When To Study In College

Remember when you had that summer job? Remember when the boss said you had to show up and work from 8:00 and 5:00? You couldn’t text anyone and you actually stayed there and got stuff done? College? Same plan. Bigger reward.

I am going to say it again. You have to treat college like it is your business. Repeat that. College is NOT your job. You own it. Business owners don’t clock out. They take care of everything that needs to get done regardless of what it is. They also reap the rewards of that labor.

They get up early and use time effectively. You will too.

Establish A Consistent Daily Study Routine

So what time should you get started? Earlier is better. Early is when the world starts working and you should probably get used to it, but frankly, I don’t care. Just do it the same time every day.

College is your business. You need to open at the same time every day. It is critical for you to establish a consistent weekday routine. You can sleep in on the weekends.

You might have a class at 8:30 a.m. on two days and other days you don’t start until 11:00. Doesn’t matter. Get up and open for business – same time EVERY DAY.

The typical college kid says ‘great, no class until 11:00. I’ll stay up late tonight, drink 4 extra beers, and sleep in tomorrow’. A recipe for failure. When you stay up late, you can bet you aren’t studying. When you sleep in, I guarantee you aren’t studying. Worst of all, varying your sleep times creates a roller coaster of sleep deprivation and poor time management.

Go to bed and get up at the exact same time every weekday. I don’t care what time class starts. I’ll say it again: your success in college is NOT determined by the time you HAVE to do things – it is determined by how well you use the time when you DON’T have to do things.

You are a business. You need to open at the same time every day regardless of your class schedule.

Now it’s time to talk about time.

You MUST Plan Your Week

You know what you have to do. You know when it’s due. Why don’t you just do it? Procrastination. It’s a problem with college students. In fact, its THE problem with college students. You put stuff off. Then you put it off again, and then again. You say you’ll do it, but you don’t. (Don’t feel bad, adults do the exact same thing).

There is only one cure. Once a week, every week, you must plan your week. Religiously.

It’s easy. You’ve taken the time to know exactly what you need to do. Look at the blocks of time on your calendar. Look at the work you have to do. Match what you need to do with the free time on your calendar and make it happen. The fact is that when you live by your planner and write things down, the discipline will follow.

You can’t just wing it and think you’ll do it. You have to treat study just like you do class, the lab, the date or the frat party.

Big Time Blocks. Mandatory

You know how to block your time. You know what you have to do and when. Now it’s time to put it to use. Let’s plan your study time.

First, find your big time blocks. This is your extended study time. This is easy. This is your evening library time. This is when everyone else is studying. Treat that just like class time. It is mandatory.

You need to get there immediately after dinner. NO delay. Eat dinner as early as possible – 5:00 or 5:30, then head to the library. Just like you can’t miss a single class, you can’t miss a single study session either.

You need to get into your spot of choice, do your last texting and then shut everything off. No distractions. Everyone should know that you can’t be bothered. Hit it and hit hard. This is your serious, dedicated time for getting things done.

You need to have at least 2 or 3 solid focused hours of study. Finish up by 8:30 p.m. No later than 9:30. Usually you can. Sometimes you can’t. It all depends on how well you use the smaller blocks of time in rest of your day. That’s where the A’s are made.

Use The Small Blocks Every Chance You Get

Story: My kid went off to her freshman year in college. She calls me the first Saturday she was there. (Actually she texted me – kids don’t call anymore).

She says: ‘I’m waiting for everyone to wake up.’

My brain says: Wow, nice that you’re up early, but —- you’re waiting? WAITING? For them to WAKE UP? Hey, I’ve got an idea! While you are ‘waiting’ for your time wasting, procrastinating, stay up too late, sleep in, and sober up friends to finally attain consciousness, why don’t you take that probably 2 hour long period of time and go read something from that huge stack of books you (actually, I) just bought. (No, I actually didn’t say it to her – too much to text. I’ll send her this link instead).

Add THIS Up!

I’m saying it again – Minutes Matter. You need to beat this into your brain. Remember all of those small blocks of time? That’s where the A’s are made. In fact, when you use that time, you actually have more time to relax and have fun. It’s the small blocks that make the difference.

Repeat: the most critical time you have to study in college is not the big blocks of time where you have to do things – It’s your extra time that will make the difference between the difficult B and the easy A.

Go back to that Time page and take a look at my sample time plan. Now look at those green arrows. Those are the gaps in the day. Some are longer, some are shorter.

