Concentration and Time Management

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All students have to manage and balance the many conflicting demands on their time:

  • lectures, seminars, tutorials and practicals;
  • assessed work;
  • independent study, reading and thinking;
  • family life, social life and relationships;
  • sports, music and other interests;
  • travel;
  • cleaning, laundry, shopping, cooking and eating;
  • part-time work;
  • just relaxing with a book, music, game or the TV;
  • catching up on sleep.

It is obvious that knowing how to manage your time and make the most of the study time you have are really important skills to learn!

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Concentration

You will be doing a lot of studying on your own. So it's worth making your room a place in which you find it easy to study. Here are four suggestions:

a. The room where you study
b. Managing the surroundings
c. Routine
d. Pacing

a. The room where you study

Make sure you won't be distracted while you're studying.
Avoid facing an interesting view. This is specially important if you are a visual learner.

  • Make sure you have good lighting.
  • Work at a table or desk where you can lay out your books and papers.
  • Choose a chair that gives you proper support. Lounging in an armchair is not a good idea.
  • Make sure the environment is comfortable, not too hot or too cold.

b. Managing the surroundings

If you're sharing accommodation, arrange times when the house will be quiet for studying. This is specially important if you are an auditory learner.

You may find it helps you to study if you have music playing in the background, but you may find music distracting. Do what helps you concentrate.

c. Routine

You will have a lot of freedom about how you spend your time. On the days when you don't have early lectures or classes, make it easy for yourself to get down to study by treating it as a job with set hours when you do it.

You will know if you're someone who works best in the mornings or late in the evenings. Whichever part of the day suits you, be disciplined about when you do your studying.

d. Pacing

Set yourself goals for each study period. Make the goals ones which you can achieve. And reward yourself when you have.

Keep a reminder pad by you when you're studying so you can jot down ideas which could otherwise distract you, like phone calls you need to make, things you need to buy, and so on.

Stop at intervals to move around and give your eyes and brain a rest. This is specially important if you are an active learner.

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Time management

To make the most of your time at university you need to balance:

  • your academic work;
  • building up the Key skills which employers are looking for, and
  • making friends and having a good time.

This is discussed in the section Why are you here?

At university you're given much more responsibility for organising your own schedule. We're going to give tips on planning your time and using your time.

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Planning your time

What do you need to do? Course work, taught sessions, private study?

When are the deadlines for these things to be done by?
How long are they going to take?

Your course information will help you on this.

Make plans

Enter your commitments for the semester on a planner. That's things like lectures, classes, deadlines and exams.

Choose a planner that suits you: a wall-planner, Filofax, scheduling software, whatever. Keep it somewhere obvious so that you can refer to it. Use different colours to show different activities.

If you're a visual learner it will help to put the scheduler up where you can easily see it.

Organise your study time

Organise your planner a week at a time, deciding what you want to achieve each day.

Mark in your contact time (lectures, tutorials, lab classes).
Decide how you will use the unscheduled slots of time, and mark them in on the planner:

  • reading
  • research projects
  • preparing written reports
  • writing reports.

Organise your social and personal time

Try to balance the different demands on your time. Be realistic: if you get over-tired, you can't study. Schedule time for things you have to do:

  • building up your Key Skills
  • part-time work to earn money
  • time for your family
  • relaxing and social time
  • shopping, cooking, laundry, sleeping.

Pace yourself

If you've got to do something demanding (like plan a major essay) schedule it for when you're at your brightest and most energetic.

You'll need to study in vacations too, but the timetable will be different. Decide how you are going to use the vacation:

  • how much study do you need to do?
  • will you have to work to earn money?
  • are you going to have a holiday?
  • how much time will your family need?

Set priorities

One thing you can be sure about your time at university is that there'll be lots of things you could do. You'll probably find it helpful to use a priority graph to help you work out what's most important for you to do each week:

A priorities chart [D]

Check your progress to make sure that your planning strategy is up to date.

Plan ahead so you get things done before everything ends up in the ‘Urgent and Important' square.

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Using your time

Here are five tips on making the best use of your time. Check that you've read the material on Planning your time first.

Getting started

Set clear, realistic goals. Split a big task into smaller ones. If there are study tasks that you don't like doing, try putting them at the start of a work session. Get them finished while you're fresh, and then reward yourself with things you enjoy doing.

Keeping going

Variety is important when you're studying. Try not to keep doing the same thing for hour after hour: your eyes and brain will get tired, and you'll stop being productive.

Break up long periods of activity by reviewing how you're doing.

Don't push on if your concentration is flagging.

Taking breaks

Take breaks when you need to; when your concentration is slipping, or when you've been looking at the computer screen too long.

But try to avoid distractions like interesting TV programmes or chatty friends. Stay focussed on your work. It's best to make yourself a drink, move around a bit, then get back to study.

Knowing when to stop

When you've achieved the goal you set yourself, stop and reward yourself.

Take the time to do something interesting but not essential. Don't start a new task when you know you won't have the time or energy to finish it.

Knowing what gets in your way

If there are things that get in the way of your studying, such as noise, poor concentration, or lack of motivation, be active in working to overcome them.

If you know you try to ignore difficult or less interesting tasks, then tackle them straight away and then reward yourself with something you like more.

> return to the list of quick-reference guides

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Further information

Your next step should be to print out and work through the study guide Being an Independent Learner

There are further helpful tips about time management in the section on Personal Organisation and Managing your Time on Arts.Net

University of Southampton

last updated on October 16, 2008
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