Time is a nonrenewable resource ― once you lose it, you can’t get it back. Accordingly, it’s important to plan how you divide it up, especially when you’re balancing multiple responsibilities that all require significant time and attention, such as online classes for a counseling master’s degree.
The importance of time management for online students can’t be overstated. In a traditional on-campus education, some time management is already built into the format: Students have time set aside once or more every week for each course lecture, seminar or lab. With online learning, the meeting time and duration is usually up to the student, except in the case of synchronous activities like group video conferences.
It’s easy to see the online format as an inherent challenge to time management, since it requires you to do more planning on your own. But in truth it’s a prime opportunity to use time more efficiently.
With the right time management practices, you can transform your online studies into a tightly optimized experience that delivers rigorous quality in a convenient package. Let’s explore some time management tips that will put your online learning on the right track.
Assign specific time blocks to each important task
Whether created in an app or scrawled on a sticky note, to-do lists are popular ways to prioritize and remember key tasks. However, a lot of to-do lists don’t get finished. A LinkedIn survey of 6,000 professionals found that only 11 percent of respondents regularly completed everything on their daily lists.
Not finishing a to-do list item is common, but why does it happen? One reason is scheduling, or the lack thereof. Creating a task ― e.g., “read class assignment” or “write first draft of paper” ― without an allotted time means that it has no anchor in your schedule and is prone to being put off until the last minute.
A better approach is to make appointments for the important activities in your online course. Set aside an hour or more, at times of the day when you’re the most productive. By scheduling your to-do list, you keep your tasks within specific time constraints. This helps you remember them as well as recognize how much time they really require.
Avoid multitasking and focus instead on smart prioritization and triaging of tasks
Multitasking is an exercise at which few people are successful. The American Psychological Association (APA) found that switching between tasks can decrease productivity 40 percent. Moreover, a psychology professor speaking to The New Yorker estimated only 2 percent of the population qualified as exceptional multitaskers.
Single-tasking is a much more effective approach for most people. It lets you devote your full energy to one project at a time, with major benefits for productivity and time management. Instead of jumping between different activities, think about following a form of single-tasking that segments each complex task into discrete phases that fit into the time slots discussed above.
The potential time savings you can realize by switching from multitasking to single-tasking are dramatic. You might be able to free up as much as 16 working hours per week, based on the APA’s estimates of how multitasking detracts from productivity.
Restructure your online presence so it’s more difficult to waste time
There’s no shortage of ways to waste time online, from refreshing Twitter to spending hours combing through Facebook posts or Amazon listings. While the only way to truly avoid this temptation is to not go online at all (not a practical step, since your coursework is also online), you have options that make it easier to avoid the major time-wasters.
For example, you might consider removing the bookmarks for any possibly problematic sites from your browser. Similarly, you could do most of your online learning tasks in a different browser than you normally use, so that your logins aren’t saved and auto-filled. Specialized software for blacklisting specified sites may also help. All of these steps raise the complexity and cost of switching between tasks so that it doesn’t feel so easy or rewarding to divert time from your work.
Consider turning off mobile notifications for distracting apps. You might also want to set your phone or tablet to airplane or do not disturb mode while you’re working on your coursework.
Pay attention to quality, but don’t get caught up on perfectionism
The saying “the perfect is the enemy of the good” might seem difficult to parse at first ― after all, isn’t a perfect thing better than a good thing? But it makes more sense when you think about the implications of perfectionism for time management.
Perfecting something requires considerable time and energy, neither of which you’re likely to have if you’re juggling numerous commitments, such as an online master’s program and a job. Instead, you’re better served by putting in a good effort across multiple responsibilities, since there might not be enough time to perfect any one of them.
Find a program that fits your schedule and ambitions
Not all online programs are the same. It pays to find one with the right combination of academic rigor and schedule flexibility for helping you reach your professional goals.
The online Master of Arts in Counseling from Bradley University provides a highly collaborative and immersive learning experience, backed by a curriculum with accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Choose from two specializations ― professional school counseling and clinical mental health counseling. To learn more about getting started, take a look at our main program page, where you can answer a few simple questions to receive a copy of our program brochure.