Manage Your Time | Arts and Science ONLINE

Manage Your Time

Self-Discipline and Scheduling Your Learning Time

By: Maggie Veneman

The inconvenient truth is that there are not enough hours in the day. Online students lead particularly busy lives; according to a 2018 survey, 45% of Queen’s Arts and Science Online students live with children, and 57% work full-time. With these obligations, when and how does coursework fit in?

In their article “Introducing Support for Time Management on Online Learning Platforms”, Ilona Nawrot and Antoine Doucet explain that “[t]he amount of time available each day is inelastic. Time can neither be transferred nor stored.” Time (or lack thereof), is extremely limiting for students, which makes developing proper time management strategies crucial. Nawrot and Doucet propose three phases of time management: planning, practicing and monitoring, and evaluating. Planning your time is something that most people are familiar with and have attempted to implement in their daily lives. The latter phases are less well-known, though equally essential.

When planning out your time, there are two types of schedules you can create: your weekly schedule, which incorporates work, life, free time, and learning; and your term schedule, which comprises the entire academic term and makes note of assignment deadlines. Your weekly schedule should leave room for your typical responsibilities, and should allow you to fit in your course readings, forums, and assignments. Liyan Song and Ernise Singleton argue that “making the course Web site a part of [your] daily activities” will help you to “maintain organization” and control over your time in their article “Improving Online Learning.” Remember that developing a daily routine that involves your course(s) is key. Do not, however, minimize the value of sleep, time with friends and family, and you-time in this schedule; instead, book those activities into your week. Make them just as much of a priority as your other obligations.

The second schedule you will need to create should encompass your long-term learning goals for the entirety of the term. Once you receive your course syllabi, plot out forum discussion timelines, new modules, quizzes, and assignment deadlines in your calendar (virtual or paper – up to you). Knowing what deadlines are approaching will help you to budget your time. For helpful scheduling templates, visit Student Academic Success Services.

alice in wonderland white rabbit lateOnce you have effectively planned out your time, the next phase is putting your plans into action. For one week, keep a journal of all of your scheduled activities with the actual amount of time they take up. Afterwards, compare this journal to your predetermined schedule. You’ve now moved onto the evaluation phase, also known as self-reflection. If the end result is not at all like you originally planned, don’t panic. Just ask yourself: What worked in your weekly plan? What didn’t? What do you wish you had spent more time on, and what do you regret spending time on? Answering these questions will help you to reframe your schedule and make necessary adjustments. Self-reflection “is crucial in building self-satisfaction, motivation and self-efficacy as well as in the identification and elimination of time wasters.” Find out what parts of the schedule worked for you, and you will be able to remove the parts that didn’t. Your time is important, so make sure you are using it effectively.

Finding time to dedicate to online learning can be challenging. If you’re taking your very first online course, you may not get it right the first time, and that’s fine. Learning is a process, and learning how you value and structure your time is no different. Ask your peers, read up on the topic, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. To leave you with some advice from Shakespeare:

Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.


How to Manage Your Time: Advice from Fellow Students

Whether you’re an experienced student or it’s your very first course, knowing how to budget your time is essential. We reached out to current Queen’s Arts and Science Online students to see what tips they had to share:

My best advice for studying online is to set time EVERY DAY and do not let anyone or anything step into that time. Even if nothing is due, use that time to polish up your notes. You'll be thankful for it when papers and assignments are due.

          - Amy Hunter

After studying with Queen's CDS for 2 years, I learned to organize my time for studying effectively. Sometimes, it is just a matter of forcing myself to stop procrastinating! It is far more effective to sit down for 2 hours and do just course-related work rather than "multitasking" and trying to do a few other things altogether. I found that by concentrating to do the one thing (study), I am able to save time.

          - Patricia Kwan

Make your own schedule. At the beginning of each term, I went through the timeline for all of my courses and, using a day planner, made personal deadlines for each of the course's deliverables. Sometimes this meant completing papers a week in advance, but it allowed me to make sure my deadlines were spaced out, and prevented me from having to complete multiple large projects within one or two days.

          - Jen Evans

At the beginning of my course I go through the timeline and I use a dry erase board to organize everything week by week. Typically I do the first 6 weeks and I include due dates for everything so I have a constant visual of what is coming up.

          - Marilyn Clark

For help with managing your time effectively, please see our weekly and term schedule templates and visit Student Academic Success Services.

Feeling Out of Sync? Learn How to Cope with Delayed Responses

One of the most challenging things about taking an online course is getting accustomed to the learning environment. Online students do not have the advantage of being able to approach their professors and classmates directly throughout the course; instead, they must send an email or post to a forum and wait for a response. While this process can seem frustrating, there are actually some significant advantages to these online asynchronous conversations.

More thorough posts and emails

Chances are, if you are composing an email to a professor or a forum response to a peer, you will put more thought into your message than you would if you were speaking to them directly. Online communication forces you to be concise and detailed, which are very useful skills to develop in your writing. Since you are not communicating face-to-face, you need to make your written communication as clear as possible.

