What is (good) time management?

Good time management specifically focuses on planning and controlling your time in order to increase effectiveness, efficiency and/or productivity. It involves setting realistic expectations, being willing to say “no”, and a healthy short- and long-term perspective on your studies.

When writing your thesis, you have to organise all your work yourself. This requires self-discipline and good time management. The idea of time management is that you take control of the things you have to do. Organising your task creates an overview, which helps give you clarity on what needs to be done and allows you to take control of your studies.

Effective time management is about getting more done with your available time. Planning your work in detail may seem like a waste of time, but taking time to organise and prioritise will help you work more efficiently. This will cost some extra time in the beginning, but you will definitely see the results of your investment in the long-term.

What challenges good time management?

Bad time management = wasting time = not working = spending time on activities that do not provide any value. There may be some elements of your personality and working methods that are making it very hard for you to meet deadlines. Here are some of the common time management flaws – if you can recognise them in yourself, it may be time to make a change.

  • You never say ‘no’, and make yourself too accessible.
  • You are not able to prioritise or recognise what is urgent.
  • Perfectionism; anxiety or stress about being perfect or doing a perfect job can cause you to spend much more time than needed.
  • Fear of failure;  find more information on fear of failure here.

Nobody is perfect, we all have our challenges. If you recognise yourself in more than one of the following, you might have trouble with time management.

  • People expect you to be late.
  • You are regularly behind schedule.
  • You reschedule appointments more than once.
  • You forget to-do’s.
  • You cannot find things.
  • You endlessly procrastinate.

How to better manage your time

By structuring your study time on a weekly and daily basis you will gain control over your time and avoid the distraction of unimportant activities. To successfully organise your time, you need to work out how much time is available and how you can best use this time. Some advantages of a good planning are:

  • It can prevent stress, rushed work and missed deadlines.
  • Spare time actually becomes real spare time. You will be able to better enjoy your spare time, because you won’t feel any pressure to study. As a result, you will be able to relax more easily during your spare time and that gives you again more energy to study.
  • You’ll take better notice of things that have priority. You prevent postponing important things and avoid getting into trouble.
  • You are more able to keep your long-term objectives in mind (for example graduation).

Two different types of plannings are weekly plannings and semester plannings. Click on the toggles to get more information about both types, and tips on how to implement them in your studies.

Weekly activity planner

Planning at this level is mainly about developing a successful study routine. To make a good plan, it is important to plan realistically. That means that if you are a night person, don’t plan your study activities at 8 in the morning. Take into account when you study best. Everyone has different habits and it is important to know what suits you personally and to balance your study/personal time well.

Tips to make a weekly activity planner:

  1. Compile lists of tasks to be completed during the week. Some of these may be done in odd spare hours, such as between tutorials. Others will require long stretches of time.
  2. Allocate these tasks to days and periods of time, depending on how big each task is, and how urgent.
  3. Leave time slots for sports or other personal relaxation.
  4. Mark crucial dates for submission of assignments, for example with a highlighter or coloured border.
  5. Try to set up routines that you can develop and stick to.
  6. Build small rewards (such as treats, or a fun activity) into your weekly plan, to keep you going.
  7. Be flexible! Learn from your mistakes. If your schedule is not working, then change it.
Semester planner

A semester planner is a paper/poster you can place on your wall or by your desk. It allows you to plan your workload over an entire semester and helps remind you of deadlines and upcoming commitments.

Tips to make a semester planner:

  1. Place the planner in a position where you have easy access to it.
  2. Work out how long you will need to complete each task. Allow yourself plenty of time.
  3. Set start dates for each task and write them in your planner.
  4. Mark deadlines and crucial dates with a highlighter or a coloured border. 
  5. Use different colours for different subjects/classes/courses/assignments.

Common time ‘thieves’

Problem Solution
Feeling so overwhelmed and anxious about your workload that you ‘freeze’, put things off and don’t get anything done. 1. Set priorities.
2. Get started. Actually starting a task reduces your anxiety about it. List all the tasks you have to do in order of importance and urgency (first deadline at the top), and work through them one at a time.
Putting off starting a task because it feels so overwhelming or difficult that you can’t face it. Break up the workload into small chunks. This is a very effective strategy. Divide work into as many small, achievable tasks as you can. Then when you sit down to study, you are not facing a huge pile of work, but one small task at a time. Take a break after completing a ‘chunk’. If it’s something you’ve really been dreading, reward yourself when you’ve done it!
Daydreaming or ‘drifting off’. Check your energy level and concentration. Take a short break or a little exercise every hour. Open a window and walk around.
Feeling that you can’t begin because you won’t be able to produce a ‘perfect’ thesis. Forget about writing a masterpiece — aim for reasonable results. It’s better to produce a reasonable effort and pass, than to delay for so long that you produce nothing.


General tips & tools for students

  • Do not plan too much: it is more motivating if you are able to complete the tasks you planned.
  • Try chunking difficult tasks into sections. This allows you to approach a large task as a series of manageable parts.
  • Do not plan too tightly: make sure you have a margin if tasks take more time than you previously thought.
  • Don’t put off small tasks: completing them straight away encourages you to begin tackling larger tasks.
  • Cluster your appointments so it does not take the whole day. Make a “to-do-list” for things that you have to arrange/do and determine what has priority. Plan some time so you can arrange some of these things in one time. In that way, your time will not be divided.
  • Evaluate your plan frequently, and if necessary, reschedule it. At the end of the day, examine if your plan for the next day is still correct and prepare your things to be ready when your day starts.
  • Learn to say ‘no’ or ‘not now but maybe later’.
  • Find a place to study where you are less likely to be interrupted.

Get support

Good time management means good self-management! Talk to your supervisor about difficulties you encounter or visit a student advisor. Do not put off asking for advice. The longer you wait, the more anxious you will feel about it.

Available workshops at Maastricht University

The Student Services Centre has a wide range of training, workshops and lectures available that can help you with your studies. Take a look at their website for more information, for example for these topics: Study efficacy increase group (thesis); Assertiveness training; Workshop Time Management.


The Learning Centre of the University of New South Wales