Study time Management

Having got the work into perspective, you need to think about how to manage your time.

How much time should you spend on your studies?

The official view

University courses in the UK are measured in credits and each credit is notionally ten hours of learning activity. So a 60 credit course, for example, is seen as involving around 600 hours of work. Spread over 30-week year,this translates to twenty hours of study per week. In other words, you multiply credit points by ten to get the overall number of hours for acourse; then you divide by the number of weeks, to get f igure for hours per week. Most full-time students study 120 credits per year,which works out at around 40 hours a week –equivalent to a working week in many jobs. Meanwhile, a part-time student might study 60 credits per year,equating to a twenty-hour week. (This covers everything,including time spent getting things sorted out at the beginning of the course, searching the internet, managing your notes, talking with your teacher,preparing for exams and so on.) However,the link between credits and hours is intended only as a rough rule of thumb. The UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education stresses that credit is awarded for achievement not for ‘time served (QAA, 1999).

The reality

But what about real life? Are you in a position to set aside the number of study hours implied? If you’re not, don’t just give up on the idea of studying. A lot depends on the quality of your learning. If you are very focused, like Tracy, you can achieve a lot in under the recommended hours. A part-time student with a full-time job will do very well to find twelve good hours week for intensive study. But with lighter tasks squeezed into any other spare moments, this can be enough. Be aware of the ‘official’ number of hours your course expects, but be realistic about the number of hours you can actually spare for your studies. If you find yourself having to manage with less, be assured that plenty of other students are in the same position. In the end what counts is how well you use your study hours rather than the sheer number of them. A major review of learning and teaching in North American universities observed that:

many of our students [are] trying to balance significant demands of families, jobs, and careers […] many of today’s students seem unable to devote sufficient time to their studies. Students need help balancing these demands, and [making] the most of the time that they have available […]. There is no magic number of hours that students should study in order to maximise learning […] the amount of time isn’t the issue. It’s how that time is spent.

Creating time

How, then, do you find the hours you need? When studying comes into your life it generally means that something else has to go. However it’s important to strike a balance which allows you to carry on with the important things in your life, including relaxation and entertainment. As the saying goes: ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and studying should never make you dull. Effective studying requires a lot of time in reasonably good sized chunks you have to become an expert at creating usable time. One way to set about this is to draw up a study week chart (see below picture,) showing time spent on your ‘typical’ week’s activities and see where there is room for manoeuvre.

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Make yourself a study week chart like the one in Figure 2.2. Either draw it by hand, or,quicker for future updates, use a words processor. Then, once you have saved the chart, you can keep making new copies whenever you want to re-plan your time. Use the table creating facility (look in Help if you don’t know how). When you have created your chart, fill in the hours spent on your main non-study activities for each day (work, family commitments, travel, leisure, etc.) How many study hours per week will you aim for? Write in a target number of study hours for each day in the ‘Total hrs’ row, trying to make them add up to your target number of hours per week. Then start marking in possible study slots, to see if you can achieve your daily totals. What will you cut back on? Where might clashes arise? Can you achieve something close to your target number of study hours per week? To find time for study in a busy life, you need to review the way in which your time is normally taken up. Identify the most likely opportunities for making time –whether first thing in the morning, or after putting children to bed, or at weekends, or during lunch hours, or on your journey to work. Don’t panic if you found this activity extremely difficult. Life is messy. Indeed, having struggled to draw up a study week chart, life will intervene to make it hard to stick to. But sticking to it is not necessarily the point. Even if you constantly have to change your chart it is still worth the effort of making it. Deciding to change it makes you think about your priorities. Planning helps you to think strategically instead of just drifting.

Key points

The first steps in managing study time are to:

estimate how much time your course requires

work out how you can release an adequate amount of study time within your ‘typical’ week.

Using time strategically

Having identified your best ‘time windows for study, it is important to think strategically about how to use this precious time.

High and low equality study time

Not all your available time will be of the same quality. It will range between:

high quality study time

when you are alert, able to concentrate and can work undisturbed for a decent chunk of time

low quality study time

when you are tired, your concentration is poor there are distractions around you and you do not have long enough to get deeply involved.

I’m an early bird. I think and write much better straight after I get up. My best time to study is in the morning after 11 am, when the kids are at school. I concentrate best after 9o’clock at night, when I’ve got everything from the day sorted out. You need to manage your studies so that you use your best quality time for the tasks that most need it.


When are your best times for study? When do you concentrate best? When do you have fewest distractions? When can you find decent chunks of time? Note down your thoughts. Now get your chart and use a highlighter pen to mark in your best quality study time. How much high quality time do you have in a week? Is it enough? If not, are there ways you might reorganise your activities to give yourself more high quality time. Could a friend or partner help you create more quality time by sharing some of your other responsibilities? Now look at your To Do list. Which items do you think need the high quality time? Which could you do in lower quality time? Give your highest quality time to demanding tasks such as reading difficult passage of text or drafting an essay. These are only worth starting when your mind is alert and you have a good stretch of time ahead of you.

