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7 Time Management Tips for Online Students

More students than ever before are turning to online learning to further their education. In fact, studies indicate that roughly one-third of all students are now taking at least one online course. Given the benefits of online learning like added flexibility, broader perspectives, and improved collaboration, 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. The better you manage your time, the easier it is to achieve your goals. Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, meaning, it’s not about how much time you have, but how well you can manage it.

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. If you’re serious about successfully completing your online degree, it’s crucial to find a good system to use.

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.

Your hectic schedule, combined with daily distractions, can easily get in the way of finishing tasks. The best online students know how to set aside time to focus. This includes having a consistent time and workspace, tuning out those distractions, and avoiding surfing the internet.

Despite the flexibility in being an online student, it’s important to have frequent engagement with your studies throughout the week. Provide plenty of time to space out your required readings, assignments, and online discussions.

Consider purchasing a calendar you can use to 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 and zero in on the specific task at hand, 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, such as Trello or Smartsheet, to help organize tasks. If you prefer a traditional to-do list, then look at digital notebooks like Todoist, Wunderlist, or Evernote.

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. Make sure there’s high-speed internet, and that you’re in a comfortable space with the right lighting, sound, and background. For example, some people prefer to work with headphones on, while others prefer silence or an ambient backdrop with people quietly chatting. Sit in a comfortable chair, and make sure the lighting isn’t too dim. Close out your browser windows, and put your phone away.

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. 

Make sure to avoid surfing the web excessively. It’s easy to become distracted by the news or your favorite celebrity gossip site. Stay focused, and avoid Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools when you need 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. Freedom, KeepMeOut, and Switcheroo minimize online browsing and let you follow through on your daily tasks. 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 get into 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.

6. 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. Pulling all-nighters is less productive than studying consistently. Include sleep in your schedule, and you can reap huge rewards.

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.