Skip to Main Content

Study Skills: Time Management & Prioritization

This guide offers learning strategies, study skills, and resources to support student academic success.

Time Management, Prioritization, and Academic Success


BCIT students may juggle as many as six or more courses concurrently in a term.  For some, they could attend lectures and labs for over 30 hours each week!  On top of their busy academic schedules, students have assignments and readings to complete, as well as assessments to prepare for.  For every hour in the classroom, a student may have up to two hours of studying to complete on their own time. Students also have lives outside of BCIT, which can significantly impact the amount of time they have to dedicate to their studies. It can be challenging to find the time and energy to learn everything effectively. 

To be academically successful, it is important that BCIT students have sound time management skills and the ability to prioritize their studies. This LibGuide outlines strategies to help you manage your time and prioritize your learning tasks efficiently and effectively. 

Why is Time Managment Important?

According to several studies, students who employ solid time management strategies tend to achieve higher grades. In fact, one study found that how well a student manages their time is a stronger predictor of postsecondary success than measures such as high school GPA or entrance test scores.  Students who manage their time effectively are more productive and engage with their learning on a deeper level.  Time management strategies also help fight procrastination. In addition, good time management can create opportunities for important self-care activities, such as sleep, exercise, relaxation, and social interaction. 

We all know that time is valuable and there never seems to be enough hours in a day to accomplish everything.  This is especially true for busy BCIT students.  There are 112 waking hours in a week (if you sleep the recommended 8 hours a night). A student taking a full-time courseload (up to 30 hours of lectures/labs per week) may have as many as 40 hours of homework.  This student would have just 42 hours remaining in their week for everything else, including commuting, social activities, meals, and other activities of daily living.  Many students need to work to make ends meet, while others have families to take care of. So, it is easy to see just how critical it is to use your limited time wisely as a student. 

Creating Good Time Management Habits

Good time management is about making your day purposeful. This starts with recognizing that you can control how you use your time. When we control how we use our time we are able to balance our responsibilities, optimize our focus, increase our productivity, and do a better job on our tasks.  Effective time management, however, is not achieved randomly.  You need to use strategies that work for you, and it is critical to make these into habits.  Often students try strategies but are unable to commit to them on a consistent basis because forming new habits is difficult as humans are "biologically predisposed to repeat behaviors based on the immediate physical, social, and emotional consequences." Rutledge, T. (2021, August 24). Why Bad Habits are Easy and Good Habits are Hard.  In other words, bad habits are formed more easily because they are quickly reinforced, while results are delayed for good habits.  Below are some tips on how to form (good) habits. 

Tip 1:  Professional mindset.  Employees are motivated to show up on time, complete their duties, and communicate effectively because there are consequences when they do an inadequate job.  Supervisors will reprimand and performance manage an employee who is consistently late for work; colleagues will express their disappointment in team members who fail to contribute; customers will complain when an employee does not meet expectations.  As a student, however, there is nobody other than yourself that is impacted when you do a poor job or miss a deadline - you are solely responsible for being accountable as a student.   If you are considering skipping a lecture, ask yourself "would I not show up for my employment?"  If you decide to watch TV instead of starting a project, ask yourself "would I do this at work?"

To help turn good time management skills into habits we recommend you consider adopting a professional mindset.  For example, if you are taking BCIT's Accounting Diploma you should approach your learning as if you were a professional-in-training (in this case, an accountant-in-training). With this perspective you can start to hold yourself accountable for your learning responsibilities; instead of job duties to perform you have tasks to start and complete; instead of meeting performance milestones you have grade expectations.  Of course, you are a student, but you are transitioning into becoming a professional.  Not only will this change in mindset assist you during your education, but it will help prepare for your career. 

Tip 2:  Use immediate reinforcement.  To create good new habits, we must introduce our own immediate reinforcers into our behavior, such as rewards. For example, how often do we make a New Year's resolution to go to the gym but find ourselves giving up after a month?  People seek immediate benefits to their behaviors, but seeing the results of more exercise takes time, so we will rationalize that the effort is not worth it, and give up.  The same holds true for creating new time management habits.  We may not see the benefit right away, for example, of a weekly priority list.  To persist with a new habit, we should build in rewards along the way. If you successfully create a weekly priority list, you could reward yourself with a bowl of ice cream, or have your partner or roommate congratulate you by making a healthy snack. 

