fitting online into your life

Time Management

Time management is your ability to efficiently manage your time in a way that helps you finish required tasks by or before deadlines. It’s one of the major factors that influences your success or failure in an online course. Even though online programs offer convenience and flexibility, it can become increasingly tough for you to catch up or recover after missing assignments because you’re also juggling other responsibilities that can’t be ignored. Freaked out? Don’t be! We’re here to help.

Plan Ahead

Which format. Are you taking an online, hybrid, or flipped course? Online courses are 100% online, hybrid courses have a face-to-face component, and flipped courses meet face-to-face each week, with the brunt of the prep work being done online.

Course duration. Most courses last 14 weeks, which is the standard semester length. Some courses are compressed into half-semester or 7-week offerings, summer or winter courses will last 5-6 weeks, and some institutions offer a 3-week “Maymester”. Point being, the length of the semester may impact your schedule, as shorter courses tend to have tighter, more demanding deadlines (e.g. writing an essay in one week versus two, or reading a book in three days instead of six). Be sure that you know the duration of your online course, and make sure your personal and professional calendars are free or can be rearranged to accommodate your coursework.

Proctored Exams. Online instructors may require you complete a proctored exam. In some cases, you may be able to complete a proctored exam online through a service such as Proctor U. In other cases, you may be required to visit a local proctoring center or make the trip to your institution to complete an exam. This is good to know ahead of time, and something you can find out from your course syllabi.

Get oriented. To combat procrastination, we recommend planning time in your schedule to study and complete course tasks throughout each week (instead of cramming it all in the night before). Besides reading the syllabus and setting reminders for important dates, make time each week to regularly log into your school email and the learning management system to participate in discussions and complete reading and homework assignments.


ACTIVITY: Planning Your Schedule

To stay on task and remain motivated, you’ll need to effectively plan and manage your week to ensure you have time to study and eat, sleep, and have fun. Take a moment to see how your current schedule fits in with online courses by completing this Personal Time Evaluation tool.

Read Everything

In an online classroom, the instructor can’t physically stand up in front of the class and give verbal reminders of what’s due next class and what’s coming up later in the semester. Instead, their primary means of communication with you will be through written communication (e.g. documents, discussion boards, email, etc.). For this reason, it’s absolutely essential that you read every last word of what’s included in the syllabus and calendar, course policies and guidelines, assignment instructions, announcements, etc. Seriously, your instructor will be counting on you to read everything. Once you do, you’ll know what you need to accomplish to plan ahead and be successful in your course.

Use a Calendar

Create a separate school calendar. Online calendars such as Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook calendar allow you to create multiple calendars. Create one for your personal life and one for your classes. You could even create individual calendars for each class so you know what’s coming. When the semester is over, just turn off that calendar.

Visit the following pages to learn more about the two online calendars mentioned above.


“To help with time management, every semester I start off with a planner where I write down major projects/assignments due dates. I check this calendar every day to see what’s coming up this week and weeks ahead. This also helps me decide what days I need to devote my evenings and weekends strictly on school work to meet all deadlines.”

Create to-do lists

Whether you’re a paper and pencil person or use a task list on your smartphone, you’ll want to keep track of and prioritize your course tasks. To make the most of your task lists, here are some helpful tips:

  1. Create two lists: one short and one long. If you want to get things done, create one daily list of 1-3 tasks and one long-term master list of tasks you’ll need to complete down the road. After completing your tasks for the day, create a new one from the longer list for the next day. For example, make a long list of the things you need to complete for your online course based on the course syllabus. Then, each day, create a short list of tasks from the longer list. Slowly but surely you’ll complete all the things you need to do for your course.
  2. Write tasks using specific actions. If you start a task with a specific action instead of a nonspecific term, it’ll be more meaningful and more likely to get done. For example, “Study first half of Chapter 1 for History Unit 1 Exam” as opposed to “Unit 1 Exam”.
  3. Create small, manageable tasks. If tasks take more than an hour or two to complete, break them down into smaller tasks. For example, “Write History essay” is scary. “Write the first paragraph of History essay” is manageable. Scary is bad. Manageable is good.
  4. Prioritize your tasks. After creating a list, read through the items (as well as your course syllabus and calendar) to determine which order to complete them. You may have tasks that require one to be completed before another, making the prioritization process quite easy. But you may have competing tasks, such as studying for different exams that take place on the same day. In this case, you have to decide which exam requires more studying for you to be successful.

This isn’t the end-all-be-all list of tips, but it’s a good start. Of course, if you have an approach that works for you, by all means use it!

Ask for Help

You’re probably wondering how asking for help impacts time management. Here’s the answer. If you’re having a rough time meeting course deadlines, you should ask for help. Talk with your instructor, your peers, or someone within student services (Writing Center, Advising, etc.). They may have suggestions on how to stay on track. If you do nothing, you’re going to get overwhelmed as the coursework piles up. That’s when the downward spiral begins on your way to incomplete or lackluster work.

Stay the Course

The flexibility of online education allows you to continue to work while attending school. Many students also have family and/or personal obligations to fulfill. Balancing all of these responsibilities while still making room for downtime can be a challenge.

There are things that must be done and others that you want to do. You may have to move some things around or drop some extra activities that are not required obligations. Remember, it’s OK to say no sometimes!


“Taking online classes while working full-time has helped me create an equal balance between my work life, family time, and time set aside for school. The best advice I can give is that you have the flexibility, but you have to choose what works best for you, create a schedule/planner, and remain organized.”

Before starting your coursework, heed the advice above to lay a solid foundation for becoming a good time manager—not only for school, but also in your personal and work life. Students who manage their time well often experience greater success and less stress while completing their online programs. Because seriously, who needs more stress?