If you believed “there just aren’t enough hours in the day” before enrolling in an online degree program, get ready to feel even more time-constrained once class begins. Perennial procrastinators and masters of mañana face the toughest time-management challenges in online programs. But even the most self-disciplined and efficient distance learner can struggle to stay on top of the numerous commitments that adult students often deal with.
Online degree seekers are typically working professionals looking to elevate their existing skills. Some plan to switch careers. Many students have full-time personal commitments to partners, children, aging parents, and pets. Factor in church, friends, and “me” time, and it’s clear why the need to squeeze every productive minute out of each 24-hour period is crucial.
See if one of these tried-and-tested strategies takes the time-crunch stress down a level during your pursuit of an online degree.
Time Management Tips for Online Students
1) Use Helpful Time-Tracking Tools
The first step in skillful time management is selecting the right time-tracking tool for your needs. “Student know thyself” is a good guiding principle here. If you’re a technophile, you can choose from dozens of customizable apps designed for adult students. Check out productivity app Evernote, motivational app Don’t Break the Chain!, distraction-blocking Freedom, or task list manager helpers like Remember the Milk or MyLifeOrganized.
Are you a bit more “old-school” and tactile with a fondness for paper scheduling systems? A month-at-a-glance wall calendar at home paired with a week-at-a-glance personal planner tucked into your laptop bag can give you a great sense of organization and control.
2) Plan Ahead
In order to be successful and complete tasks as an online student, you must have a set schedule and time set aside to focus on coursework. As soon as you get the syllabus for your online coursework, plot out all the due dates for your assignments and exams on your calendar of choice. Then, work backward by plugging in doable benchmarks along the way that lead up to those deadlines. This ensures that you’ve portioned out your workload in manageable chunks to avoid last-minute cramming or submitting rushed, sub-par work.
Block out required class meetings and personal appointments, and schedule in your study hours. Treat those predetermined home-study hours as seriously as you would an in-person class you had to attend. You might even devise your own time-management tips to quash procrastination such as completing your assignments at least three days prior to the due dates.
Remember to leave blocks of time in your week for socializing, exercising, and decompressing. Strive to keep a healthy balance between your academic obligations, personal relationships, and self-care.
3) Don’t multitask
As counterintuitive as it might seem, you’ll get a lot more done if you focus on one task at a time. Multitasking can actually make you less efficient, especially if you’re working on complicated or unfamiliar projects. Your brain has to shift gears and refocus every time you switch between tasks, and this slows you down and decreases productivity by as much as 40 percent.
Forbes reports that only 2% of the population is good at multitasking. So unless you’re one of these outlier superstars, when you’re researching your paper, do nothing else. If you’re drafting an important email to a professor, see it through to completion before making a phone call.
Some students find it helpful to schedule the day’s tasks in order of importance, tackling the hardest ones when the energy is highest. If you’re a morning person, knock out the challenging paper-writing first thing. Night owls benefit from study sessions enjoyed in the silence and solitude that prevails when the family’s gone to bed.
4) Set up a study space
No matter how much, or how little, square footage you’re living in, it’s important to designate a section that’s solely for your studies. Maybe it’s a cozy corner desk and a ladder bookshelf. Perhaps it’s an easy chair, ottoman, and laptop tray. Create a virtual classroom area that’s comfortable and conducive to concentration so you can make the most of your time.
Secure adequate lighting that lets you study at any time of day. Have all of your books, notepads, headphones, and resource materials within arm’s reach. If you live with others, let them know that when you take your seat, it’s “do not disturb” time. Setting aside a specific area of your home that’s reserved only for schoolwork helps you be more psychologically prepared to learn. Every time you move into that space, you signal to your brain that it’s time for increased focus and concentration.
5) Reach out when you need support
Although earning your degree in a 100% online program does offer convenience and flexibility, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, distance learning is harder for some people since you’re totally reliant on yourself for motivation, inspiration, and organization.
Before classes get too far along, establish solid relationships with your instructors. Ask for clarification when materials or assignments are confusing and let them know if you’re struggling with the coursework. They want you to succeed and are often happy to extend deadlines when possible. It’s especially important to be candid with your professors if something in your personal life is impacting your studies and causing you to fall behind.
Let your employer in on your educational goals and career aspirations. If you can demonstrate that your pursuit of an online graduate degree will help you perform even better in your current capacity, you might enjoy a lot of workplace support in the form of time off, financial assistance or even the ability to do your coursework during work hours, if permitted by your employer.
Prepare friends, family, and children for the possibility that they may not see as much of you as they would like in the coming months. Tell them how much their patience and understanding means to you and how essential it is for your success. It takes discipline and commitment to complete an online degree program, and a supportive community can make all the difference.