6 Time Management Hacks for Studying Online

Illustration of clockMany of you will be predominantly studying online this Fall. Online learning has many benefits, not least of which is an increase in flexibility. But with the added flexibility comes the need to manage your time better, especially if you’re also juggling other activities, such as working on the side.

During our recent online event Don’t Put Your Future On Hold: Start Studying Online, one of our international student panelists admitted that time management was an area that she struggled with when making the transition to online learning.

You may find yourself in the same boat. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite time management hacks—many come courtesy of ApplyBoard partner schools—to help you better manage your time and work smarter online this Fall.

1. Personal Time Survey

We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but how are you spending them? 

George Mason University suggests completing a personal time survey to determine how much time you spend on activities such as meal preparation and socializing with friends. 

When you’ve calculated your total, subtract it from 168, the number of hours in a week. The result is the number of hours per week you can devote to studying. Is it enough? The survey reveals activities that are huge weekly time zappers—time that could be freed up and better spent elsewhere. One of the upsides to online learning is that you’re greatly cutting back on travel time—now you need to decide where that time is going!

Personal Time Survey

1. Hours spent sleeping per night _____ x 7 = _____
2. Hours spent grooming per day _____ x 7 = _____
3. Hours spent eating and preparing food per day _____ x 7 = _____
4a. Travel time per weekday _____ x 5 = _____
4b. Total travel time on the weekend _____
5. Hours spent at regularly scheduled social functions per week, such as school clubs _____
6. Hours spent doing chores and running errands per day _____ x 7 = _____
7. Number of hours spent at work per week _____
8. Hours spent in class per week _____
9. Average hours spent socializing per week _____
Total _____
Subtract the total from 168 168 – _____ = _____

Illustration of scale

2. Plan Your Schedule

As our friends at Northeastern University remind us, you’ll want to invest in a calendar or, even better, sign up for a free online option such as Google Calendar, which allows you to set reminder notifications. To keep track of what’s happening when, be sure to add important dates, including:

  • Assignment draft and final due dates
  • Tests, midterms, and final exams
  • Virtual meetings and networking opportunities
  • Virtual office hours

They also suggest mapping out what you’ll do each day of the week, such as readings, participating in online discussion boards, and assignments. Here’s a sample schedule created by Melanie Kasparian, associate director of assessment for the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies:

Sample Schedule

Monday: Begin required readings

Tuesday: Continue reviewing materials

Wednesday: Post to the 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 work and submit assignments

3. Check Your Progress

Yorkville University suggests regular check-ins to see how you’re progressing on important tasks. If you’re not hitting your targets, you may need to change your strategy. If something is proving especially challenging or you’ve hit a plateau, try taking a break and working on something else for a while, like micro-tidying your study space. You’ll likely find that you’ve got a new perspective and a second wind when you return to your work. Also, don’t be shy about asking your classmates via the online discussion board about which approaches work for them and which don’t. You’re all navigating this unusual time together—rely on one another!

Illustration of man studying on laptop

4. There’s An App for That

In our recent blog post Top 7 Apps That Will Help You Make the Grade This Fall, we shared two fantastic apps to improve time management:

Marinara Timer

Marinara Timer AppThe Marinara Timer is based on the tried and true Pomodoro Technique, which is designed to help you boost productivity. It works like this: You focus on a single activity, such as studying for an exam or writing an essay, for 25 minutes, completely avoiding any distractions. After the 25 minutes are up, the virtual buzzer goes off and you take a 5-minute break. You do this for four “Pomodoros,” except that at the end of the fourth Pomodoro, you take a 15-minute break.


OFFTIME app logoThere are countless things competing for our attention at any given moment, and many of them are right on our phones. OFFTIME temporarily locks you out of your social media accounts—or even your phone—to help you avoid common distractions, like Instagram and TikTok, and improve productivity. It allows you to focus on watching your online lecture or studying for your midterm, and before you know it, you’ll be free to scroll your Instagram feed once again!

5. Use an Assignment Tracker

It can be challenging to gauge how much time you need to block off complete an assignment. An assignment can often take more time than initially anticipated and invariably eats into other tasks. 

Algonquin College devised a handy assignment tracker to help you take out the guesswork:

Assignment Tips

  1. Two-Hour Rule
    As a rule of thumb, block off two hours for every 5% an assignment counts towards your final grade. For example, if an assignment is worth 15% of your grade, you’ll want to schedule six hours to complete it. If it’s worth 30%, book 12 hours in your calendar.
  2. Start ASAP
    Most of us are guilty of not giving ourselves sufficient time to finish assignments. Aim to begin at least two weeks before the assignment is due. Also, be sure to take into account whether you’ll need to do any research and factor that into your start date.
  3. Chunk the Work
    Breaking your assignment up into smaller chunks, or “stages,” will make the work more manageable.

Illustration of person completing form

Complete the Assignment Tracker

To create your assignment tracker, grab a piece of paper, or use Google Sheets to access it across all of your devices.

  • At the top of the page, add:  
    • Course name
    • Assignment title
    • Assignment value (total weight of your final grade)
    • Hours of work required
    • Today’s date
    • Due date
  • Next, divide your page into three columns:
    • Stage
    • Deadline (for each stage of the assignment)
    • Check when complete

Complete the tracker as you make progress on your assignment. You’ll look forward to checking off each stage, and before you know it, you’ll be ready to submit the completed assignment to your instructor! 

Watch the YouTube video below to see the assignment tracker in action:

6. Talk to Your Program Advisor

Finally, if you find that you’re still struggling with work-life balance, reach out to your program advisor! They’re an excellent resource for you to lean on and more than happy to share resources and information to help you budget your time and keep on track with your studies.

What’s your favourite time management hack? Send us a message on Twitter (@ApplyBoard) or Facebook. We might include it in a future blog post!