More students than ever before are turning to online learning to further their education. In fact, studies indicate that over half of all students are now taking at least one online course. Given the benefits of online learning, it’s easy to see why so many students are drawn to virtual classes.
For students who are new to online learning—like those affected by school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic or those simply looking to make a change—transitioning to online learning can take some getting used to. And, if you are adjusting to a full-time online program or balancing school and work, it is critical to be able to manage your time effectively.
Whether you’ve chosen to pursue online learning or you’ve been thrust into it, there are key skills you will need to make the most out of your online education, including time management.
The Importance of Time Management For Students
One of the most valuable skills you can have as an online student is effective time management.
This is especially important for online students, who are often working full-time, taking care of family, or juggling other commitments. Without the camaraderie of a class to motivate you or having a set time where you need to be on campus, effective time management is crucial to helping you stay focused.
Effective time management not only helps with your learning but can also make you more productive at work and in your personal life.
Below are seven time management tips to help you stay ahead of your coursework.
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Time Management Tips for Online Students
1. Plan ahead.
Despite the flexibility in being an online student, it’s important to have frequent engagement with your studies throughout the week. For this reason, planning ahead is a critical part of time management.
Planning ahead allows you to divide your required readings, assignments, and online discussions into manageable segments.
Consider purchasing a calendar to help you plan your daily and weekly assignments, highlighting:
- Assignments due, including drafts and final submissions
- Activities related to your program, such as study group meetups or on-campus networking events
- Virtual or in-person office hours with professors and advisors
Melanie Kasparian, associate director of assessment for the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies, shares a sample schedule of what a typical week might look like:
|Monday||Begin required readings and multimedia|
|Tuesday||Continue reviewing materials|
|Wednesday||Post to discussion forum and begin assignments|
|Thursday||Continue posting and working on assignments|
|Friday||Read and respond to posts and work on assignments|
|Saturday||Read and respond to posts and finish assignments|
|Sunday||Check your work and submit assignments|
2. Don’t multitask.
Avoid multitasking—which can actually decrease your productivity. Focus on one assignment at a time, whether that’s studying for an exam, reading a textbook, emailing a professor, or participating in an online forum. Arrange your tasks in order of importance, and pay attention to the three or four crucial tasks that require the most effort.
If you need help staying focused, then consider creating lists using a project management tool to help organize tasks. Some useful tools include:
If you prefer a traditional to-do list, then look at digital notebooks such as:
Lastly, concentrate on what needs to get done in the present and avoid anything too far-off. If it’s a small assignment that you don’t need to address for several weeks, put it on your calendar to focus on when the deadline is closer.
3. Set up your virtual office.
Whether you study at home or your local café, it’s important to work in the optimal setting needed to complete your work. Here are some tips for setting up your virtual office:
- Check your WiFi:Whether you’re working from home or somewhere else, it’s important to ensure that there’s high-speed internet. If you’re unsure of your connection speed, check your WiFi speed using an online speed test. You’ll want to aim for a download speed of at least 6 mbps—more if you’re sharing your connection with others.
- Make sure you’re in a comfortable environment: Your surroundings should be conducive to effective study. Make sure you’re in a relaxing space with the right lighting, and comfortable seating.
- Minimize auditory distractions: Make sure the background noise you hear while studying isn’t distracting. For example, some people prefer to work with headphones on, while others prefer silence or an ambient backdrop with people quietly chatting.
Along with these elements, make sure you have all the required materials, such as textbooks and industry-specific software. Set up as much as you can ahead of time to stay on task with your coursework.
4. Block out distractions.
Your hectic schedule, combined with daily distractions, can easily get in the way of finishing tasks. So it’s important to learn how to set aside time to focus. This includes having a consistent time and workspace, and tuning out distractions such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
Close out any tabs or browser windows that don’t pertain to your study, and put your phone away. Doing so will make it easier to concentrate on your studies.
If you’re struggling to stay focused, then consider the Pomodoro Method. This technique helps with productivity by arranging how you work to increase efficiency. The tool builds on 25-minute work sessions, optimizing your time to focus on your online studies. The best way to use this method is to:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and work uninterrupted for the scheduled period.
- Take a five-minute break to grab a coffee, check emails, or do something else.
- Once you’ve completed four work sessions, treat yourself to a longer, 15-minute break.
If you’re still struggling with procrastination, download a website blocker for your Pomodoro sessions. These tools minimize online browsing and let you follow through on your daily tasks. Some examples include:
With these tools, you can block all websites or redirect your favorite sites to your school’s homepage.
5. Reward yourself.
It’s important to reward yourself after a job well done in order to avoid burnout. Otherwise, it will be difficult to concentrate on even the simplest tasks.
You can reward yourself by celebrating your accomplishments and treating yourself to something you truly enjoy, whether that’s watching your favorite show on Netflix or going out to a nice dinner and a movie. If you’ve been working on an assignment for several months in a row, then take a week off when you’re finished.
6. Create a balance.
In addition to rewarding yourself, it’s also important to find a balance between coursework and your other obligations, especially if you’re juggling school and work.
To help create an effective balance and avoid burning out, be sure to prioritize your time in a way that allows you to focus on school, work, and your personal life when you need to. Creating a predictable schedule can help you establish a routine that works for your lifestyle and allows you to dedicate your full attention to each aspect of your life at a given time.
7. Get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is essential to rest your body and keep your mind fresh for the next day. Try to get seven to eight hours of rest a night. In addition to the quantity of sleep you get, however, it’s also important to ensure that the quality of your sleep is sufficient.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the following tips for improving sleep quality:
- Be consistent: Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, including the weekends.
- Be comfortable: Keep your bedroom’s temperature at a comfortable level for you, and make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.
- Disconnect: Turn your electronics off before getting ready for bed, and don’t check them again until morning.
- Avoid caffeine: Large meals and caffeine can interfere with sleep quality, so avoid them before bed.
- Exercise: Physical activity during the day can help improve sleep quality at night.
Pulling all-nighters is less productive than studying consistently. Include sleep in your schedule, and you’ll be rewarded with increased energy and productivity levels.
Taking Charge of Your Online Education
Enrolling in an online degree program is a great way to further your education and ultimately advance in your career, but it’s up to you to take charge of your learning so you can get the most out of your classes. A key component of doing so is employing effective time management strategies to stay on top of your responsibilities.
As important as it is to be a good student, finding an online program that fits your needs is also critical to success. When choosing an online degree program, be sure to do your research and understand how the content and structure of the courses align with your own goals and objectives. If career advancement is your ultimate goal, for example, a program that values collaboration and networking could be a good fit.
By choosing the right program to fit your needs and taking charge of your learning, you can prepare yourself for online learning success.
For more on how to be a successful online learner, explore our related online learning tips and advice posts, or watch the recorded webinar below.