In order for students to succeed in college,they must learn to manage their time effectively. And, in order to create schedules that adequately reflect their priorities and commitments, they must be fully aware of all the responsibilities that place demands on their time.

From your position as an instructor, it can be helpful to be aware of the challenges that today’s students face, so that you can address them if the need arises.

In our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked college students: “What factors have an effect on how you manage your time, now that you’re in college?” Below, we’ve summarized many of the common time pressures they share, and offer you some solutions for addressing these challenges in your courses.

Six factors that have an impact on how students manage their schedules—and how to address them

1. Both work and family vie for the time of many of today’s students. 

Of the many factors influencing students’ priorities and time management, responses related to both “work” and “family” appeared the most frequently, indicating that many students have multiple significant demands on their time. Students cited specific concerns such as “household schedules,” “doctor appointments,” “working 40+ hours a week,” children’s school and sports activities, “business travel,” “maintaining a household,” and emergencies as factors that influence the ways that they plan and manage their time.

Sometimes, when you’re faced with a complicated decision,  you must make a choice. Interestingly, when we asked “If you had a conflict between work and school, which would you choose?,” 68% responded that they’d choose school, and 32% said they’d choose work. Of course, their ability to make this decision may have to do with the type of job these students have, or the amount of flexibility their employer allows them.

Ideas for addressing this challenge: Though no one can predict what one student called “unplanned interruptions,” creating a study schedule can be one of the most powerful weapons in the process of successful time management. Help students be proactive by including all assignments and due dates in your syllabus. If they know what’s coming, they can plan to devote adequate time to their assignments, and create strategies for managing their work for all their courses.

Students have also told us that the time and day that assignments are due can make a difference for them. Consider scheduling due dates for Sunday nights, rather than mid-week or afternoons. This will help many students (especially those taking asynchronously delivered online courses) complete and submit their work at a time that causes the least amount of conflict for them.

2. For other students, the combination of new-found freedom and the variety of opportunities available create complexities that can become challenging to manage.

Students see the value in participating fully in college life: “It’s about being well-rounded, so as it is good to do well in school, you must be able to excel in other areas as well.” Thus, besides academics, students frequently mentioned activities such as “attending clubs and events on campus,” “volunteer obligations,” “church,” fraternities, and internships as factors in their schedules.

If a student belongs to an athletic team, this also becomes a factor in how he or she manages time. One student wrote: “During season, spring, we have games back to back to back and I get home late on days we have a game away. It’s hard to manage time when you are constantly playing.” Others admit that “electronic distractions,” “Facebook,” “phone games,” and “Netflix” take their focus off academics.

Put in proper perspective, no single one of these things is necessarily “bad.” However, students do need to learn how to keep their academic priorities front of mind, so that they don’t adversely effect their performance in school.

Ideas for addressing this challenge: Encourage your students to take the long view. Many students (especially those who enter college directly after high school) look forward to the opportunities that college life offers them. And that’s a good thing! They should investigate new clubs, organizations, and cultural events, and of course they should make time to be social. However, it’s one thing to take part in a variety of activities to create a well-rounded college experience; it’s quite another to sacrifice a good grade in a course for a marathon viewing of a new television series. Thus, just as some students must create a successful balance of family, work, and academic pursuits, these students must learn how to enrich their social lives while still focusing on the goal of success in college. (For suggestions to offer your students, review instructors’ tips for setting priorities.)

3. Friends can be a major distraction. 

In another survey question, we asked students: “Do your friends have an effect on how you spend your time?” The responses were almost split down the middle: 51% said “yes,” and 49% said “no.” For those who said “no,” it’s highly likely that other factors hold greater weight. However, for that 51%, it’s important to keep an eye on just how much influence they allow their friends to have.

FOMO—the “fear of missing out”—can drive students to become preoccupied and distracted. As one student put it: “Things are always going on and FOMO is no joke.” As a result, many students stay tuned in to what their friends are doing… and they can often be persuasive. One student said, “I always have trouble saying no when they ask me to do things.”

Ideas for addressing this challenge: Foster students’ self efficacy. Friends can be a positive influence, especially when they become true “study buddies”; however, individuals should retain a strong degree of self motivation that keeps them on track towards achieving their academic goals. If you notice that your students are becoming less focused on their studies and more focused on their friends, review our post on helping students to take charge of their own attitudes, which includes strategies that they can use to stay focused on the skills, behaviors, and habits that lead to achievement.

