Ultimate Guide on Time Management for College Students

By Chris Landeros •  Updated: 10/03/21 •  9 min read

I won’t waste no time! Here’s how to get your schedule set and your life organized in 5 minutes!

We’re gonna use Google Calendar but feel free to use iCal, a planner, or even a piece of paper. Okay Start Your Timer NOW and get ready for the SparkNotes on how to master your time management!

What does Time Management for College Students Usually Look Like?

I usually advise students to make sure they aren’t taking on a heavy course load. Many students have to balance work and school, but if you have the choice do not spread yourself too thin with other activities unless you know you’re ready.

For example, during the first 2 quarters of college I focused solely on school and didn’t add anything else to my plate. I experimented with different study strategies until I got the grades I wanted, only exploring extracurriculars after gaining confidence in my academics.

Basically organizing your hours and taking control of your time so you don’t miss a single class or appointment! This ultimately frees up more time for yourself!

Quick Guide for Time Management for College Students

1. Use a calendar system

Whether it’s a physical planner or an app like Google Calendar, you have to organize your most important on it to time manage effectively. Put all your mandatory requirements like class, work, research, job interviews, or anything else you CAN NOT MISS. 

Ultimate Guide on Time Management for College Students

This lets you visualize the bare minimum of what you have to attend during the week.

2. Next input your estimated study hours.

Be specific with what you will do. For example, don’t just write “do chemistry book problems”, instead write something like “Chem Questions 1-20″ to assign clear study goals. If you haven’t yet figured how to take notes and study in class, here’s a detailed how to do this in our Best Note Taking Strategies article.

By doing this you are setting out realistic, accomplishable goals for yourself. Little by little, meeting these goals will ensure you are prepared for your next exam. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the simplicity of accomplishing these goals will help you feel on track.

3. Be careful of overestimating how many hours you need to study.

Say your goal is to finish 20 Chem questions before next lecture. If you allocate an excessive amount of time to this, say 5 hours, you run the risk of working at a slower pace to fit that time span.

Instead, if you know finishing 20 questions should only take 3 hours, then challenge yourself to make it work.

On the other hand, try and leave some wiggle room. Sometimes assignments are trickier and longer than expected. Aim to finish on time, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. Instead, you may want to allocate time later or on a different day to catch up on everything.

4. Finally, take control of your free time.

Having time to recharge is just as important as studying. At this point you should be able to visualize how much time during the week is unoccupied by commitments.

Hopefully, your schedule shows that you have a little more free time than you thought. I highly recommend scheduling free time every day as it will not only make you happy, but also help you be more productive when it comes time to grind again.

Use that time to gym, socialize, watch TV, or whatever leaves you feeling recharged.


3 Easy (and Detailed) Steps to Improve Time Management for College Students

Step 1: Copy and Paste Your Class Schedule

Get your schedule from your school’s websites (here’s mine):
Okay now copy and paste it onto your calendar!

Time Management for College Students. Getting organized on Google Calendar

This was my first week of college so I had a scholarship banquet and only a few classes. Don’t worry, I made sure to add my classes as you’ll see on my other schedule.

Time Management for College Students

Here’s a look into what a real college students schedule looks like. Notice how I listed every class out. If you look at what time management habits other college students practice, this should look similar.

Your schedule should look something like this after your done! I even added in my classes and tutoring sessions.

Don’t forget to add reminders! I like to set a reminder for 15 minutes before the class starts. Gives me enough time to skate or bike there in case I forget or get distracted.

Step 2: Add All your To-Dos

Here you add all your extracurriculars, your appointments, work shifts, everything. I also color code because the colors help keep track for me.

Time management for college students using google calendar

I know this looks overwhelming, but you don’t have to get crazy with your calendar. Time management is about making the most out of the hours in your day.

I’ve added my color scheme below:
Red: Midterm, Final, or Practice Exam Study Time
Pink: Study Time
Orange: Any Chem or Biochem class
Green: Any Bio Class
Yellow: Tutoring or Review Session
Turquoise: Meals
Light Blue: GE
Dark Blue: Work or meetings
Purple: Miscellaneous

Time management in college is all about organizing your weekly life. However, I’m insane and went overboard with my color coding.