Add up the time each day where you see those green arrows. Estimate – Monday 2.5; Tuesday: 4; Wednesday – 1.5; Thursday – 4; Friday – 3.5.

Total: 15.5 hours. That’s without the weekends!

That is a huge amount of time. It is literally equal to or greater than your evening study time.

How and where you put those gaps to use is critical to your success in college. Most kids pay no attention to those gaps. You don’t have class until 11:00, so you sleep in.

When kids finally do use those small blocks of time, it’s usually because they are in a panic from procrastination. Start using yours each and every day. Make it part of the plan. When you do, you’ll find that you don’t need to use them as much as you think.

Think about it – even one hour is a HUGE amount of time in college. It’s 20 pages read; it’s time to see the professor; it’s time to organize your notes; it’s time to write test questions (more on that later); it’s time to start studying for your exam. All in one hour. What if you have three hours? That is a lifetime.

Every hour that you can use in those free blocks is one hour less that you have to use at night and on the weekends. THAT is where you want your free time. That is where you have fun, go to the games, deal with your personal issues and relax.

Schedule Your Minutes

When you were a kid, adults planned your day for you. Everything you had to do was scheduled. Now you are on your own. You need to do the scheduling. You need to treat it like those times you couldn’t miss.

You are going to start scheduling those small blocks of time. You are going to plan them into your into your day – relentlessly. You won’t stress about it. You won’t even think about it. You’ll just do it.

I know what you are thinking – ‘There is no way my kid is going to spend 14 hours a day studying!’

Let’s back up. Earlier you went through an exercise. I had you do a calculation of how much work you needed to do over the next 116 days.

You’ve got 30 pages to read for one class. You’ve got 60 pages to read for another class. You have 10 pages of problems to do. The paper is due in two weeks. You have a test next Wednesday. No problem. You KNOW how long it is going to take you. You aren’t stressed. You’ve been here before. You’ve been recording the time it takes to get stuff done. You don’t even have to think about it.

So you don’t want to study 14 hours a day? I understand that. I am NOT saying you HAVE to use that time. I am saying you need to make it part of your study plan. You need to PLAN to use your each and every day. You need to stop thinking only in terms of ‘I have class from 1:00 – 2:00’, and start thinking ‘I have extra time between 9 and 10 – what can I do to stay ahead?’

These gaps MUST be included in your schedule. You need to have a sense of urgency about utilizing each and every one of your – early and often. You have 20 pages to read. No sweat. Done between 9:00 and 10:00. Next two things? Start review for the exam. No problem. Done between 2:30 and 3:00. Next two things?

Guess what? You won’t NEED to use them. You WILL be caught up when it counts. No staying late in the library. No cramming in your dorm for exams. No stressing out on weekends when you want to relax. You’ll be confident that you are ahead of the game.

Pretty soon you’ll have a two hour block and you’ll think – wow, I’m not going to do anything! I’m hitting the quad and playing some frisbee. I’m taking a two hour lunch. I’m doing an extra workout. I’m talking with my friends for an extra hour. I’m taking the road trip. You won’t worry about it, because you really, truly are ahead of the game and not just procrastinating. You’ll know EXACTLY where you are.

Use A Daily Planner

The high level time plan that you did is not a substitute for a daily planner. You used that to identify your classes, but more importantly to identify that extra time that we just talked about. Remember the workload exercise where you identified the amount of work that you needed to do each day in each class? This is where you match the two up. Every kid should have a daily planner of some kind. This is also at the top of any list of good study habits. You simply cannot use your study time effectively if you don’t schedule it.

Match up your assignments with your smaller time blocks and schedule your in. This is what separates the A’s from the B’s, or worse. If you write it down, you are more likely to do it. That’s just the way it is.

Pick a daily planner that works with your phone, iPad, laptop or whatever technology, but carry it religiously. Filling in your daily planner is a good use of your Sunday evening time. Start matching up the small tasks with the small times that I just discussed above. Write your down. Make your part of your day. You’ll get your done and you’ll stay ahead.

Ok, all of that said, I know you’re a college kid, so you probably won’t use a planner.  I get it.  You’ll know your days pretty well after the first couple of weeks.  At least plant it in your head and act like you do.

Always Be Asking – “Next Two Things?”

When I was learning to fly, my instructor taught me to always be repeating these 3 words: Next Two Things.

