Productivity Self Improvement

The Busy Student’s Guide to Finding More Time for School

Briallyn Smith 03-01-2017

For many students, 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week are simply not enough!


I’m currently in my second year of grad school, so I definitely understand the craziness of student life. During my undergrad I tried all sorts of unsustainable ways to balance my time between three part-time jobs, classes, and a school sports team.

One day I caught myself waterproofing my notes so that I could study in the shower, and realized that there had to be a better way to use my time. Thankfully, there is (which is good news because shower studying isn’t effective)!

The strategies in this article may not add hours to your day, but you’ll be able to use the time you have more efficiently. Seriously, it’s been years since my last all-nighter, I’ve kept both a high GPA and my job at MakeUseOf, and I’ve had lots of time for fun (and sleep).

Finding more time for school isn’t impossible, it just takes a little bit of work.

Start Your Morning Off Right

Whether or not you’re a morning person, it’s important to start your day off on the right foot!


Listen to Your Alarm

Getting a couple tasks done first thing in the morning sets the rest of your day up for success. You don’t need to become a morning person, but try to avoid hitting snooze or forgetting to set an alarm entirely. If you struggle to listen to your normal alarm clock, there are great alarm apps The 10 Best Alarm Clock Apps for Android What's the best alarm clock app for Android? Here are some great apps that each add something unique to your mornings! Read More out there that might be a better fit.

Don’t Get Stuck on Social Media

Once you wake up, it’s easy to stay in bed aimlessly switching between Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on your phone. This can eat up tons of your time in the morning, and is a huge drain on your productivity.

Try one of these options to break this habit:

  • Put your phone or computer across the room from your bed. And once you’re up, don’t go back under the covers!
  • Set a second alarm for when you need to stop checking social media.
  • Only check your notifications before getting out of bed, and don’t scroll through any newsfeeds.
  • Set limits on your phone use through an app like Moment, (OffTime), or AppDetox.

Know What’s Going On

Okay, you’re out of bed. Now what? Take five minutes to look at your calendar and to figure out your plan for the day. Staying on top of your assignments and having a semester-based plan for how you will tackle them is key for productivity. Many people like to set this up individually using their existing calendar client or a paper-based planner.



However, there are also great apps specifically designed for students like StudyCal and iStudiez. In addition to normal calendar functions you can also track your grades, set assignment reminders, and organize key course information.

Make Your Time at School Count

If you’re like most students, you spend a lot of time on campus! Take advantage of breaks between or during classes to get some work done instead of wasting time on social media or Netflix.

In Class

While you’re in class, these tips and tools can help you use your time effectively:

  1. Go to class. I know that sometimes professors are boring, or that you think you can learn more on your own. The fact of the matter is that if you go to class and focus while you’re there, you’ll save a lot of time when you’re studying for exams.
  2. Take good notes. If you’re sitting in lecture absently staring at a slideshow, of course you aren’t going to absorb any information! Use a multi-purpose note-taking app like Notability, Microsoft OneNote, or Evernote to capture detailed notes How to Use OneNote for School: 10 Tips for Students and Teachers Microsoft OneNote can transform the classroom. Find out why the note-taking app is designed for both students and teachers. Read More  on any device.
  3. Distract yourself productively. Sometimes it’s truly impossible to focus in class. But, instead of doing some online shopping or going on Facebook, try to do something productive instead. This could mean doing research for a paper in the course, reviewing project outlines, or doing course readings.

Between Classes

No matter how perfect your schedule is, you likely have a few awkward breaks throughout your day. It’s important to take some time to eat, go for a walk, and clear your head. However, you can also get a lot of small tasks out of the way without increasing your stress level How To Beat Stress By Staying Ahead of it No one likes being stressed. That feeling of knowing that you need to get something done, or that something bad might happen is terrible. Read More !

Keep a running to-do list of five-minute tasks that you can work on throughout your day. This list can be on paper, on your phone’s native note app, or on a specific to-do list app like Wunderlist. Tasks could be sending an email, editing a page of an assignment, or completing three homework problems.

