How to find your most effective time to study

Time can be our best friend or worst enemy. 

Most of us overestimate what we can do in day, but underestimate what we can do in a month or a year. So here’s the thing: by taking the initiative, we can turn time into an ally.

A few simple adjustments are all that’s necessary to start getting the most out of the day. If you identify quiet moments and use them wisely, your studies as a distance learner can fit around even the busiest of schedules.

Step 1: decide what’s important 

Do you actively plan your time? Most people don’t.

Writing out a to-do list is not the same thing as intentionally deciding how much time you will devote to a particular goal or activity.

“Most people don’t have a clue how many commitments they’ve signed up for and how much time they cost,” says David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity.

“They’re in a constant emergency mode, trying to solve problems as they happen. Instead, you need to sit down on a weekly basis to plan out your work so that deadlines don’t overwhelm you.”

Solution 1

Keeping a time log is a good way to set priorities. During a typical work day, note down what you’re doing during specific time slots. The next day, rate each activity on a scale from one to three, with one indicating an activity that’s a great use of your time, and three representing time-wasting activities. Focus on moments you spend staring at your phone or aimlessly watching TV, and transform them into study time.

Solution 2

Try the time management matrix. You basically take all the things you need or plan to do, and put them into one of four boxes.

  1. Urgent and important
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Urgent but not important
  4. Neither important or urgent

Box number one – urgent and important – are the tasks to which we give most of our attention. But the trouble is, we are at best reacting, and worst fire-fighting.

It’s box 2 – containing the important stuff that doesn’t have to be done right away –  where we can get the life changing breakthroughs.

Because they don’t give instant gratification, we tend to ignore them. But this ‘box’ is usually home to networking, relationship-building, planning, preparation and the like.

Read more about this time management approach.

Step 2: pick your ideal study moment

When are you at your best? Is this when you study?

“Getting up earlier and spending an hour studying at the beginning of the day before going to work is one of the best strategies,” says Elizabeth Saunders, CEO of time management coaching company Real Life E.

“Many think that studying after work is effective, but that isn’t always the case. The majority of people are really tired by the end of their work day, and that can make studying more difficult.”


If you can’t face getting up earlier in the morning, there are still some other hidden time pockets to turn into study time. You could devote one morning each weekend to your studies and go to a coffee shop or library to study for a few hours. Or maybe you’re one of those rare people who do function better after dark. All it takes to discover your best study time is a simple test to check if you’re a morning or evening person.

Step 3: make time to relax

Would you plan to study when you are drunk? Of course not. Then why would you arrange long study sessions when you are likely to be dog tired?

A 2016 study by the University of New South Wales found that sleep deprivation can have the same negative effects on response speed and accuracy as being drunk.

“Don’t work when you’re tired and don’t work excessively long hours. You won’t take in as much information, and you’ll just become more and more ineffective,” says Clare Evans, author of Time Management for Dummies.


Plan in time for relaxing and for diversions, as well as study. “With a more relaxed mind, you’ve got more energy and you’ll feel more effective when you’re studying,” says Evans.

Step 4: say no

If you can’t remember when you last had a quiet night in, consider whether you need to get better at saying no. It’s important to spend time with your friends and help them out when they need you, but if you’re left without time for yourself you run the risk of ending up without time to study.

Don’t feel like you’re rejecting people by saying no and never get tricked into defending your choice.


If you find it hard to say no, change your body language to appear more confident. Stand up straight, speak clearly, make eye contact, and people will respect your decision.

Step 5: imagine your future

Finding and using hidden time takes persistence: you’ll need to keep making the right choices to create study time as you progress with your qualification.


If your phone or that new Netflix series are just too tempting, remember why you chose to pursue your qualification in the first place.

Resource of the day

Check out our successful study tips podcast series (part 1 of 3).

Up Next: Support networks that actually work

Browse the full range of AAT study support resources here

David Nunn is Content Manager at AAT.

Related articles