Check-ins become a part of your daily routine

Realistically, you are not going to sit idle by your computer waiting for a response from your classmates. A better plan would be to set a time each day when you can dedicate about half an hour to checking your email and OnQ. This ensures that you check in with your course communications daily. Even if there are no new messages, you will have an opportunity to scroll through the forums to see what your peers are discussing, enriching your learning experience.

Less stress

Once you have sent a question to your professor, all you can do is await their response. Since the response will not be immediate, you have the time to step away from your studies and have some you-time. Instead of stressing over your question, you can be confident in knowing that you will have an answer soon, and for now you can put it out of your mind. You may want to focus on another course for a while, spend time with family and friends, or read a book – online communication means that you can put the issue out of your mind until your daily check-in.

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.   

        - Albert Einstein

Hierarchizing Your Time

Online students lead busy lives, and it can be extremely difficult to figure out which tasks to prioritize. Sometimes life gets in the way of academics, and you need to decide which assignments or readings you are able to dedicate time to, and which ones will have to wait. There are several strategies that may help you with this process.

1. What’s due first?

This one may seem obvious, but it really is an important thing to keep in mind. You need to figure out which assignment, forum, or test is imminent, and focus on that. Even if it is a project you’re dreading, if you find yourself short on time, you need to work on that project. Refer back frequently to your term calendar to keep track of which assessments are coming up.

2. What are you confident about?

In any course, you’ll find that you are more confident about some topics, and less confident about others. Maybe you have already studied a given subject, or you’ve come across it in your research for something else. Maybe it’s something that you just get. These are the topics that can be put on the back burner, leaving you time to focus on the more challenging parts of your course(s).

3. What requires the most prep?

Some assignments require more prep work than others, just as some tests require more study time. It’s in your best interests to figure out which of your upcoming tasks will need more time, and begin those tasks earlier than others. For example, you’re going to want to start working on a ten page research essay long before a 500 word forum post due on the same day. Another good tip would be to check your syllabus to find out how much assignments are worth, and prioritize the ones worth more of your final grade.

4. What do you want to work on?

If you have gone through the other questions and you now find yourself with two or three things that you could start working on, choose the one that you feel like working on. If you are more interested in a certain subject, put all of your energy into it – the result will be a very strong assignment.

We also recommend the following books to help you with your time management skills:

Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day by Sam Bennett

Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change by Timothy A. Pychyl

Break Big Tasks Into Small Tasks

Ideally, we would all have enough free time to dedicate a solid five plus hours to an upcoming essay. Realistically, five hour chunks of time are difficult to come by. Fear not; it is possible to break up a big assignment into smaller tasks that take about an hour. Let’s try it out with a sample essay assignment.


Discuss the effect of colonization on modern Canadian indigenous literatures. Focus on one or two of the texts studied this term. Research sources appropriate to your topic, and incorporate at least three secondary sources in proper MLA format. 1,200-1,600 words.

Task #1: Understand the question and begin brainstorming

  • Figure out what the assignment is asking you to do. This one is a research assignment that asks you to use course readings and secondary sources to address the question of colonization in Canadian lit. The format needs to be MLA, and the length is about 5-7 pages.
  • Review your notes and think about which text(s) you want to focus on.

Task #2: Research

  • This task will take more than an hour, but you can still break it into hour long chunks. You don’t have to get all of your research done in one sitting.
  • Read a few abstracts for different articles, and choose one or two that seem relevant to your topic. Read through as much as you can in the time that you have, and if you don’t finish, just mark down where you left off to continue at another time.
  • Continue working on your research in chunks until you have enough for your paper.

Task #3: Thesis Statement

  • Your thesis is the hardest part of your assignment. It is the core of your essay, and it can be difficult to formulate. It may come very easily to mind after having done all of your research, or it may take some digging. Either way, don’t minimize the importance of this task.

Task #4: Outline

  • Your outline should encompass how you’d like your paper to be laid out. Try to break your ideas into paragraphs.
  • This assignment is 5-7 pages, and since a paragraph is always less than a page, we can assume that there will be 6-8 paragraphs including the intro and conclusion.
  • Use your thesis and your research to develop your outline.

Task #5: Writing Paragraphs

  • Try to break up your writing by working on one paragraph at a time, rather than trying to write the whole essay in one go.
  • Writing is a process, so if you’re not completely satisfied with your paragraph, remember that this is only your first draft.

Task #6: Proofreading

  • An hour is the perfect amount of time to dedicate to a thorough read-through of your first draft. Look for anything you may want to change or rewrite.

Task #7: Final Draft

  • Now is the time to take your edits into account and complete your paper. This may take more than an hour, so maybe assign yourself a certain number of pages that you want to get through in one sitting.

Finally, remember to use the resources available to you! The Writing Centre has some phenomenal handouts regarding assignment terminology, outlining, introductions & conclusions, transitions, and grammar.

Happy writing, and take your time!

Term and Weekly Schedule Templates

Check out our templates for a quick and easy way to organize your time.