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Plan your study time into the day – don’t just “fit it in somehow”.


If you are a part-time (or even full-time) adult student, it is not easy to juggle the demands of the workplace; one’s partner and other family members; and the need to set aside time to read, research, draft, write and revise the various essays, projects and assignments that may be required to complete a course of study.  The biggest single complaint (and excuse) expressed by such students is that they “do not have enough time”.  This article is intended to provide some useful hints and tips to enable such students to manage their time effectively in order to maximise their potential as learners. 

For a number of years I taught time management skills to managers at various levels.  I often started the session by reminding them that we all have the same number of hours in a day.  The reason some people are more effective is not because they “have more time” – but because they have learned how to use it more effectively.  Successful "time-managers" are usually good at prioritising - and are assertive in what they will undertake to achieve.  The issue is not one of time management – but of task management.


It is important to break down study targets into bite-size chunks.  Bear in mind that most people can concentrate best for about 20-30 minutes at a time.  It may be preferable to do 30 minutes each day rather than 3 hours in a single sitting.


Plan your study in terms of reaching staged objectives – rather than spending certain amounts of time.  This enables you to focus on the task and invariably reduces the amount of time taken.

In the context of the workplace, I encouraged managers to ask themselves a number of simple (seemingly selfish) questions to ensure assertive and effective task management.


  • Is this my task?  If not – whose task is it?

  • If it is “mine” – am I the best person to do this task or can I delegate?

  • If I have to do it myself – who can I get to help me?


Although these questions may appear to some to be symptomatic of a “pass the buck” attitude, the truth is that effective managers are those who have got to grips with these issues.  Theirs is not necessarily to do – but to manage.


It may not appear so easy to ask these questions within the context of studying – because it does not immediately seem feasible to delegate learning – but I suggest that we need to reconsider that assumption before we progress any further.


It does make sense to ask whether the study-task needs to be done at all.  Responsible adult learners should not simply engage in a study project because somebody else said so (even if the “somebody” is the tutor).  A number of associated questions may help to elaborate on this point.

  • Do I already know this?

  • Do I need to know this?

  • How well do I need to know this?

  • Is the suggested method the best way for me to learn this?


Having decided that there is still some study to be done in order to achieve the appropriate learning outcomes, there are FIVE good reasons why you should still ask, “Who can I get to help me?”



Keep a record of what you need to do and tick it off as you do it – using “graded ticks”.


I am vaguely familiar with this


I know this reasonably well


I am confident that I understand this fully

Reason 1

It may be that a fellow student or a workplace colleague is a “whizz” at the particular topic to be studied and their one-to-one tuition could well prove to be a much more effective learning method than slaving over a pile of books on your own. 


Reason 2

Two heads are better than one - and working alongside another student may provide the insight necessary to motivate or even inspire you.  Different perspectives help develop better understanding.


Reason 3

Making an appointment to study with someone else increases commitment and motivation – because you do not want to let the other person down.


Reason 4

If the person you ask to help you is your partner (who may be slightly resentful of you spending more time with your books than with them), at least they are being involved rather than ignored.


Reason 5

Talking about your studies (and answering somebody else’s “stupid questions”) is one way to ensure that you really understand what you are learning.


Reward yourself for achieving objectives.

Take time out to do something you enjoy.

Make a drink.

Walk the dog.

Have some chocolate!

Find out when you study best?  Are you a “lark” or an “owl”?  Do you prefer to work in “short bursts” or “long stretches”?  Organise your study-time accordingly.


If your study is relevant to your work, can you take study time?  Could you use some of your “leave days” as study days?  Make the most of lunch breaks.  Although many people work through their lunch-breaks, you should consider taking a break to do something different – perhaps catching up on necessary reading?


If you are on flexi-time, make the most of it.  Build up time so that you can finish early one afternoon each week (Fridays are not the best suggestion) then find somewhere quiet to get on with your studies.  Preferably this should not be at your desk – although there may be another suitable study-space somewhere in the workplace.  Preferably not at home.  There may be dedicated study-space at the college – or an open learning centre - or you could use the local library.  Alternatively, use your flexi-time to come in late one morning each week after spending a couple of hours studying at home.


It is essential to build in time for the 4 R’s.