With thanks to:
Jessica (Human, Social, and Political Sciences)
Many Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences students will discover that they have fewer contact hours at university than at school or college and are expected to plan their work so that they can meet deadlines. Conversely, a lot of STEMM students will have a very full timetable, which doesn't require them to organise their time to the same extent, but might mean that they are limited by what they can achieve beyond their course.
Trying to fit everything into a day, week or term at Cambridge can be a challenge to start with. The key to good time management is prioritisation. Click on the boxes below to find out more to help you decide what is most important to work on and when:
The information here represents a perfect scenario. In practice, however, there is variation: a supervision might be rescheduled or a book that you wanted to read might be on loan, or you might not have achieved as much as you wanted to that day.
If you have a lot of unscheduled time, you can complete tasks according to how motivated you feel. In fact, varying your routine and doing something spontaneous might help you return to your work with renewed interest.
We recommend that you take control of your time by knowing in advance your extra-curricular commitments, contact hours, and deadlines, and planning your independent work around them. But leave gaps in your week so that you can respond flexibly to changes or unforeseen opportunities. That way you should feel able to make the most of all that Cambridge has to offer.
Once you have a plan in place you need to consider which tools you will use to help you keep to those deadlines and tick off items on a to-do list. Post-its (sticky notes) work well to remind you to do things but they do rely on you being in one place to see them. You may wish to consider using technology to help you, wherever you are. Here are a few suggestions:
Here some of our students talk about how they use their calendars to manage their time.
With thanks to:
Sean (Computer Science)
Anna (Human, Social, and Political Sciences)
You will save yourself lots of time if you can find things straight away.
If you work on paper, label and number your notes, include titles and dates. Use colour or different notebooks to demarcate different topics. File loose handouts in an orderly fashion in A4 wallets, box files or ring binders. It sounds like common sense but things can quickly get out of hand if you don't start with a method.
Your computer needs even more attention. Don’t use your desktop as a dumping ground for everything you download! Create a clear file structure and anticipate what you might create. Having an empty folder is less of an issue than putting everything in one long list and planning to put it in order later. Rename downloaded files straight away and use dates where practicable to divide up work. Nest folders to keep each level of storage to a minimum; having 50 folders on your desktop is just as confusing as having 50 documents.
Try and create new versions of documents if you plan to edit them drastically, that way you can always go back to the original if you don't like what you've changed.
Time management is as much about resting as working and you should take breaks whether you have completed your task or not. It is important for your eyes and back, and it will help you stay focused so that you can return with renewed interest and energy. For short breaks set up EyeLeo or Stretchly to force you to look away from the screen. Every hour, you should timetable in a cup of tea, the chance to check your phone or take a 5 minute walk.
During longer breaks, make sure you are still doing things you enjoy; find time to socialise, exercise and relax. If you have timetabled these into your week then you don’t need to feel guilty when taking a break; instead, look forward to them! Find out more about extra-curricular activities in the How will I learn at Cambridge? section.
However, there will be times when you are uninspired or struggle with work; it will not always be easy to maintain momentum. To maintain motivation think about:
There are many sources of help and support for times such as these. Informally, they can be family and friends or peers from your course. More formally, you can speak to your Director of Studies and Tutor; if they cannot help you directly, they will know of alternative sources of support across the university such as the Counselling Service.
Unless otherwise stated, this work is licenced under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC 4.0 licence by Cambridge University Libraries.