Academic Skills Blog - Time management

Let us shine a light on tips and tools to support your research process. This week: time management tips.

egg timer in gravel

With just a few weeks of Michaelmas term left, you have no doubt discovered how important it is to manage your time effectively. However, that is easier said than done. So here are some tips to help you keep on top of things. If you want to find out more and down-load some templates to help you plan your work, look at the Wolfson College Library LibGuide.

What do you need to do?

Time management is ultimately about prioritisation. What HAS to be done and what can wait? Rather than sticking to a single 'to do' list, create separate ones on a number of different scales: short (morning, afternoon, daily), medium (week) and long term (monthly, termly or longer, if dealing with a dissertation, project or thesis). This will help you schedule only what is achievable. You are less likely to feel swamped by work if you spread out the tasks in this way and will lead to a more positive attitude knowing that you have completed even relatively small actions. If this planning highlights clashes in deadlines or workload, you should have sufficient time to work around these problems.

When do you need to do it?

Rank your lists or colour-code them so you can easily see what needs to be done first. Be strict and stick to it. Try to just complete one task at a time. It is better to have one thing ticked off than several, half-finished tasks.

How are you going to do it?

Divide up your tasks into manageable chunks. Including ‘write essay’ or ‘read book’ on a 'to do' list isn’t very helpful. Instead, make your objectives SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

The above tasks then become: ‘draft essay introduction on Monday between 9 & 11am in Wolfson Library’ or ‘read chapters 3 & 4 between 5-6pm on Tuesday evening and make notes in Zotero’. That way, you know exactly what needs doing, are more likely to be able to get job done and know what is left if you do run out of time.

Where are you going to do it?

Think about your study space. Do you need a desk set up in your room, so that you can make best use of your time, or are there too many distractions and you need to work in the library? If you need inspiration and want to find somewhere new to work, have a look at Spacefinder – a Cambridge tool which covers libraries, cafes and outdoor spaces, tagged to help you find a place to meet your needs. If you are easily distracted, have a look at our page on Digital Wellbeing, with lots of tips and tools to help you stay focused.


Post-its are fine but they do rely on you being in one place to see them. Consider using technology to help you, wherever you are. Your online calendar will work well. but sometimes it is difficult to see work tasks amongst your leisure activities. Note making software such as OneNote (available through Office 365), Evernote and Googlekeep all have a ‘to-do’ list function but there are others such as which specialise in helping you get stuff done. Trello is free project-management software that helps you see at glance what is still to do, what you are working on and what you have completed. It works well for teams too.

Reward yourself

Take breaks regardless of whether you have completed your task or not. It is important for your eyes and back plus it will help you stay focused and return with renewed interest and energy. For short breaks set up EyeLeo or Stretchly to force you to take your eyes off the screen for a minute. Timetable in a cup of tea, going for a 5 minute walk round college or taking a longer period out to get some exercise, meet with friends or relax with a work of fiction.