So feel free to change the colors however you like. You can simplify your color scheme to something that looks like this:
Dark Blue: Class
Pink: Study Time
Yellow: Tutoring/Review Sessions
Purple: Eating/Work/Miscellaneous/Birthdays/etc

Step 3: Take Over Your Free Time

Time management for college students means taking back control of your free time

This is what my college time management schedule looks like. Yessir, colorful!

Now that you’ve got the basics down for your time management in college, take control of your free time.

With everything mapped out you can clearly see all your available free time. Basically all the empty space in your calendar is time reserved for you!

Go hang out with friends, call your mom, catch up on work.

Hopefully we got that all figured out in 5 minutes!

Bonus Time Efficient Tip

I also recommend supplementing your calendar with a To-Do List. Easy way to quickly visualize what needs to get done. For example:

Ultimate Guide on Time Management for College Students

This acts as a snapshot of my current responsibilities. Then, I would go and schedule each of these into my calendar so that I have a goal to accomplish them by a certain date.


3 of Best Hacks for Time Management. For College Students, these are Game Changing!

The All or None Time Management Rule

This rule lies at the center of being productive while balancing a busy lifestyle. The basic premise is, commit to focusing 100% on whatever activity is outlined in your calendar. If you have 4 hours allocated to studying, focus 100% on that. No checking your phone (unless on a scheduled break), no socializing, no watching TV… etc.

Then, once your calendar says it’s time for free time, focus 100% on that. Be present in the moment and enjoy it to the fullest.

The reason for this is it help maximize your efficiency at both studying and enjoying time off.

For example, if you are casually catching up on book problems while watching TV you’re doing it wrong. You won’t be able to work through your assignment as effectively – it’ll be slower and the material won’t stick well.

But you also won’t enjoy your show to the same extent – since you’re studying at the same time it won’t feel like a break and you won’t leave feeling recharged.

Don’t try and multi-task! Fully enjoying your free time is also key to avoiding burnout.

Minimizing Distractions

So how do we go about being 100% focused on any given task? Start with finding an environment that suits your needs. Need to catch up on lecture slides?

Quiet library room might be the move. Need to talk through difficult concepts? Team up with a few classmates and find a study room. I recommend capping study groups at 3 or max 4 because the larger the group, the easier it is to get off-topic.

Next, it helps immensely to tuck your phone away and put it on silent. Only check it on scheduled breaks, allowing you to remain focused during study time.

Speaking of which:

Learn to Schedule Breaks With The Pomodoro Technique

Our brains have limited attention spans. Nobody can focus on studying for hours on end and remain efficient. We need scheduled breaks. The Pomodoro technique builds in study intervals along with break intervals. Here’s how to do it:

  1. ID a study task
  2. Set a timer to 30 min
  3. Work on task with intense focus (minimize distractions)
  4. Take a 5-10 min break
  5. Repeat
  6. After 3-4 cycles take a longer break (20-30 min)

Experiment with different lengths of study time vs different lengths of break time to find what works for you. Overall this helps fight procrastination, build up momentum, and study for longer periods of time without burning out.

Ending The Day by 5pm

An awesome schedule hack to try is picking a time, say 5-6pm, and committing to taking the rest of the day off after. This means completing all your commitments before evening.

I tried this for a quarter and loved it, although it may not work for everyone. On days I worked 8am-5pm I found I still needed to study at night to keep up, so I switched plans. But if your schedule is a little more flexible it’s definitely worth a shot!

During the busiest quarter of my college career I was taking 20 units, working 18 hours per week, volunteering 4-6 hours per week, leading 2 student organizations, and conducting 6-9 hours of research per week. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to end the quarter with straight A’s due to highly effective time management & study skills. 


UPDATE: Nov. 8, 2021 – I still use these tips today in Med School while I attend Georgetown University. Trust! These tips are still game changers, even today!

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Chris Landeros

My name is Christopher Landeros but you can call me Chris. I started this website after struggling to find relatable and relevant info for first-gen college students. I kept learning the ropes and was wondering why there wasn't a resource to show you how to practically navigate college. So here I am, creating the most in-depth content for College Lighthouse.