In addition, your options increase if you use a cloud-based program like Google Drive 7 New Google Drive Features Every Student Must Know School is in session and Google is ready to make things easier for students with Google Drive. New features have been introduced and old ones refined. We have the details. Read More for your ongoing projects and assignments. If you save documents and slideshows to the cloud, you can access them from any device — meaning that you can make changes from a campus computer or your phone in a pinch!

If you have longer breaks during your school days, do you have time to accomplish a larger task? You could use this time for a trip to the campus gym, a meeting with a professor, or a coffee date with a friend.


Avoid the After School Slump

It’s so easy to come home from class and fall into a food and Netflix haze until it’s time for bed. A few quick techniques can keep you focused and working hard (after a quick snack, of course).

Have a Plan

Remember your calendar from earlier in the day? Time to check back in! Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish each day. Having a purpose (and an end point) is very important for prioritizing tasks, staying focused, and getting started.

It’s also a great idea to schedule in study time for specific events. For example, if you have a quiz every Wednesday, block off time every Tuesday to study specifically for that quiz.

Limit Your Distractions

It would be wonderful if all students had superhuman self control Self-Control IS Possible: Learn How With These 10 YouTube Videos Learn all about self-control with the help of these expert YouTube videos. Improve your own ability to focus and make good choices. Read More . Until that’s a reality, thankfully there are apps that can act as substitutes.

Programs like SelfControl, Focus, or StayFocused can help you to block or limit access to specific websites or the internet overall. Hardcore users may block the internet for a couple hours, but sometimes it’s enough to block sites for fifteen minutes while you write the first paragraph of an essay!

Try the Pomodoro Technique

One of the best ways to get work done effectively is to follow the Pomodoro technique Add Pomodoro Timers to Your To-Do Lists With This App The Pomodoro technique is one the most effective ways to boost productivity, and this app can integrate Pomodoro timers right into your to-do lists! Read More . Basically, you stay focused for 25 minutes, and then receive a five-minute break. This cycle is repeated four times, after which you can take a longer break. If an idea pops into your head during one of your work sessions, you quickly jot it down on a piece of paper, and then return to your task at hand.  Following this kind of time management strategy is a great way to stay focused, while still rewarding yourself for a job well done!

Finish Strong

At the end of the day, you likely just want to crawl into bed and block out the world. But, taking ten minutes to set yourself up for tomorrow can make a world of difference.

Pack Your Bag

Make getting ready to head out the door in the morning part of your before-bed routine. Gather together everything you’ll need for tomorrow’s classes, your lunch, and your outfit. Having everything in a set location will make tomorrow morning much more streamlined and stress-free. As well, it makes it far less likely that you’ll forget to print out your paper or grab your bus pass on your way out the door!

Go to Bed on Time

It may seem counter-intuitive to get more sleep when you are stressed. After all, it’s our inclination as students to stay up late whenever possible in order to get work done! However, sleep is more important than most people realize and can have a huge influence on how well you function the next day.

By making sleep a priority 7 Secrets to Sleep Peacefully, According to Science A perfect night's sleep is not as difficult as you might think. We've compiled this list of ten science-based tips and tricks for helping you fall asleep. Read More you allow your brain to consolidate what it has learned throughout the day, which then cuts down on studying time! In addition, regularly getting a good night’s sleep helps your immune system, your concentration, your memory, and your attention span — all of which are pretty key for success at school.

Use Your Weekends Wisely

It’s so tempting to think of weekends as an escape from the realities of school. Unfortunately, ignoring the stressors of school during the weekend can just make everything worse on Monday morning. These simple tasks can make a world of difference in how much time you have to study during the week.

Do Some Meal Prep

If you live off-campus, you likely don’t realize how much time you spend in the kitchen each day! Many students can easily spend over an hour on meal preparation each day — an hour they could use for studying or other tasks.

Consider planning out your food for the week Automatically Plan Your Meals & Make Dieting Easier With Eat This Much One of the reasons for struggling with diets is the amount of work it takes organizing a diet that will help make you slim and healthy while providing some respite from the continual grind of... Read More . Then, make two or three large meals over the weekend and portion them out into tupperware containers in your fridge. Throughout the week, you can just pop them in the microwave, meaning that meal prep suddenly only takes a few minutes! Crockpot meals are another great way to save time in the kitchen.

