College 101: How to Become a Time Master

Last updated Mar 23, 2023 


Albie had been super excited about starting college ever since he learned he had been accepted early to his dream school. He couldn’t wait to be free of the routine of high school and his parents’ nagging. And there were so many classes and clubs he was interested in! Plus, a friend from high school, a friend from summer camp, and a friend from his local theater group were all going to the same college. It was going to be a blast…or so he thought. By winter, he was burned out and falling behind. Albie would stay up late a few nights a week to get his homework done after spending his daytime hours in class (sometimes napping on his desk), hanging out with his friends, and memorizing lines for his role in the December musical. As an A/B student in high school, he knew he could do better than the C’s he was getting now. Something had to change.

Time to Face Reality

When Harry Potter’s Hermione had to juggle a double course load of magic classes, she had a Time Turner to allow her to use time travel to fit it all in. However, in the real world, you won’t have magical means to manage your time. Either time controls you or you control it. Instead of learning that lesson the hard way because you imagined your high school time management strategies would work the same in college, be proactive. By developing the essential executive function skill of time management, you’ll avoid Albie’s mistakes and master your time before you start college.

If you’ll recall from the first part of A+’s College 101 series, some of the biggest differences between high school and college relate to time. In college, you spend less time in class, spend more time on homework, and need to spend more time taking care of your personal needs like meals and laundry—all with significantly less help from teachers and parents and significantly more temptation from friends. Before you freak out, get busy! Specifically, use the “Busy BEE” time management strategy.

The Busy BEE Time Management Strategy

B – Break It Down (BEE)

To stick with the bee theme, think about your schedule as having six components, like the six sides of a honeycomb. This Honeycomb Hexagon (right) includes class time, homework/study time, personal care (e.g. eat, sleep, hygiene, appointments), socializing, extracurriculars, and other tasks (e.g. religious activities, work). 

These six categories could be further broken down into specific tasks. For example, a “Homework” task could be broken down as studying for a test, which is then broken down into time needed for study tasks, such as making and reviewing flashcards, rereading chapters, reviewing notes, etc.

Now that you’ve broken down your tasks, you can start planning the order you would complete them based on your priorities, preferences, and patterns.

    • Prioritize! What your goals are and what’s urgent will determine your priorities. Start by setting goals using the SMART method (explained here); a SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Next, assess what’s important using the Eisenhower Time Management Matrix. Tasks that are urgent and important are those you need to DO right away (e.g. medical emergency, pressing deadlines), while tasks that are important but not urgent can be completed at a pace you DECIDE. Tasks that are not urgent and not important, such as excessive time on social media, are ones you should DELETE from your plans altogether. For academics, a class syllabus at the start of each course will allow you to plot out important test dates and deadlines.
  • Preferences! Consider whether you are more productive in the morning or the evening or complete tasks better when you vary what you do (shift between different tasks) or when you give yourself frequent short breaks. Think about what you would do for a break or reward too! For example, after an hour of writing a paper, you allow yourself a 15 minute walk or phone call with a friend.
  • Patterns! Many tasks repeat themselves because they’re part of a routine, including things like classes and chores. It’s also easier to maintain a schedule the more routines you create.

E – Estimate Time (BEE)

Now that you’ve B-broken down your tasks and prioritized, you can E-estimate how much time you’ll need to complete those tasks. Figuring out how much time to set aside for each of your tasks can be tricky, however. It’s easy to overestimate or underestimate, and it’s especially easy to get frustrated when things take longer than you planned. Although it’s impossible to perfectly plan your time down to the minute, you can get close. 

Start by keeping a record of how much time it generally (average) takes you to complete key tasks from your Honeycomb Hexagon. That means if you don’t know how long it will take you to do a typical week’s worth of laundry, you need to figure out how to do laundry on your own first and how long it takes now. Next time you study for a test or write a paper for class, try to keep tabs on how much time each step takes to get a sense of how long you’ll need for each step as well as for the whole process in the future. Don’t forget to self-monitor, like we discussed last time! Meaning, reflect on how much time tasks take. If you’re in the habit of underestimating how long something will take you, be prepared not only to give yourself more time in the future, but also to consider ways to be more efficient.

E – Enter Schedule and Tasks onto Lists and Calendars (BEE)

All that’s left to do now is to actually write up your plans for specific months, weeks, and days. For example, Albie (B)roke down his Homework tasks to include the reading assignments for his Shakespeare course with the knowledge that he reads best in the afternoons and where it’s quiet. Albie also (E)stimated that it takes him about an hour to read 50 pages. Since he has to finish a play every two weeks, Albie decides to enter an hour for reading Shakespeare at the library every other day. He also figured out it takes him about an hour to fold and put away his laundry and that it’s best to do it on Sundays while he either listens to a lecture he recorded from class or talks to his parents during their weekly check-in. 

Eventually, Albie (E)nters all of his tasks into his calendar and completes To-Do Lists and daily schedules to stay on track. Within a couple of months, he becomes comfortable with his new routines and is not only doing better in his classes, he’s also feeling better. Albie has become a time master after all. 

What To Do Next

Throughout the College 101 series, you’ll get tips on some of the most important executive function skills for college. As you follow along, keep a journal to record your thoughts and participate in some helpful exercises, like these!

  • Check it out: Explore Mashable’s “9 great time management apps for students” list.
  • Write it Down: Refer back to the Honeycomb Hexagon’s six college schedule elements (class time, homework/study, personal care, socializing, extracurriculars, other) and create a list of specific tasks you do now for each element and how much time they take each week. Then, create a new list of specific tasks you predict you will do in college with the time you think they will take per week. When you’re done, write down what you think your greatest time management challenge will be in college, and identify at least three possible solutions.

For more help, get an A+ Executive Function Coach.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Director Joelle Faucette can be reached at 215-886-9188.


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