Plan on Making Time

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“The way we spend our time defines who we are.” -Jonathan Estrin, film producer

The flexibility of online learning may be a double-edged sword. Time management can be an unexpected challenge both for students who are taking their first online class, and for those who are seasoned veterans of online learning. As a student, you are able to fit your class into your busy schedule, but you may find that it takes extra discipline to carve out that dedicated time needed from your day. Without the structure of traditional classroom settings, you may discover that you procrastinate on deadlines, assuming there will be more time later for tasks. Take control of your time by purposefully planning how you will fit learning into your life and get to the end of the semester successfully. 

time management
“Bustling city street scene with an even greater focus on the chaos caused by the three-dimensional vortex in the sky” prompt, DALL-E, 16 Feb. 2024,

Create Your Plan

Remember the old adage, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. There’s no time like the present to make a plan to balance the commitments of work, family, and other responsibilities that might make it difficult for you to allocate sufficient time to work on your online class. Create a schedule for your semester that you can fit into your daily routine that includes clear and manageable goals. Goals with distinct beginning and endpoints will allow you to definitively check them off of your list and move on to the next task. 

At the beginning of the semester, review the course calendar alongside your personal calendar. Note assignment, project, and exam deadlines. Identify any scheduling due date conflicts as early as possible and communicate them to your instructor. Coordinate with them and come to an agreement on a time when you will be able to meet those deadlines. Weekly, the tasks for your class will likely include studying, research, participating in discussion, completing assignments, and taking exams. With all of this in mind, create a list of weekly tasks which includes specific blocks of time you will set aside for study, research, and all activities that have deadlines, such as discussions, assignments, exams, and projects. This may sound like a lot of detail, but you will find that from week to week your schedule will begin to look relatively predictable. One last bit of advice, try not to schedule work time up against a hard deadline, just in case you end up needing some flexibility in your schedule. 

There are innumerable planning and scheduling tools available to help you build and stick to the plan your design. This is to be expected as different people tend to have different preferences for how they manage time. If you have not found a system that works for you, I recommend picking an approach that sounds appealing and that involves a level of effort you are realistically able to put into it. Give it a test drive. From paper notebooks and planners, to task tracking apps, apps for note taking, spreadsheets, and calendars; there is likely a tool that meets your scheduling style and need. Consider for your arsenal a paper notebook or planner, Google Keep, ToDoist, Trello, Evernote, Sheets, or Calendar tasks. UNC Chapel Hill even offers a planner worksheet with 30-minute intervals to students to assist them in planning their time. If you’ve found another tool that works for you, please share it in the comments.
When you arrive at the time of the day you’ve allocated for coursework, take steps to minimize distractions so that you are able to focus and complete the goals you set for the time you’ve set aside. These steps may include closing doors, putting on headphones, and turning off notifications on your devices for the duration of your focused time. If you’re someone who needs noise to work, consider curating a productivity playlist of music, or playing an atmospheric video in the background while you work. It may even help to open a new browser window to load your class and study environment so that you don’t get distracted by other open tabs not related to schoolwork. Maintaining focus is a discipline that requires practice. If you find that you have somehow wandered off task, go back to where you left off and continue with class work.

Keep it Going!

Keep your forward momentum by continuing your routine, even if you encounter detours in your schedule and fall behind. Life isn’t predictable and there are times when unexpected hurdles arise for everyone. Extend some grace toward yourself when the pace of the day feels overwhelming and allow occasional flex to your time management plan, but continue to hold yourself accountable to the tasks you momentarily delay. Continuing to focus on the clear tasks you defined will enable you to continue toward your goal and not fall so far behind that catching up begins to feel insurmountable.

Further Resources

There are entire philosophies of time management. If you’re interested in reading more about them and other strategies people find useful, I’m including some useful places to start.

Time Blocking – This article is written by the folks that make the todoist app, but the principles of time blocking are flexible and sound. In my opinion, time blocking is the most customizable approach to scheduling (and it works well with the 30-minute planner linked above).

Bullet Journals – A very involved and somewhat pricey framework that ties together a whole-person approach to mindfulness and productivity. Information on their website may inspire some new ideas for your own productivity.

Pomodoro Technique – A timed system of work and rest cycles. Read a review from the perspective of someone who gave it a try.


  • Christen Booth

    Creative Director
    Christen is an instructional designer, Google Certified Apps for Education Trainer, and has worked at eCampus for 19 years. She values inquiry and ingenuity as tools for remaining an effective lifelong learner, and is most engaged thinking about how we become better problem solvers. She finds the most interesting spaces are platforms that intersect with social media and support user contribution, collaboration, and place-based learning. She enjoys exploring virtual worlds, parallel worlds, and augmented reality as platforms for learning.

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