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Effective time management for students and professionals

January 03, 2024
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Graduate students often have hectic and stressful schedules. You may need to balance classes and homework with a demanding day job. Add childcare, chores and other responsibilities, and you can quickly have an overwhelming to-do list. 

Set yourself up for academic and professional success by improving your time management. Effective time management techniques can help you complete tasks faster and reduce stress as you work on your graduate degree and throughout your career. This guide reviews effective time management tips, including goal setting and task prioritization. 

Assess personal time management habits 

Time management is “the decision-making process that structures, protects, and adjusts a person’s time to changing environmental conditions.” People who excel at time management have three related strengths:

  • Awareness of the limited nature of their time and how they spend it
  • Arrangement of goals and tasks into a productive schedule 
  • Adaptation to disruptions and evolving priorities 

You can improve your time awareness by reflecting on your current time management strengths and weaknesses. Spend a couple days tracking your time in a planner or calendar and see where you go astray or what your productivity patterns are. For example, you might complete tasks quickly once you start working but spend too much time procrastinating beforehand. Or maybe you get distracted by scrolling on social media or watching television. Identifying areas where you need to improve can help you set goals for determining the best time management strategies for you. 

Embrace goal setting and task prioritization 

Goal setting can help you decide how to invest your limited time. There are two categories of goals:2 

  • Short-Term Goals: Specific objectives you can achieve in a short time, such as completing a class project or networking with three people in your industry 
  • Long-Term Goals: Objectives that you work to accomplish over an extended period, such as earning a graduate degree and becoming a senior manager

The SMART model can help you set short- and long-term goals. SMART objectives are:3

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timebound 

By setting goals with SMART characteristics, you can improve task prioritization and set realistic deadlines for progress. 

Task prioritization

Task prioritization is key to project management and accomplishing goals. Prioritizing tasks can be done by terms of:

  • Importance: Tackle the most critical tasks to a project's success first, or get things out of the way that require other's buy-in first and leaving things you can do on your own for later
  • Urgency: Set deadlines and try ordering your tasks by due dates to stay ahead of what's next and to stay focused despite a busy schedule
  • Complexity: Enhance productivity by working according to your energy levels for example working on more complicated tasks when you're at your most awake and energized

However, you decide to work on prioritizing tasks, plan ahead on large projects and remember to avoid multitasking and focus on one particular task at a time.

Create a time management plan 

A time management plan maps out your daily, weekly, and monthly schedule. You can create this plan using a calendar, whiteboard or mobile app. 

Start by adding upcoming deadlines. Next, work backward by estimating how much time you’ll need to complete each task and block off sections of your schedule appropriately. Say, for example, you have a final exam in three weeks. You can block off an hour each day to study to ensure you adequately prepare.4 

It’s also crucial to incorporate regular breaks into your time management plan. Numerous studies have found that frequent micro-breaks of ten minutes or less increase well-being and reduce fatigue.5 

Implement productivity techniques for academic success

Graduate students must often juggle classes, study time and extracurricular activities. Learners without strong time management skills can quickly feel overwhelmed and fall behind. 

These productivity techniques can help you manage your academic work effectively:6 

  • Update your to-do list daily 
  • Prioritize tasks by deadlines 
  • Tackle urgent responsibilities first 
  • Start projects ahead of time
  • Reward productivity with fun activities 

Master time management as a working professional 

Many graduate students continue working part- or full-time while earning their degrees. Some organizations have fast-paced environments, so you might work long hours on top of your classes. 

Here are several strategies to help you more successfully juggle work responsibilities:7 

  • Change your work environment frequently to reenergize 
  • Use the Pomodoro technique, which alternates 25 minutes of work with 5-minute breaks 
  • Ask for help when necessary 
  • End each workday by planning tomorrow's to-do list 

Improve task planning and decision-making 

It can be difficult to prioritize responsibilities, especially if you have a lengthy to-do list. The Eisenhower Matrix supports task planning by sorting responsibilities into four categories:8


Not Urgent
ImportantUrgent: High-impact tasks that must be completed quicklyNot Urgent: Significant but long-term goals
Not ImportantUrgent: Low-impact tasks with short deadlinesNot Urgent: No deadline and little value

This approach prioritizes tasks by both importance and urgency so you can allocate your time appropriately.8

Use time tracking tools and other technology 

Countless mobile apps and software solutions assist with time tracking and task planning. Popular tools include: 

  • Todoist: Create to-do lists with prioritized tasks9
  • Forest: Grow virtual trees by staying focused on your work9
  • Clockify: Track the time you spend on various projects10
  • Toggl Track: Use a digital stopwatch to track your time10

Don’t be afraid of delegation

You don’t need to accomplish everything by yourself. Delegating tasks is almost always necessary to get big projects done and can help in academic and professional settings to save time and decrease stress.11

Start by defining the task you want to delegate. For example, you could hand off the research portion of a group project or ask a colleague to lead a client meeting. Pick a team member with the required skills and provide advice as needed.11 

Practice procrastination management

Studies suggest that around 75% of students identify as chronic procrastinators. Habitually delaying tasks can lead to poor academic performance and increased anxiety.12 Just as important as time management is procrastination management so that you don't give into your worst habits.

Stay motivated and overcome distractions with procrastination management techniques, such as:13 

  • Breaking complex goals down into small steps 
  • Setting deadlines for yourself 
  • Embracing the risk of failure 

Achieve work-life balance and practice self-care  

Work-life balance refers to simultaneously meeting work goals and maintaining well-being. You can improve your work-life balance by setting strict boundaries between school, work and personal time. You should also reserve time for self-care activities, such as exercising, eating healthy meals, getting adequate sleep and socializing with peers. Giving yourself time for these simple tasks can increase your quality of life and enhance your focus at work.14 

Prioritize stress management 

How you manage your time can pay off for your mental health. Recent studies indicate that approximately 75% of graduate students feel stressed or very stressed.15 Using your time efficiently can aid stress management and prevent academic or professional burnout. Students who improve their time management also experience less test anxiety.16

Enhance your management skills 

Time management strategies aren't just for college students. Managing time takes self-discipline that can help you increase productivity and help you stay organized in all aspects of your life. Master the latest people and time management techniques with Marquette University’s online Master in Management. You’ll learn crucial leadership skills from industry experts with extensive experience managing businesses across industries. Marquette offers convenient asynchronous and synchronous courses to help you manage your academic tasks with your social life and professional responsibilities. Marquette University also provides many resources to support your success, including the Business Career Center and networking services. Schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor today to learn more.