Tip 3:  Positive self-talk and your future self. People who can imagine the future and think about how great it would feel to finish a task are more likely to ward off procrastination. Try to also imagine how you would feel if you gave in to the temptation to put off your studies- what would be the consequences of inaction? Ask yourself: “How will I feel if I do not get my component of the group project done by our next meeting? Worried? Anxious? Ashamed?”

  • Pros and cons of action and inaction: “If I wait until the last minute to get this done, I may not get a restful night’s sleep before my exam.”
  • Remember past success: Reflect back on a time where you finished something difficult and remember how you felt after.  Next, imagine how you would feel if you accomplished the goal in front of you.  Consider setting a 'reward' for after you meet your goal. 

Learning Strategies for Time Management, Prioritization and Overcoming Procrastination

Planning and Prioritizing

It is absolutely critical to set aside planning time.  Lack of planning is a major focus drain; it’s a challenge to remain in the study zone when you are uncertain of what you should be working on.  A few minutes of planning out your priorities and tasks can save many hours each week of spinning your wheels, so it’s important that you schedule planning sessions to jot down priorities and deadlines.

Tip 1: Prioritize your tasks and activities. A weekly priority lists keeps students organized and productive and ensures there is adequate time to complete coursework before it is due.  Planning ahead is especially important when you have a heavy course load and challenging subjects.

At a set time at the start of each week (Sunday evening is a good time) be sure to brainstorm activities (readings, assignments, reviews, projects) based off urgency and rank them (consider due date, assignment weight, difficulty, your motivation/interest in the task).  It is important to look ahead at future assignments that may require more time/effort and prioritize these tasks well in advance.

Write down a priority list that includes the course name, activity and estimated duration (overestimate the activity duration to ensure you have adequate time to complete it).

Rank Course Task Duration
1 ECON 1101 Test prep 5 hours
2 MATH 1050 Assignment 1 2 hours
3 COMM 1100 Research essay 3 hours
Total time estimated  10 hours

This list will give you an idea of how much work you have for the week and help you determine a realistic plan to complete the tasks.  In addition, roughly knowing how many hours of work you have helps to decide if you need to eliminate or postpone other obligations that are lower priority.

Tip 2: Make a plan for each day and set goals. Setting a plan for the day will help you stay on track and support you in getting your weekly priorities completed with less distraction. It will also alleviate stress associated with the ‘unplanned’ or ‘unknown.’ Your weekly priority list will help inform your daily task planning.

Each morning at the same time, look at your day and identify blocks of free time that you can commit to studying.  We learn best when we are alert and engaged, so it is generally best to set a 45-minute limit for one study block.  Assign a task to each block and write down your goal for that time period.  For example, "read 10 pages of chapter 3."  Then, write exactly how you want to start the study block. For example, "read the chapter overview to start."  Being specific on how to start will allow you to jump right into your study block and help reduce the likelihood of procrastination. 

Tip 3: Take breaks. Always reward yourself after a study block with a break.  Breaks serve as a natural reset for our brains and allow us time to reflect and recharge before starting a new study session.  It is also easier to get back to work after a short but refreshing and rewarding break. Having something ‘positive’ to work towards will drive you forward with your studies. Be sure to set the next ‘goal’ before you take a break (write it down), so you have a plan to jump right back to work.  Experts recommend something active and productive (a brisk walk with the dog, yoga) as exercise boosts brain activity and will help you operate more efficiently as you progress through your study session.  If you’re nervous about prolonging your break, set a timer to remind you to return to studying. 

Tip 4: Set up reminders.  Establishing good habits takes time and effort.  It is strongly recommended you set a recurring reminder to do your weekly priority list and daily task planning. To help with building a routine, ensure to set the weekly reminder for the same time every Sunday and the daily reminders for the same time each morning.  You could set up a recurring reminder on your phone or use an application such as MicroSoft to Do or Google Keep). To ensure you accomplish these tasks you could ask a trusted person (friend, partner, parent) to remind you to create your plan until you have established the habit. 

Tip 5: Build in active learning strategies.   Active learning strategies are key to academic success at BCIT. Especially important is previewing, summarizing, and reviewing for challenging courses. To ensure you routinely practice these strategies, it is recommended that you include them in your weekly plan.  The most effective way to plan for active learning strategies is to permanently write them into your weekly schedule so they occur on the same day of each week at the same time.  For example, if you have a challenging accounting class every Tuesday write in 'preview for accounting' from 8-10pm for every Monday evening. Then, after class schedule in 'summarize' and every Thursday from 6-7pm do the 'review.'  Having important activities written into your calendar provides greater certainty that you will do them (like a job!). 