4. Students’ health—and that of family members—can have an impact on their studies.
Physical and emotional wellness are concerns for many students. Several cited the importance of managing stress, finding time to relax, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The key for many is “…finding a good balance without neglecting obligations.”

Many other students face serious health issues that require dedicated time to manage. In addition, students often bear the responsibility of caring for others, facing responsibilities such as “elderly parents to care after,” a spouse’s or child’s health issues, or other family concerns.

Ideas for addressing this challenge: Reinforce the importance of rest and a balanced lifestyle. Incorporating exercise and adequate rest into one’s routine are both critical to one’s ability to perform successfully in school (and other aspects of life). You can also remind students that your school’s health services department can provide guidance, support, and assistance.

5. They know they procrastinate; however, the reasons for doing so may vary from student to student.
Even though they recognize that procrastination proves problematic, students may find it hard to break the bad habit of putting work off for “later”… while soon realizing that “later” can come sooner than they really expected. If asked why they procrastinate, they may make comments along the lines of these students’ responses:

  • “Not realizing how long the activities actually take.”
  • “Thinking a task is going to be so horrible and not wanting to do it, when in reality it doesn’t take that long and it’s really not that bad.”
  • “I get stressed out and then procrastinate more because it’s stressing me out.”
  • “Knowing that I need to do the work but also knowing that I do better under pressure.”

Ideas for addressing this challenge: Emphasize the importance of working consistently to get the job done. If a major assignment seems formidable to students, remind them to break it down into smaller steps. Rather than experiencing the anxiety related to last-minute work on a large project, they may find that the project is much more manageable when they work on portions on a daily (or near-daily) basis. If you’d like to help students in this direction, “chunk” assignments, so that students must study consistently. You might also break a larger project (such as a paper) into smaller steps, with portions of the work due at various milestones along the way.

And of course, we’re all familiar with “cramming” before a big exam. Here, too, you can remind students that daily study, rather than “cram sessions,” can help them feel less anxious before the test. Periodic formative assessments can also help students build their learning and memory of important course concepts, while also providing you with helpful feedback about their progress in the course.

6. Time spent on the road may be taking away from time that could otherwise be spent studying.

Students who commute to campus may need to take unreliable public transportation, traffic, and other factors into account when planning their days. Other students spend long hours on the road travelling to, or for, work.

Ideas for addressing this challenge: Encourage students to study “on the go.” If students commute by bus or train, or if they’re a passenger in a carpool, they can make effective use of their time by flipping through digital flash cards or watching brief video clips that summarize chapter concepts. If they’re the ones driving, they can listen to audio chapters or glossaries to study and review. Many learning solutions (including Cengage Learning’s MindTap) offer a variety of tools that students can use anytime, anyplace. “Low-tech” tools, like index cards and print textbooks, are obviously portable, too!

As an instructor, there are several things you can do to guide students toward effective time-management habits. But ultimately, students are responsible for how they manage their time and priorities; by so doing, they’ll be better prepared to manage other responsibilities in the future. What are their own strategies for doing so? Let’s take a look at what they told us.

Students’ strategies for dealing with time management

Students love hearing from their peers. With that in mind, we’ve shared a few of the strategies that students have implemented to help them manage their time successfully:

  • “At the beginning of the semester I create a study plan for myself so I know how many hours I need for studying and when I can fit it in around my work schedule.”
  • “If something is very important such as a test or homework, then I will make that a main priority and do it before anything else.”
  • “Gaps between my class times give me time to get homework, as well as my job, done.”
  • “I have come up with easy ways to take my homework and do it on the go without missing a thing. I have a small computer and do all the work, then sign into a wifi location to turn in assignments.”
  • “My day is spent working on school work, I treat it like it is my job and that is all that I do during the day so hopefully I can manage some free time on the weekends for my family and friends.”
  • “I now have a job, which means I must factor that in to my schedule. I have to prioritize things very carefully because now do I not only have to worry about school work, but also my finances and social schedule.”
  • “I pay attention to my sleeping and eating patterns so that I stay healthy and alert to do my work.”
  • “It depends on the work load that I have. I almost always put school before my friends, because I feel like it’s extremely important to do well here, especially because it’s so expensive.”
  • “In order to get everything done I have to first make sure I go to work, and then plan my homework around my time off work while juggling my social life.”

What are your top suggestions for helping college students manage their time pressures? Share your ideas in the comments.