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There are plenty of other tasks, such as organising notes, or reading through a draft essay, or talking things over with another student, which can be squeezed into odd moments, when you are less alert. Experiment to find which times of day are best for different kinds of task.

Mapping the course weeks

Now you are ready to get down to specifics. What do you actually need to achieve within the time that’s ahead of you? Again it is useful to start with the big picture. For how many weeks does the course last, and how can the coursework be mapped across them? What you need is a course calendar. I your course provides one, use highlighter pens to mark the key milestones, such as dates when assignments are due; then stick it on a wall in prominent place.

If your course does not supply a calendar,make your own. You could buy year planner for your wall, or just find a calendar feature on your computer and use that (see on the picture above) You can print off calendars for the next month or two and fill in the details by hand, or you can type in key course information before printing. If you like working on a computer,it is worth investing a little time exploring whatever calendar program you have, it can probably be used in a variety of interesting ways.

Planning the week ahead

Your course calendar provides an overall map of the course weeks.

Your study week chart tells you where to find time in atypical week.

Your To Do list shows you the tasks immediately ahead of you.

Now you need to work out how to fit the tasks into the actual week ahead of you, in order to keep abreast of the targets on the calendar. So, sketch out a study plan. As shown on picture below, a study plan for someone working shifts while studying part-time.


Sketch out a study plan by copying the tasks from your To Do list into: your diary, or

afresh copy of the blank study week chart you made for previous Activity

or your printed-off calendar for the month ahead (if you made one).

(Or you could do the whole thing on your computer using a calendar planning feature.) readjust intelligently. You can consult your study plan to see where there is room for manoeuvre in your schedule. And, if time is running out, your To Do list will tell you which activities to prioritise.

Using time well

It is one thing to plan your time strategically, and quite another to stick to your plans

Why,or why,when I find three hours of peace and quiet, and all I want to do is write my essay,do I suddenly become hungry? I make myself tip the remains of last night’s wine down the sink, then I make that urgent phone call to a friend who was having a downer yesterday. Then I remember some birthdays I mustn’t forget … Off to the loo,as I’m now on my third cup of coffee. The cat has peed in the bath because forgot to let him out. I might as well clean the loo while I’m at it, and yes the sink, and the dust round the skirting board. Better put some washing in the machine too. ‘What’s for tea mum? I’m starving.’ Pile of coats and bags in the hall, as daughter and friends arrive giggling about whether gorgeous Jack Scott really did follow them home from school. Now what was that essay topic?


The feeling of drifting in a sea of uncertainty makes you grasp at straws of distraction. When you don’t understand the text and you’re not really sure what you’re trying to do, you feel restless and uneasy. Distractions provide relief. They offer the chance to focus on familiar and meaningful aspects of your life and escape from the uncertainties of studying. Routine, orderly tasks are particularly appealing. You’re assure yourself that you can control your domestic world, even if your studies feel chaotic. The urge to avoid uncertainty is very strong. That is why it’s important to set yourself specific tasks which help to give shape and meaning to your work.

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Keeping up your concentration

To keep up your concentration, work out ways to keep actively engaged as you study. For example:

When you read, use a highlighter pen to mark useful passages in the text. The choices you make about which words to highlight keep your mind in gear and so reading feels less passive. It is not just the writer who is running this show. You’re in there making judgements of the writer’s words. Make notes in the margin too, when you agree or disagree.

Check your progress. Are you going to reach your target? Do you need to change strategy to finish in time? Set yourself an interim target to achieve before your next break.

Sit somewhere else for awhile. Switch to a task you find more interesting. Take a short break. Do something physically active.

Focus on what you find interesting. Play to your strengths. Approach your studies creatively. Don’t let the course dominate you. Stay in control.

Time vs task

Try to balance time management against task management. If you become too obsessed with time,you tend to think in terms of ‘hours put in’ rather than what you have achieved, then you find yourself ‘filling up’ time with relatively unimportant tasks. To avoid this, you need to set out with the goal of completing specific tasks (even if you don’t always succeed). On the other hand, if you focus too much on completing task you can let it drag on for too long and it will stop you attending to something else just as important. You need to switch your attention between task management and time management to achieve a balance.

Key points

In order to manage your time strategically, you should:

identify your highs quality study times and use them for the tasks which require most concentration

mark up a course calendar to keep key targets clearly in view

create a study plan for the week ahead by mapping your To Do list onto the study times you have identified in your study week chart

keep yourself actively engaged with the ideas in the course

stay in control of your study strategy, switching tasks from time to time, to give yourself anew angle

balance time management against task management.

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