10 time management tips for balancing work and study

If you are studying for your AAT qualification, you may be combining working with studying, or you may be doing a full-time course. Either way, it is important to make the most of the hours you have available.

Combining study alongside work and other responsibilities can certainly be a challenge, say Karen Meager and John McLachlan – Co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy.

“Complete a time audit to understand your use of time better, what you deem to be important, where you waste time and why you might struggle to make decisions or stick to a to-do list. This will be key while studying but will also help you in your new career or post-qualification to hit the ground running.”

“Time management is crucial for students and is linked to personal effectiveness. In these times, particularly since we’ve emerged from lockdown, it’s critical to be able to manage your time and tasks,” says Liz SebagMontefiore, career coach at HR consultancy 10Eighty.

In order to improve, you need to find out where your time really goes and then use The Eisenhower Matrix to understand Urgency and Importance. This exercise, which helps you establish what your priorities are and how to manage your time more effectively, will help you to work out what’s critical vs what’s a nice to have and help you prioritise. 

“To effectively manage the time spent preparing for exams, I believe using technology tools to work smarter will help – setting aside time to study versus working, providing spaces in the day for ‘unforeseen’ tasks,” she adds.

Understand how to say no

There are a number of common mistakes made which cause poor time management. Replying to emails can take up a lot of time and it’s important to manage yourself in the email environment, managing time effectively and prioritising critical activities. Also learning how to focus on priorities, even when you are frequently interrupted.

Here are our top ten tips from the experts on how to manage your time most effectively:

1.Find your best study time

Organise everything you need to do in order of priority, says Lee Biggins, CEO and Founder of CV-Library, an independent job board.

“Map out your assignment deadlines, test and exams on a planner. Use the same planner for all of your commitments. Schedule where you can fit your study time in around your work commitments. Colour coding your entries for each category: work, study, personal and leisure can often help. Consider what time will work best for you to study. Everyone is different, some people feel more productive first thing, others like to study in the evening and keep weekends free for self-care and leisure activities. It’s up to you, so take some time to think about when you work at your best – it might not be when you think.”

2. Organise your study materials

Keep important information in one place: Think about all the information related to your studies or work that you need, says Michelle Don Durbin, SVP of Marketing at Evernote. Can you see it all at a glance, or is it spread out over multiple apps, websites, files, and scraps of paper? Ideally you want to keep everything together as much as possible so you don’t have to switch between countless sources of info. This will help you feel more organised and productive and ultimately save you time.

3. Set a time limit for each task and use “time chunking”

Everyone works in different chunks of time. Some people think in the short term, like minutes and hours, but others prefer weeks, months or years. Understanding your preferred chunking method equips you to make best use of the time available.

“For example, some might prefer to think about the incremental tasks and how these build up each day, but others would prefer to think about larger modules they want to complete by the end of a week,” says Karen Meager. “Whatever the focus, understanding the way you chunk time will keep you more motivated –  a short term thinker might lose motivation thinking about a week or month long task.”

By giving yourself a set amount of time to finish something, it’s much easier to cut down on procrastination or outside distractions, says Michelle Don Durbin. Because this time limit is self-imposed, the pressure to finish “on time” feels less like a hard deadline and more like a fun way to challenge yourself. 

4. Create a study schedule

From the moment you receive your deadline or exam date, create a study schedule consisting of bitesize sessions (around one hour each) a couple of times per week.

“Studying little and often will be much more effective than cramming at the last minute. It’s helpful to put these into a calendar and set a reminder on your phone so that you can make sure that you stick to your schedule,” says Michelle Bibby, Head of Pedagogy at The City of Liverpool College.

Map out your studying using the full time allocated before your exam or deadline. Your deadline might feel ages away but researching and planning your work can take much longer than anticipated, so it’s important you are fully aware of how much time you will need so that you can break this down into manageable chunks across the weeks, she says.  

5. Visualise your long-term goals

Despite the difficulties you may be facing at the moment, keep in mind the reasons why you’re doing the work you’re doing, says Dr Dominique Thompson, an award-winning GP and young people’s mental health expert with over 20 years of clinical experience caring for students. 

“In terms of proven effective revision techniques, it is much better to take regular breaks, such as 10 minutes off for every 1-2 hours of study (outside if you can) or revising in different locations to keep yourself alert and prepare your mind for the new locations of the exams themselves,” she says.

Use visual aids to sketch out your text and learning, don’t try just to memorise stuff, or copy it out- it’s nowhere near as effective as reading your notes and then writing out what you recall without looking at the text.

5 more tips for great time management by Liz SebagMontefiore, career coach at HR consultancy 10Eighty

  1. Learn how to create some “me time”, and still achieve your priorities
  2. Have the confidence to push back on tasks and/or being comfortable to say ‘no’
  3. Avoid procrastination
  4. Understand your personal time wasters and minimise them
  5. Make a plan at the start of the week (which can be tweaked as the days go by) and block out what you’ll do and when. It’s also important to have gaps for the unexpected; and be realistic as to what you can achieve. 

More information:

Student accommodation platform, Mystudenthalls.com, teamed up with Dr Dominique to launch ‘Student well-being: a guide to building better mental health in university’ in an effort to help students of every age navigate the increased pressures brought about by the pandemic. 

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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