Staying Focused and Productive

Now that you have prioritized your school tasks and created a plan to work on them, how do you get started and persist to complete the job? Below are a number of tips to initiate tasks and keep you focused and productive.  Find more focus and productivity strategies here.

Tip 1: Make it eas(ier) to start. Many students do not know how to set simple goals to help themselves get started, so they give in to “mood fixers” such as social media or texting. Experts in the area of procrastination say that in order to start a task, an individual must make the “barrier to entry” low. In other words, make the threshold for getting started so simple that you are positive you can be successful. You can help yourself get started by selecting a simple task and setting a specific time limit.

  • Time: Set a timer for 20 minutes and say, “I’m going to do math for only 20 minutes.” Most students usually find that they can keep on going after they get started.
  • Task: Give yourself something easy to do to get started. You may say, “I’m going to do the first problem on my math homework for now.” Merely starting reduces anxiety and gives students a small sense of accomplishment and the confidence to push on.

Tip 2. Break down bigger tasks. The greater the task, the more daunting the process.  We all find excuses to avoid (or at least put off) things that are difficult. If you break a project into smaller, more manageable pieces, it will feel (and be) more manageable. Outline each step you need to accomplish toward a larger goal and estimate how much time you need to finish the task from A to Z.   Next, break the project down into small task blocks and set deadlines to accomplish each step.  For example, if you have a research paper to complete set a goal to finish step 1 by a deadline. Then, set another goal and repeat. Check off each task when complete as this will help track your progress.  

Tip 3: Do a self-check-in.  Check your physical needs and feelings: Are you ready to study?  Do you need food, fresh air or exercise to get prepared?  Are you distracted by other thoughts or activities? Study at your 'best' time: When do you have the most energy, have the least distractions, have the time?  Block off those times of each day that you feel you can do your best work. Study where you flourish:  Is this a quiet room… in a place with some ambient noise (like a library) that is not overwhelming. At a coffee shop with music? Limit distractions:  Keep only what you’re working on in front of you. Get everything else out of your line of sight (like a pile of laundry that needs folding). Get comfortable: Be aware of good posture, have good lighting, fresh air, water and a healthy snack available.  Be ready: Have all your study material set up so you don’t have an ‘excuse’ to get up and break your flow.

Tip 4: Remove unnecessary devicesTurning to your devices when studying (smartphone, iPad) is a silent killer. The average post-secondary student is tempted by smartphone distractions at least 28 times a day while studying!   Put away your devices before you study (it is best to place them in another room- out of sight, out of reach, out of mind). At the very least put your phone on Do Not Disturb.  Reward yourself by ONLY checking your devices during breaks.  Use a digital clock, watch, or wall clock to track the time (not your smartphone as the temptation to check social media, email and texts will overpower you!)  

Tip 5: Build a parking lot. If other concerns are keeping you from getting your schoolwork started, take a few minutes to write down what you have to do. Manage sidetracking thoughts with a “parking lot,” by making a list of distracting thoughts that can be dealt with later.

Tip 6: Positive thoughts.  It’s typical for people to become demoralized when procrastination is the norm. When this behavior occurs frequently, students often get upset with themselves for lack of initiative. Studies show that this negative dialogue makes the problem worse. If you need to work on a project for several hours, write a note and post it within view: “Now is not the time to organize my closet. I can do that Saturday.” Don’t critique the job you’re doing until you’ve completed it. That way, you can avoid getting waylaid by perfectionism or frustration at how much you have left to do.

Tip 7: Positive distractors during breaks. When you take breaks pursue “positive distractions” that work for you. Moderate to vigorous exercise (brisk walk/jog/jumping jacks) releases dopamine (brain chemical) which sharpens your ability to learn and think quickly (improves your executive functions). Exercise also increases mental processing.  When you take a break, consider exercise to keep the focus going for when you return to your studies.  You may find moving when you study works (read aloud and walk).

Tip 8. Know your limits. When you simply cannot focus anymore and find yourself drifting, be honest with yourself. Take a break and create a plan to return to the task when you feel refocused.

Time Management and Prioritization Learning Resources