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6 Time Management Tips for Online Students

By Lauren Landry
May 2, 2018

When you’re already trying to juggle an ever-evolving list of personal and professional commitments, adding a bachelor’s degree program to the mix might sound daunting. But online learning adds a level of flexibility that can alleviate some of the stress.

Online courses enable you to learn whenever, wherever, and however you want—making it easier to balance coursework with a full-time job, or even a growing a family. That’s not to say the program itself will be easier; online classes are just as rigorous as their on-campus counterparts. Yet you’re not locked into a schedule that requires commuting to campus during rush hour or on a day that your child has soccer practice.

Because you’re not regularly given that in-person reminder of upcoming tasks, you do need to find your own ways to stay disciplined. Online learning requires a high level of commitment, time management, and organization to stay on track. Here’s how you can best optimize your time to realize the full benefits of an online degree program.

Time Management Tips for Online Students

1) Establish a Schedule

Once you’ve received your syllabi, mark all major assignments on a calendar you check regularly, so that you always know what’s upcoming. From there, create a weekly schedule centered around daily tasks that can help you stay on track, such as reading required materials, contributing to the class discussion forum, responding to other students’ threads, and completing assignments. You’ll also want to factor in some flexibility for any unexpected surprises, like a rush project at work, or vacation plans.

Online learning requires some semblance of structure. The more you integrate these tasks into your regular routine, the easier the process becomes. It could be as simple as setting aside the same hour every day to complete coursework.

2) Create a Study Space with Limited Distractions

Where you choose to study can also help establish a routine. Whether you prefer working at your dining room table or a nearby coffee shop, what matters most is that you have a high-speed internet connection and limited distractions.

Consider turning your cell phone off to avoid losing focus every time a text message or notification pops up. You also want to resist the temptation to check your email or surf the web. Thankfully, there are services like Cold Turkey and Freedom that can help eliminate distractions by blocking the apps or websites that tend to compete for your attention, such as Facebook and Twitter.

3) Avoid Multitasking

If you do choose to work from home, avoid multitasking. Research shows that switching between tasks can cause a 40 percent loss in productivity, so while you might think you’re accomplishing more, you’re actually achieving less. Study time is not the time to finish laundry, turn the TV on, or tackle the dishes piling up in your sink.

If you are prone to multitasking, try the Pomodoro Technique, which helps you complete work in 25-minute intervals. The process is simple:

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes and work uninterrupted for the allotted period
  • Take a five-minute break to brew coffee, take a short walk, or check in with a friend
  • Once you’ve completed this four times, reward yourself with a longer 30-minute break

The more focused you are, the sooner you’ll start checking assignments off your to-do list.

4) Leverage Your Peers for Support

One of the biggest benefits of a bachelor’s degree program is the opportunity to connect with likeminded peers. Just as you would in a classroom setting, introduce yourself in relevant discussion threads and share pertinent information, such as your job title, the degree you’re pursuing, and why you enrolled in the course. From there, stay actively engaged and contribute to other students’ conversations to further foster bonds.

By building your network, you’re establishing a support system you can turn to for inspiration and advice. Ask your classmates how they manage their time, and if there are any tools they might recommend. It’s likely you’re tackling similar challenges, so you can learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. The more you collaborate overall, the better your experience will be.

5) Ask for Help

It’s easy for online students to feel isolated. It’s important to remember, however, that your professors want you to succeed. Be proactive in asking for help. Reach out for clarification on the lecture materials or ask for guidance on assignments. Because you’re not meeting in person on a weekly basis, it’s harder for your professor to know if you need assistance, so speak up when necessary; they’ll be grateful.

Plus, faculty bring decades of shared industry experience to the classroom, which you can use to your advantage. Introduce yourself and ask professors how they’ve applied their knowledge in the field. The stronger the relationship you have with your professors, the more likely it is they’ll recommend you to other thought leaders in their network or serve as a professional reference.

6) Celebrate Accomplishments

Finding work-life balance is often easier said than done. As you’re scheduling out your week, factor in time to celebrate the achievements you’ve accomplished, such as writing your first paper or acing a hard midterm. It could be as simple as visiting the gym, grabbing dinner with friends, or reading something that’s not a textbook. The main goal is to take time to recharge and refresh. If you overextend yourself, your work—and productivity—will suffer. Celebrate when you can. 

Are you interested in earning your bachelor’s degree online? Discover additional tips for online learning success and explore Northeastern’s online bachelor’s degree completion programs.

About Lauren Landry
Lauren Landry is the former associate director of content marketing for Northeastern University.