The wonderful thing about time is that we are all granted the same 24 hours in a day. What we do with that time depends on our freedoms, our choices and the things that are most important to us. Getting the most value out of that time is known as time management and it’s an essential skill for effective study.
Technology has given us many things that are excellent at eating up our time, such as phones, computer games and Netflix. Thankfully, it has also produced some exceptional time management tools. In addition to integrating easily into day-to-day life, these tools can provide some useful horological data that would be of great interest to students of analytics or data science.
Here’s a guide to some of the best time management tools for productive study.
Conduct a time audit
Before planning what to do with your time, it’s helpful to know just how much time you’ve got to play with. If you slept for eight hours and worked for eight hours, you should have eight hours available every day to do what you want. But after eating, socialising and a bit of life administration, that time can evaporate very rapidly.
RescueTime is a desktop app that logs your online time automatically and enables you to log your offline time manually. At the end of each week, you’ll get a report that details where all of your time went, which might be alarming when you first start! Then you can analyse the data to make adjustments to the amount of time you spend on each activity. You can also block distracting websites and set an alarm to let you know when you’ve been on Facebook for too long.
Toggl offers a one button, mobile solution for tracking your time. While it doesn’t have some of the extra features of RescueTime, Toggl integrates with iPhone calendars and productivity tools like Asana and Basecamp to make tracking time a bit more time efficient.
Once you’ve extracted your data from a time audit, you might find that you’re leaking minutes or hours (hopefully not days!) on social media. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – social media is an effective tool for keeping up with news, collaborating with colleagues and keeping in touch with friends and family. But some of us find it harder to disconnect than others.
Anti-Social is an app that you can use as part of your time audit. Running in the background on your phone, Anti-Social will extract the data from all of your phone use for two weeks. Then it’ll transform that data into visualisations to tell you in detail how much time you spent on social media and, if necessary, offer a few tools to help you reign it in.
StayFocused is an extension for your Chrome browser which puts a bit more control in your hands. You can create a list of websites, pages and even in-page features that you know are extremely tempting for you. Then you set a daily time limit and once the sand has left that hourglass, you’ve got no choice but to get on with your work!
Use the right time management tools
It’s fair to say that there are time management tools of almost every description – the challenge is to choose the right tool for your application. Many time management tools are designed for business and while they can be useful, they’re not always a right fit for effective study.
myHomework is designed for students, so instead of hourly rates and invoice support, it tracks assignments and classes. This is a simple time management tool, without distractions, that is built for one purpose – productive study. This app syncs across all devices and many of its best features are available in a free version.
Plan your time
Time is a man-made construct and even though it appears to be a sequential progression, from one minute to the next, planning how we will use our time is not that easy. Lists and timetables are useful, but not very flexible when it comes to unforeseen disruptions.
Mind42 is an in-browser application that makes it easy to create a mind map on your computer. Your mind map can contain a list, but that list might link off to a variety of other events that are far from linear. Think of it as virtual butcher’s paper, where you can easily correct mistakes and carry it around in your phone to reference at any time.
If you have an analytical or data science frame of mind, you might have identified a number of trends in the data from your time audit. Maybe you need to spend more time on this and less on that, or perhaps you should be taking actions at different times of the day, week or even months ahead. If you’re looking for a sign to help you remember, technology has you covered.
Most smartphones come with a built-in reminder app, but if you need a little more time management power, have a look at MyLifeOrganized, Remember The Milk, Wunderlist or 2do. They all sync across devices with reminders that can be set to repeat, or even alert you when you are in a particular location.
If you’d like a little more data with your reminders, Todoist does all that and enables you to measure your progress with data visualisations.
Give yourself a break
The Pomodoro Technique encourages us to set a timer and work solidly for 25 minutes before having a five-minute break. After each Pomodoro time segment you mark your progress with a tick, then when you’ve got four ticks you can have a longer break. It’s a time management technique that uses analogue tools such as timers and pencils for your brain to make a stronger commitment to the task.
But of course, there are apps.
Pomodoro apps such as Pomodairo and Tomighty sit on your desktop where you can create Pomodoro lists, time your progress, then tick them off. They also offer a bit of a guide to using this distraction blocking time management technique
Used together, or individually, all of these time management tools have the potential to help you achieve productive and effective study. But none of them will do the work for you – it’s up to you to take action. As a great philosopher once said, “Do or do not, there is no try.” It’s up to you to take the first step towards more effective study.
Need more tips? Find out more about studying with UNSW Online.