Early”

EducatioData.org, Online Education Statistics

Grade Power Learning, “10 Ways to Improve Time Management for Students”

Higher Education Review, “Importance of Time Management Skills for Students”

Inside Track, “Time Management Tops List of Challenges for Online Students”

Medium, “10 Time Management Tips for Students”

Sage Publishing, “Impact of Time Management Behaviors on Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Performance”

Thinslices, ZenDay Is a New Level for Time Management Apps

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