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Study tips: three time management techniques for when stress hits

Posted on 16/09/2015 by
Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of study you need to do? We share some time management techniques to help you get back on track.

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of study you need to do? We share some time management techniques to help you get back on track.

Sometimes stress can come out of nowhere. One day you’re feeling focused and in control, the next you feel overwhelmed by the mountain of work in front of you. When this happens, you have three choices:

  • Crawl back under the covers and pretend your to-do list doesn’t exist (aka – procrastinate).
  • Start working frantically, jumping from one task to the next, with barely a moment to stop and eat let alone check whether your work is up to standard (aka – take your stress levels and multiply them by 100).
  • Reassess your priorities (aka – get back in control)

Can you guess which approach we support?

When stress hits, the first thing you need to do is get organised and reassess your priorities. If you have a short amount of time to achieve a certain number of goals, then you need to figure out which tasks need to be done immediately, and which tasks can wait.

Easier said than done, right? Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Here are three time management techniques that will help you become more productive and less stressed.

1. Write a better to-do list

Hands up who likes to write every tiny thing they need to do down so they can enjoy the satisfaction of crossing it off? While this can be satisfying when you are on top of your workload, when you get slightly behind the list ends up a mile long and begins to fill you with dread rather than pride.

If this sounds like you, it’s time to give your humble to-do list a makeover:

  • Split your to-do list into two sections: ‘Should Do’ and ‘Could Do’
  • Place urgent tasks under the ‘Should Do’ section and any non-urgent tasks under the ‘Could Do’ section
  • Ignore the ‘Could Do’ tasks until all of the ‘Should Do’ tasks are completed

You’ll find that most of the ‘Could Do’ tasks are easy, like ‘buy new stationery’ or ‘make the bed’, but they don’t really have an impact on your overall stress levels. If you spend your time ticking these easy tasks off your to-do list, you might be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking you are being productive – but really, you haven’t even made a dent in your important work.

Gary Keller, author of the best-selling book The ONE Thing, calls this approach the ‘Success List’. He encourages people to concentrate the majority of their energy on the tasks that will help them achieve the greatest success.

“Long hours spent checking off a to-do list and ending the day with a full trash can and a clean desk are not virtuous and have nothing to do with success,” he writes.

“Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list – a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.”

It can take awhile to get used to this approach, but once you do, your productivity will soar. You’ll realise that although tasks such as making your bed and buying new stationery are important, the consequences for not achieving them are minor. Whereas the consequences for not spending enough time on your assignments could be much more drastic.

2. Set daily goals

Closely linked to the idea of writing a better to-do list is to set yourself daily goals. These do not have to be big – in fact, they are much more likely to be small. This is otherwise known as breaking down your study assignments into tiny, achievable tasks.

We all know how stressful it is to write an entire essay in one day. But what happens if you break this process down over a number of days, or if possible, weeks? All of a sudden researching and writing that assignment seems a lot more achievable.

Motivational speaker and professional coach Brian Tracy calls this ‘Salami Slicing’ your tasks.

“Just as you would never try to eat a whole loaf of salami at once, don’t try to take on all of a job from the start. Sometimes the best way to stop procrastinating and complete a major job is to take a small slice and complete just that piece, just as you would take a single slice of salami and eat it,” Brian writes.

3. Understand your limits

So you’ve got an epic ‘success list’ and you have some daily goals to work towards – you’re well on your way to achieving great results. But before you get started, there’s one important thing to remember: understand your own limits.

When it comes to time management, the last thing you want to do is overstretch yourself. There’s no point in writing a to-do list that involves ten hours of study per day, when in reality you only have three hours to spare.

“It’s nice to think that you can work for 8-10 hours straight, especially when you’re working to a deadline,” writes Sarah Pavey of

“But it’s impossible for anyone to focus and produce really high-quality work without giving their brains some time to rest and recharge.”

The best to-do lists are honest and revolve around an individual’s capacity to get work done. You’ll know how long you can focus before you need a break, and how much study you can put in each day before you start to tune out and lose interest. It’s best to structure your to-do list around your own limits. That way you’ll achieve the very best results.

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