What is time management?

The term ‘time management’ is a misnomer. You cannot actually manage time as such - you cannot stop time or go back in time. There are only 24 hours in a day and you can’t change that. However, you can manage the events in your life in relation to time; you can control how you choose to use the time through self-management, learning to manage yourself!

Learning how to manage your time can help you:

  • become more productive and work efficiently
  • balance all aspects of your life (work, study, family)
  • accomplish more things
  • feel less stressed

There are numerous strategies available to help you effectively manage the time that you have. Just remember to find the techniques that work for you!

Know how you spend your time

Where does your time go? What do you do with your time? Knowing how you spend your time can help you understand how you work and how best to manage your time.

Keep a record of all that you do during the day, including the time that it took to get things done. Do this for a week or two, then reassess it and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I get everything done? If no, why?
  • Which task took up most of my time? Why?
  • When did I get most of the work done - in the mornings or evenings?

By reassessing what you did, you will be able to identify your most time consuming tasks and determine whether you are investing your time in the most important tasks. This can help you decide on how best to move forward.


Organising your priorities is about ensuring that the big, important things - those things that you have aspirations towards and care about - get done!

In prioritising the important things in your life, you decide what’s the most important tasks, even if everything on your list feels crucial. This way, you make room for the little things you would still like to do. And remember, when you prioritise, it is also important to carefully manage and reprioritise if needed, so that you can avoid chaos and still enjoy all that you need to do.

There are a number of techniques you can use to help prioritise your tasks but always remember to find a technique that works for you.

Use a priority matrix

When you start to feel overwhelmed with a list of tasks that you need to do, try to gather all your tasks and assign each a priority based on this matrix by Stephen Covey. It will help you visualise what’s really important and what can wait. Then aim to complete the urgent and important tasks first so you can meet the deadlines. You can then focus on the not urgent and important.

Watch this short video on Stephen Covey’s time management matrix.

Quadrant 1

Urgent and Important


These are tasks that need to be dealt with immediately, especially when deadlines are fast approaching. They are both urgent and important.

Quadrant 2

Important but Not Urgent

“Quality time”

These tasks are important, but do not have to be done immediately. They can be scheduled when you can give them quality time. Aim to maximise Quadrant 2 time in order to reduce “firefighting”. Quadrant 1 tasks could have been Quadrant 2 tasks if they were dealt with earlier.

Quadrant 3

Urgent but Not Important


These are the tasks that have to be dealt with immediately but are not important. For example, when a friend calls you for a social chat—you have to answer the phone immediately, but this task may not contribute towards achieving your set goals.

Quadrant 4

Neither Urgent nor Important

“Time wasting”

These tasks are neither urgent nor important. Some ‘window’ shopping or taking a leisurely drive may be considered time wasting that do not yield any value.

Pareto Principle

This principle refers to the 80/20 rule - that all work is not created equal - somethings are more important than others. The principle implies that 80 percent of your results (output) should come from 20 percent of your work (time). So work out what that 20 percent is and make it your priority.

Watch this brief video on the Pareto Principle.

Most Important Task (MIT) method

This technique is about getting to the tasks that you need to get done today - the critical tasks that will create the most important results. Remember, not everything on your list is critically important. So identify a few tasks (two- three) that you need to do each day and these will become your MITs. When these are done, you can attend to the other tasks that are less important.

The 4 Ds

The four Ds involves reviewing each task and making a conscious decision about what you want to do. This will help you prioritise ensuring you get the most important task done first.

  • DO: If the task can be completed in a few minutes, then just do it!
  • DEFER: If the task is not urgent but takes longer than a few minutes, defer it. Only deal with tasks that are of high priority
  • DELEGATE: If the task is not your direct responsibility, delegate it to someone else
  • DELETE: If the task does not require your attention or is not worth your time, delete it! (e.g. delete emails that are not relevant to you)


Using the matrix template provided below, fill in the four quadrants with all the tasks that you have coming up over the next two weeks.

Organise yourself

Learning how to organise yourself is another important part of managing your time and keeping on top of your studies. Carefully organise your study time so you can minimise confusion and maximise your efficiency.

Here are some useful techniques to help you get organised:

  • Create a time audit to track your time - use Curtin University’s elsie app or other apps (e.g Toggl, My app Calendar, RescueTime etc) and study techniques (the Pomodoro technique) to help you stay on track
  • Use diaries, timetables and calendars - write down all your commitments (assignment due dates, work, sports, social events etc.)
  • Write a ‘To Do List’ - keep it manageable and cross them off the list once the task is complete

Note: Remember to reassess this at the end of each day or week to monitor your progress and make the necessary adjustments.

For more information on staying organised during your University studies check out the Curtin university website.

Watch the video below for some useful tips on how to better organise your time.

Schedule your time

Learning to schedule your time can help you put a plan into action. One you have prioritised your tasks and organised yourself, start scheduling study into your timetable so you know how much time you have to study each week. This will give you an opportunity to capitalise on your study time. When you create a schedule, be sure to record down what your tasks or commitments are but also assign specific dates and times for these tasks.

Some tips for planning your schedule:

  • be specific about the task you are scheduling for and keep it realistic
  • use a timetable or study planner to record your tasks
  • block out time to get the tasks done - by blocking out a time, you can avoid disruptions and focus on the one task at hand
  • plan your most challenging activities when you are operating at your peak, when you are most alert and productive
  • schedule short study sessions - this can help you retain more information (long study sessions can lead to lack of concentration and less retention of information)
  • take short breaks to restore your mental energy

Adopt planning tools

There are many planning tools available to help you organise your time (e.g. diaries electronic planners, calendars). These tools give you the ability to manage your workload, assign tasks, track your progress and more. When selecting a tool, it is best to follow your natural preference. If you prefer writing things down, then use a paper planner or calendar. If you prefer using electronic devices, then find one that suits you.

Some examples of useful planning tools include Toggl, Calendly, Timely.

Tips for using planning tools:

  • Choose a tool that suits you and one that you are comfortable using
  • Always use the tool to record the information - avoid recording the information elsewhere as this can cause confusion
  • Take the tool with you so you always have access to it
  • If you are using an electronic tool, be sure to synchronise it to your computer and/or other tools
  • Reassess the tool - if it’s not working well for you, consider using other tools

Motivate yourself and get started

Motivating yourself to study is a big factor in ensuring your success at University. It is common to feel more or less motivated at different times of our life. So understanding what motivates you is important. Spending some time reflecting on this and applying some common motivational tips can be very helpful.

Avoid multitasking

Research has shown that multitasking can actually reduce productivity and negatively impact on your learning. It may appear that you are undertaking multiple tasks at once but in fact you are simply shifting your attention from one task to another. This switching between tasks can be draining mentally and you may not be able to fully engage with what you are doing. It is best to avoid multitasking during your study sessions so try to eliminate distractions.

Communicate and delegate

Communicating your needs is another important part of managing your time. When studying or pressed for time be sure to let others know how you are feeling and let them know that you do not wish to be distracted. For example, you could put your headphones on, close the door, turn off the phone and email notifications. You may also want to consider delegating tasks where possible, for example asking someone to pick up the kids from school, do the cooking or washing.