I say it dozens of times in my head on even a short trip. As soon as I am done doing the two things I thought of, my brain fires again: ‘Next Two Things’. Got those done – Next Two Things. It forces me to continually look at what is coming up well in advance. It keeps me ahead of the airplane and ahead of the danger curve.

When you are finishing class, walking across campus, finishing lunch, keep repeating – ‘Next Two Things’ – what are the next two things that can be done to stay ahead of the workload?’

Have a sense of urgency about using small time blocks – ‘I’m going to sit down and clean up these notes.’ ‘I can get these 10 pages read after the next class.’ ‘I’ll write up these test questions right after breakfast; I’ll start reviewing my test questions for the exam in two weeks.’

You don’t have to get it all done at once. Everything you do during the day is one thing less you have to do at night or on the weekends.

Minutes matter.

Only time you DON’T Study in the Library.

I know that I said that you should always study in the library. The exception to that is your small time blocks. If you can get to your ‘spot’ in the library, go there. However, you don’t want to waste small blocks of time walking around. You need to find alternate, quiet, and private places to get things done – quickly. Hide out and stay away from your friends.

Scout out the buildings around campus along your daily routes. There are spots for study everywhere. When I did campus tours with my daughter I made a point of looking for study areas. There were dozens of amazing spots all over the campus. You need to identify yours. Hit your fast and knock something off, even if it is just a little piece of a big assignment.

Just one more very important thing….

Weekends / Holidays – Bonus Time


I call Friday a weekend because it most certainly starts it. However, please don’t start your partying at noon. You’ve got to block in something on Friday, but nothing too late. Get an hour or two in and you’re done. Go do a workout, close the books and forget school. Head to the party.


If you look at that calendar, you’ll see I put nothing in for Saturday. Saturday is fun day. You’ll travel, go to away games, have friends visit, sleep off Friday night. That’s why I left it open. If you were using your small blocks of time you may not need Saturday. You’re ahead of the game and you’ve got no worries. Just what the weekend should be.

Just realize that Saturday truly is Bonus Time. It has HUGE potential for getting ahead. The football game doesn’t start until 1:00. (I should say the tailgate party doesn’t start until 11:00)

Get something done. One or two hours. No home game? Make it 4 hours. Do the paper. Write your test questions. Read the assignments.

You can get a lot done and not interfere with your day at all. By the time your drunken friends get out of bed, they won’t even know you were busy getting way ahead of them. Remember, just a little bit every day will pay a big dividend.

It amazes me how much Saturday time is wasted just sitting around staring at the wall or ‘waiting for your friends to wake up’. Yeah, I know, you need some downtime, but just dig deep and get a couple of hours in. Make it part of your routine.

Saturdays: Open For Business.

Sundays (and holidays)

Like Saturday. Sleep in. Do your personal stuff here. Run your errands. See the family. Relax. If you’ve worked your week, you can. You are way caught up.

Even so, it’s another huge block of bonus time for you. This is where easy A’s are made. Get some library time in the evening when you get back. Think about what is coming up and make a plan for the coming week. Know what you need to get done and when you’ll use your extra time. Use Sunday to get a head start on the week. Figure out which small time blocks you’ll need to use.

Nothing says you can’t be an assignment ahead on your reading. Take advantage of it.

Do Your Own Calendar.

You’ve got to know where your time is. Print off the weekly calendar. Think it out. Slowly and carefully, and then fill it in. Decide on a wake up time and be up each and every day regardless of your schedule. Use your small blocks of time relentlessly. Stop winging it. Match up your tasks with your small blocks of time. Use minutes during the day to save hours at night.

Go Have Fun

OK, I’ve beat this time thing to death. At this point you probably think I’m trying to torture you. You’re thinking that there’s no way you can possibly get up early every day and spend every waking minute studying.

I’m not suggesting being a study robot. College should be a blast, but here’s the point – it isn’t fun when you are stressed out all the time. The way to have less stress is by staying ahead of your workload. How much you actually need to use these small blocks of time is up to you. It’s going to depend on your schedule and what’s coming up.

The beauty of doing it this way is that you WILL be ahead of your workload. You will be completely amazed at how little you have left to do at night and on the weekends. Isn’t that really when you want to relax anyway? Why don’t you arrive there knowing that you are fully caught up?

Use minutes now. You’ll have hours later.

Exam Time. This Is Going To Be Easy.