As a Walden student, you are likely managing several important responsibilities. Whether you’re balancing a full course schedule and a full-time job or part-time coursework and full-time parenting duties, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. As any experienced Walden student will tell you, effective time management is critical to diminishing anxiety, taking control of your schedule, and succeeding in online courses. While it’s difficult to carve out time for academics, it’s not impossible. Below, five Walden students offer six tips for staying on top of schoolwork and managing multiple responsibilities:
1. Make a study plan: Flexibility is both your friend and your worst enemy. Without the flexibility of online courses, many of us would not have the option of pursuing a degree. However, the accommodating, self-directed nature of online learning often makes it easier to put off class work. To combat procrastination, set aside fixed blocks of time to complete coursework. Consider treating these dedicated study hours as “in-class time,” during which you are fully present and focused on your academic pursuits. Challenge yourself, but be realistic about your attention span, and take breaks if studying for more than an hour at a time.
“I like to log into my class portal on Sunday to get an idea of what is expected of me for that week. On Monday and Tuesday, I devote two hours of my day to reading the course material. On Wednesday, I gather my thoughts and begin working on my discussion post. Thursday is usually spent preparing for my assignment, and Friday is when I finalize that assignment, as well as respond to my classmates’ posts within the discussion board. This schedule works best for me because there is no pressure on myself to meet unrealistic deadlines, and I can still enjoy the weekend with my family.
2. Use a calendar or agenda: To help stick to your study plan, use a free electronic calendar (like Google or Outlook) or invest in a paper agenda. The simple act of writing tasks down and mapping out a schedule reduces stress and anxiety. Moreover, blending your personal and academic schedules into one calendar prevents overscheduling and encourages the prioritization of schoolwork.
When you receive your syllabus on the first day of class, record assignment deadlines and due dates in your calendar or agenda–but don’t stop there! Include everything on your to-do list: appointments, meals, workouts, errands, work, familial responsibilities. After accounting for your must-dos, start building in your “in-class time.” Be sure to allow ample time for breaks, as well. An important facet of time management is recognizing your limits and accounting for them in your study plan.
“When I first began at Walden, keeping a schedule for all of my responsibilities seemed overwhelming, but now I know how much easier it is to put all obligations onto an electronic to-do list. This allows me to see my schedule months in advance or limit my view to a particular day. I can also rearrange items quickly and easily if things need to change. Crossing items off the daily list reduces my stress and helps me stay motivated.”
3. Set realistic, achievable goals: Dreading that twenty-page research paper? In order to create an effective study plan, it’s important to appreciate the full scope of an assignment. However, attempting to approach such an extensive assignment head-on may prove overwhelming and counterproductive. Instead, divide larger projects into achievable, bite-size tasks. For example, in your first sitting, create an outline for your research paper. In your second, draft the first few paragraphs. Succeeding at these smaller tasks can provide a much-needed sense of accomplishment, which will motivate you to keep working towards your end goal.
“At the start of the week, I like to look at everything I need to do for the week. However, this can feel overwhelming, so I break down my responsibilities into smaller categories: reading, working on the discussion post, drafting an assignment. Then, I set a goal for when I can finish each of these smaller tasks. Because I take on a reasonable amount of work, I know I’ll be able to complete it by the date I set on my calendar, which makes me feel like I am doing a good job and keeping up.”
4. Avoid distractions: Some distractions are unavoidable. When a child gets sick or a neighbor decides to mow their lawn during your dedicated study hours, there’s not much you can do to minimize the distraction. However, there are many distractions we can control or avoid entirely. First, if you can, devote a quiet space in your home to your studies. During “in-class” hours, consider leaving your phone in another room or putting it on silent. Finally, rather than beginning your study session with a quick peek at Twitter or Facebook, dive right into your classwork. Use social media as a reward, rather than a diversion: 10 minutes of Instagram-scrolling might be enough incentive to power through an hour of uninterrupted study!
“Distractions are not always people and unwanted sounds. Clutter in and around your study space can provoke curiosity and present an opportunity to investigate. Why do I have this envelope? I wonder where the match to this earring is…Did I ever finish this book? What is in all these folders? Having clutter can cause us to lose focus and drift away from our studies. Try to keep a clean, spacious study area free of distracting items.”
5. Reflect on your study habits: As you complete assignments and become a more seasoned student, make note of what works and what doesn’t. Be mindful, too, of the time you spend on certain types of tasks: How long does it take to read a chapter of your sociology textbook? How many hours do you spend on a 5-page paper?
Reflecting on the academic skills and strategies you develop over time will help you to create a more productive study plan–one which saves time by filtering out habits that simply don’t work for you. Similarly, tracking the time spent on certain tasks will allow you to build a more accurate, more efficient schedule in the future.
“When I first started at Walden, I used a journal to reflect on my frustrations, successes, fears, and thoughts about my academic progress. Writing helped me process my emotions, but it also helped me pinpoint ways that I could adjust my habits or study time to be less stressful and more productive: for example, as a result of reflection, I asked my husband to use his earbuds to watch TV while I study in the living room. I also know when I need to move from the desk to the couch in order to stay comfortable and avoid muscle strain.”
6. Ask for help: Most importantly, if you are falling behind in your courses or struggling to stick to a realistic study plan, ask for help! Mentors, tutors, and instructors are invaluable resources. As former and current students, they truly understand the unique pressures and struggles of online learning, and they are more than happy to help you identify strategies for approaching challenging assignments, mastering difficult course content, and developing effective time management skills.
“I always hesitated to ask for help because I know everyone is busy. At first, I didn’t want to bother anyone, but now I understand that our educations are our responsibilities. Nobody can help if they don’t know help is needed, and it is our responsibility to reach out if we need clarification or instruction. It can be intimidating, but every person I have ever spoken to at Walden, either through email, phone, or a virtual appointment, has assured me that they are here to help.”
Emily Bruey is the Coordinator of the Undergraduate Peer Mentor Program. Emily is a former online writing instructor, tutor, and student support specialist and joined Walden in 2020.