If you don’t enjoy cooking, you can still save some time by grocery shopping on the weekend, portioning out some pre-made snacks, or pre-planning where you will get each of your meals through the week.

Accomplish One Large Task

Each weekend, ask yourself which of your upcoming homework tasks “future you” will wish you accomplished over the weekend. Then, try and conquer that task (or a big part of it). By attacking one of your most dreaded to-do list items over the weekend (when you are less stressed), you’ll be a lot less apprehensive on Sunday night.

Take a Break

Seriously. No one is an effective student if they’re constantly stressed. Take some time off 9 Unique Ways for You to Recharge with a Break Now The human mind is not meant to work continuosly. Call it quits for a few minutes now and then, de-stress, and renergize yourself with these apps and websites. Read More (whether it’s an evening, a few hours, or an entire day) and enjoy it, guilt-free. Life is so much bigger than just school, and it’s important to give your brain some time to recharge.

Finding More Hours in the Day

No matter what, school is going to be hard. There are a lot of people expecting a lot from you, and it’s a definite learning curve trying to figure out how to prioritize, organize, and complete all of the work that’s assigned!

What are your best strategies for finding time for schoolwork during the day? Let me know in the comments! I still have one semester left and lots of room for improvement.

Image Credit: Creativa Images via

Related topics: Organization Software, Task Management, Time Management.

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  1. Lazza
    January 10, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    Nice post! I successfully finished my MSc about a year ago and I recognized that some of the tips there are actually what I did more or less naturally (especially the go to class part which is ESSENTIAL to get good results).

    The thing about waterproof notes really made me laugh though. :D

    There are nevertheless some points that I don't completely agree with. This might be due to a different background (I'm Italian and I studied in Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands... I have no idea how college or university could be in North America) or just different taste.

    For instance, I am a very satisfied Evernote user myself (Premium account) and I used it a lot to research information and collect snippets of web pages. I've done group work with it in some cases, as well. Nevertheless, I would never have though of using an app to take notes in class. Really.

    Writing on paper is way better, especially if you do it tidy. Let me explain why: slowness. Yes, taking notes on paper will make you slow (compared to typing). Even more so if you take the time to really write tidy notes (messy notes are easy and quick to take), however this is a plus: if you write slow then you must write concisely to keep the pace of your teacher. Presto! You get to summarize information "for free", without spending extra time.

    The tidier your notes, the more summarized the information. Plus, you won't need to rewrite them in clean copy (I hope this is the correct term). Your drafts are going to be the final revision of your notes (or almost there)!!! Not to mention that you can easily draw plots and graphs on paper. Try "typing" a drawing into Evernote while the teacher is talking. ASCII art is neat but it requires effort. ;)

    Regarding the preparation of meals during the weekend, it is indeed a good idea and some people will make use of it. I personally preferred to actually spend that hour for cooking though. I used to think that cooking was the right way of taking a break (see what you wrote a bit later), especially with a bit of music from time to time. It really helped me relax for an hour, so I could resume studying immediately after eating.

    Finally, I think you missed the most important and simple tip (not really related to saving time, but surely to be a more productive student): ask questions. :) Always do that. Some students think they look dumb if they ask, but this is actually not the case. I've always been the one with high grades yet I was the one who was asking more questions during the lectures. I never thought "they will think I am a fool if I ask" but more like "I will be a fool if I don't understand this point before the exam day comes, so I need to ask".

    • Briallyn Smith
      February 8, 2017 at 10:44 pm

      Lazza, I'm sorry for taking so long to reply to this comment - THANK YOU for all of the advice and thought you put into it - it's practically its own article! :)

      I especially loved your advice because it's closer to my personal study habits - I also find writing notes by hand WAY better for my memory and focus in class (and doodling is a better 'bad habit' for me than accidentally wandering around the internet during a dry lecture).

      And your last paragraph is so accurate - asking questions is always a good idea! Most professors want to help students understand the subject, and it doesn't do anyone any good to just sit there in confusion.

      Thank you again for the wonderful comment - I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and it's such a great resource for anyone coming to this article!

      • Lazza
        February 11, 2017 at 10:07 pm

        Well, you warned us that you are a busy student. :) Thank you, I'm glad that my comment was so well received.