Know Your Time if you want to get good grades | Learn how to study

Know Your Time

To Build A Study Plan Know Your Time

The number 1 problem in college is TIME.

Students struggle because they continually overestimate the time they have available to get something done and underestimate the time they actually need to get it done.

They honestly think that they have enough time, but they are usually wrong. They start too late, get behind, and end up cutting corners. Catching up is almost impossible. Stress goes up. Grades go down. Sound familiar?

If you tell me you’re struggling in college, the first question I am going to ask you is this:

Do you have time for college?

I don’t mean generally, I mean precisely. Do you?

Do you know exactly how much time you have, how you use it and most importantly, how much you commit to studying? On Monday? Tuesday? Every day? To the minute? Probably not. Most students don’t.

In the video below, I’ll show you how to really understand your time. Your goal is to know how and where you use your time to the minute. More importantly, you’ll know exactly how much time you have available and are willing to commit to studying.

How do you use your time?

The first step of building a study timetable is to really have a solid understanding of your total time, how much of it is already committed to other things, and how much you have left for studying.

You can use any weekly planner or blank calendar to do this, but we will use Shovel to demonstrate how to do a detailed analysis of your time.

1. How many hours do you have to get things done?

Once you arrive at school and the first week of nonstop parties passes, you’ll settle into a normal routine that will be pretty predictable week after week.

After all, much of your time each week isn’t flexible. There are some things that you simply have to do. The first is sleep. Again, I realize that this is college. Your hours may vary drastically depending on what you have going on.

You can only get things done when you are awake and if you are going to make a good plan, you probably need to know when that is.

I was an early bird. You may not be. Each of us knows generally when it’s time to go to bed each night and when you get up in the morning.  Based on your class schedule and personal habits, just make your best guesstimate of when you are awake.

Again, the goal here is to set the initial boundaries so you can make a plan. It may change and that’s no problem. For now, just go with your instinct.

2. What do you already HAVE to do?

Every student starts with the same amount of time each day. How much each student has for studying is a whole different story.

If you are sleeping a normal 8 hours a day you have 112 hours of awake time every week. The problem is that most of it is already taken up by other things you have to do.

Most days include the following:

  • Getting Ready. I am ready in 11 minutes from feet hitting the floor to out the door. I know people who need 30 minutes just to do their hair.
  • Classes. You aren’t going to be missing any—not if you want A’s.
  • Meals. You have to eat! Meals are also social and break time. Eat and chat!
  • Activities. Club meetings, practices, jobs, and anything else that requires you to be there. What are the time commitments every week?
  • Commute Time. Walking To and From. Don’t underestimate the amount of time you spend walking back and forth to every class and other places.
  • Workouts. Exercise is a must. It affects your sanity and the quality of your work. Do something active.
  • Errands. Laundry, shopping, etc. Anything and everything you need to do on a regular basis. Be consistent with it.
  • Personal Stuff. Everyone has things they always do—coffee shop, taking a walk, reading the paper.

The list of possible things is endless. The point here is that your ‘have to’ time is going to be a lot of your day, and you can’t change most of it.

You need to know how much it is and where you use it each and every day.  Start writing it out.

You can print off a blank calendar page of some kind and slowly and carefully go through every minute of every day of your week.

Keep it simple by breaking these ‘have to’ things into 3 main sections:

  • Classes
  • Activities
  • Meals

Classes and Meals are self explanatory, Activities are everything else: practices, jobs, club meetings, personal obligations, or whatever you do on a regular basis that is pretty much inflexible.

3. What do you WANT to do?

  • Me Time

College isn’t just about studying. It’s also about having fun—and you’re going to do a lot of that.

You need to think of all of the things you want to do. The hanging out, the parties, and other social activities. That can take up as much time as everything else.

We call call it ‘Me Time’. This is the time you set aside for having fun or doing other personal things. You don’t necessarily know what you’re going to do, but you’re certain you won’t be studying.

Aka: Friday and Saturday nights. Probably Saturday and Sunday mornings too…

You can have as much or as little Me Time as you want. The point is you need to exclude it from your available study time. If you know you won’t be studying during certain times for whatever reason, just be honest with yourself.

The nice thing is that Me Time is flexible. The goal is to never have to use it for studying, but if you need it, you always know you can use it in a pinch. It’s your reserve if you get behind—or for those weeks where you have three midterms and a paper due.

For now, put in your best estimate. You can always adjust it later when you know how much time you really need for studying.

So, now you have a pretty good idea about what takes up your time during the week.

4. What is your ‘Extra Time’?

We are serious about time. Minutes matter in college and chances are you waste a lot of them. Your goal is to find every minute you can and see if you can use it to your advantage.

When you lay out your day, you are going to find that there are a lot of empty time blocks between all your commitments. This is the time between classes, meals, and activities. We call it ‘Extra Time.’

From a practical standpoint a lot of those blocks of time may not be useful as they are just too small to realistically get anything done. In most cases you can’t do anything about it.

However, if you are looking for extra minutes, a good source of them may be found in those gaps.

Look at each one and ask yourself – based on the length and location of that time block, could I use it to get something done. For example, you may have only a 30 minute block, but if it’s between two classes in the same building you could have time to do something.

Another alternative is to see if you can shift things around to create larger blocks. Moving lunch or your workout by just 30 minutes might create a bigger block on either side that would give you more usable study time.

The point is to find and consider your options with every block you have.

Shovel app makes it easy to fine-tune your minutes. You can just drag things around and see exactly how it affects your study time. We also have a slider that lets you set what you think is your own personal useful minimum study time block.

I’m going to repeat it often: minutes matter in college. Find and make the most of them.

5. What is your ‘Study Time’?

Most calendars are useless. They just show you what you already know – when you have things to do.

For planning purposes, we really aren’t interested in where you have things to do. We want to know where you don’t have things to do. Our goal here is to make a study plan. That requires knowing study time.

How do you know it’s study time?

Well, you’ve entered every class, activity, and meal. You’ve excluded your Me Time where you know you won’t study. You’ve considered every small block of time to see if you can use it. What’s left should be all of the time you can use for studying.

This exercise isn’t about finding how much time you CAN use for study, it’s really about how much you WILL use for study.  That means in your study spot, head down, committed Study Time. You can’t make a plan around anything else.

Commitment is the hardest part and it’s where most students drop the ball.

6. Commit to your Study Times

When you finish your weekly schedule and you decide on study times, then COMMIT to them. Completely, totally, unequivocally COMMIT. If they aren’t really study times, then change them to something else. Don’t pretend you’ll study if you won’t.

The only way you can plan around study times is to KNOW when you are going to use them and stick to your plan.

NOW, when I ask you how much time do you have available for studying on Monday, Tuesday, or any other day, you’ll know –  to the minute.

In the video of the Shovel Study Planner above, you saw exactly how to figure out  how much study time you have.

7. Adapt to change

I realize that your schedule can and will change frequently during the semester, sometimes daily. That’s OK. Review your time on a weekly basis, especially early in the semester. If your routine changes, figure out your new study times and commit again.

Just always be honest with yourself. Are you going to use the time the way you think you are or not? If not, just change it. It’s not a big deal.


You should know exactly how much time you have. You’re already way ahead of the rest of your classmates.

So let me ask you again:

Do you have time for college?

Sorry, but you still don’t have a clue.

It’s not enough to know how much study time you HAVE.

You also need to know how much time you NEED.

You’re going to do that next.

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