The time management strategies you choose in college can make or break your college experience. Between work, school, and other obligations, such as tending to the kids or keeping the house clean, you may feel there’s not enough time in your day to get it all done. Fortunately, there are many free time management tools available that not only can help keep you organized amidst the chaos, but also save you tons of time as well.
We’ve compiled a list of our favorite time management tools that will help you feel more efficient and less stressed, giving you more control over your life and academic success.
Why Every Student Needs the Right Time Management Tools
Whether you’re stuck in a career rut or just hoping to finish what you started years ago, going back to college is a monumental undertaking. Most adult students are already juggling quite a bit—children, spouses, needy pets, homes that won’t clean themselves, and demanding jobs. And if you’re like most people, you struggle to squeeze in a little self-care, healthy eating, or exercise. These competing demands can make a college degree feel daunting. It doesn’t have to be.
Consider the role a budget plays in your financial health. If you spend money without thinking, you might not be able to save for the future or afford all of your living expenses. Armed with a little information about where your paycheck goes and a commitment to reining in costs, your money can stretch. The same principle holds true for your time.
One recent study found that business owners waste an average of 21 hours per week, devoting much of their time to pointless interruptions. A 2018 analysis found that the average person spends 144 minutes on social media per day. That’s nearly 17 wasted hours a week. Imagine what you could do with a few extra hours, let alone 17. Intelligent time management tools help you better understand how you use your time, so you can prioritize the things that matter and trim the fat from your schedule.
The Five Best Free Time Management Tools for Adult Students
These free time management tools are flexible enough to use with any time management system, don’t require a lot of technical expertise, and can adapt as your needs and your schedule change.
Trello is a versatile platform for managing projects, whether you’re working with others or alone. When using this tool, you can create individual projects for home, school, and work tasks, and then organize them via subtasks within that project. For example, you might have a project for housework, childcare needs, homework, study goals, work projects, and financial goals. Then you might assign specific duties to each task.
One of the great things about Trello is that it allows you to see everything all in one place, visually representing long- and short-term goals. But rather than making these goals feel overwhelming, you can break them down into small, actionable steps. It’s an all-in-one system that can track your progress from here to just about anywhere you want to go.
You can easily move tasks between projects, assign tasks to others, and incorporate multimedia elements, including external links and photos. This means you can integrate Trello into any other system you use. You don’t have to install an app or use a specific browser. The web-based interface works on just about any device, and it’s free to sign up.
Distractions can derail even the most well-thought-out time management initiatives. But with push notifications on everything, endless social media demands, and the lingering sense that there’s something you need to do right now, avoiding distraction can prove nearly impossible.
These apps can help you focus on the task at hand:
- Pomodairo. This app draws on the much-lauded Pomodoro technique, which encourages working in intensely efficient bursts of 25 minutes. You can track your productivity, allowing you to observe trends in distraction over time.
- SelfControl. This simple app allows you to block anything that distracts you, such as email and social media, for a period of time you choose. The simple act of trying to navigate to a site and being thwarted may help you realize how often you divert your attention.
- StayFocused. Rather than blocking social media altogether, this app lets you limit your time on distracting sites. That way you can get a break without losing all your study time.
- AntiSocial. Think you’re a master of multitasking? Convinced you use your time more wisely than your friends? This clever app lets you compare your device use to that of others. It may stoke your competitive spirit, inspiring you to make better use of limited time.
This simple, classic time management tool remains one of the best options for busy adult students. It requires no technical expertise and is totally free. You can use the web-based program or install the app on your phone for on-the-go planning. Some of the many benefits of Google Calendar include:
- The ability to create multiple, color-coded calendars and then integrate them into one calendar—or view them separately. Track school and work deadlines, or build a calendar for each of your kids’ projects.
- Share calendars with others, while protecting your privacy. You can share specific calendars with specific people, while keeping other calendars private.
- Create to-do lists and tasks associated with calendared items. You can enter an item for a specific day or devise complicated to-do lists.
- Many view options. Manage your time by the hour, day, week, or month. Color code tasks and deadlines for easier viewing.
- Integration with Gmail. If you use Gmail, it’s easy to set up task reminders and get emails at intervals you choose. You can also use Gcalendar with other programs, though you’ll have to click through a few extra screens.
- Clean mobile app. The Gmail app works well on all mobile devices, doesn’t use up a lot of storage space, and includes a clean, unobtrusive display that still offers plenty of different planning options.
You don’t have to use apps or stare at a screen to thoughtfully manage your time. Some people love the convenience and portability of paper planning. One great option is bullet journaling. This option allows you to combine a journal, note-taking, and task lists all in one planning system. Your plans can be as elaborate or as simple as you desire.
If you have an inner artist or love arts and crafts, check out the many gorgeous bullet journal spreads on Pinterest. You can relax and indulge in self-care by decorating your planner, all while focusing on your goals. It’s the best of all possible worlds for stationery and art lovers.
Evernote is a note-taking app that allows you to organize every paper scrap, every idea, and every plan into a single, streamlined, searchable spot. Revisit class notes, check your calendar, and examine your to-do list without scrolling through five different apps and 10 different screens.
Love the idea of Evernote, but not ready to fully switch to digital planning? Moleskine makes an Evernote journal that enables you to write handwritten notes and transfer them to the Evernote app.
How to Use Time Management Tools
There’s no single time management tool that works for everyone, so if your experience is inconsistent with the hype surrounding an app, try something else. Some questions you can ask yourself to choose the right system include:
- How many roles am I juggling?
- What type of planning works best for me? Do I find screens distracting, or is paper planning frustrating for me?
- What are my biggest time management barriers? How can I overcome these obstacles?
- How much time do I need to commit to planning and budgeting my time?
How SNU Supports You
SNU understands the many competing demands adult students face. That’s why we’ve crafted degree programs designed for busy schedules and complicated lives. You can finish school sooner than you think, with less stress and a smaller time commitment than you might imagine. No matter what your goals are, we’re here to serve you.
For more time management tools and strategies, check out our infographic, Time Management Tips for Adult Students.
*This post was originally published in January, 2019 and has been updated since.