5 Practical Time Management Tips for Engineering Students

This guide is meant to equip you with time management tools to help you live a more balanced, stress-free, and efficient life as you progress through college or university.

1. The Power Hour

Let’s start off with, perhaps, the most controversial tip: “The Power Hour”. Personally, I believe in doing what’s called a “power hour” as soon as I wake up. This is an uninterrupted hour where I tackle the largest task I have for the day. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Helps me prevent procrastination by just getting started
  • Helps me feel a sense of progress early on in the day, which sets me up for a more productive day overall

2. Use a Calendar

Here’s an easy tip, and one that everyone should follow. Put everything onto a calendar! Personally, I like to use an app called Sunrise Calendar on both my iPhone and my MacBook (it’s cross platform so I can access my calendar from anywhere).

6 Practical Time Management Tips from an Engineering Student - EngineeringWorth

It allows me to color code important dates on my calendar so at a quick glance I can obtain the information I need.

  • Orange = Assignments for school
  • Red = Very Important (I generally use this either for tests, interviews, or important life events)
  • Teal = Social/Relaxing Events
  • Yellow = Personal/Life Things I want to complete/accomplish
  •  Purple = Essentially miscellaneous or something to consider

The idea of the calendar is just to give me perspective on what my weeks/months look like so I can adequately plan my days. It doesn’t matter if your calendar system is digital, physical, simple, or complex; the only thing that matters is that you consistently use it.

3. The Pomodoro Technique

 One of the greatest tools I have discovered in my lifetime for managing time is The Pomodoro Technique. You can get a bit of an overview of the technique in detail over at this site: http://pomodorotechnique.com/get-started/.

Essentially, it is a method of tracking and delegating the time you spend on certain tasks in the day. For example, I work for 25 minutes without interruption. This is one Pomodoro. This 25-minute block of work is then followed by a 5-minute break. After every fourth Pomodoro I take a 30-minute break. The cycle just repeats on and on like this until I have completed 11 Pomodoro’s in one day, at which point I am done working for the day and I use the rest of my day to relax. 11 is the daily number I have determined for myself that I can comfortably work without resulting in burnout.

Now, we can combine this technique with our calendar. For example, let’s say that you have 3 assignments due in the coming week. Assignment 1 is due on Tuesday, assignment 2 is due on Thursday, and assignment 3 is due on Friday. Let’s also assume you are completing 11 Pomodoro’s a day. Therefore, you may want to delegate 6 pomodoros to assignment 1, 3 towards assignment 2, and 2 towards assignment 3. This will allow you to efficiently manage time towards the different tasks.

Of course, delegating time isn’t as simple as only considering due dates. The importance of the assignment/task is also worth considering as we will see in the next tip.

4. Urgent vs Important (adopted from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”)

A really important part of managing time is deciding where a task lies on the urgent/important scale. This idea is adopted from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Essentially, you want to create a quick diagram like this:

6 Practical Time Management Tips from an Engineering Student - EngineeringWorth

Every activity you do throughout the day can be placed in one of the 4 quadrants above. The main goal is to stay in the top right quadrant: important but not urgent. This promotes proactive behavior so that you are always staying on top of things and minimally stressed. Here are some examples of activities that fall into the 4 categories:

Important and Urgent:

  • Serious deadlines (client deadlines, projects, assignments, etc.)
  •  Important doctor appointments

Important but not Urgent:

  • Projects/Assignment due at a later date
  • Going to the gym 

Not Important but Urgent:

  •  E-mails
  • Phone Calls
  • Texts

Not Important and Not Urgent:

  • Netflix, video games, etc.

Try to avoid quadrant 4 at all costs: not important and not urgent. Try to stay out of quadrant 3 as much as possible. By staying in quadrant 2, you will effectively reduce the amount of time you spend “putting out fires” so to speak in quadrant 1. Now, I know what you’re thinking: no Netflix?! I only put them in quadrant 4, because I believed they were not important/urgent relative to the other examples used. However, relaxation is very important, and there are times when relaxing should be your top priority and in that situation Netflix might be in quadrant 1. This is simply a tool to prioritize the tasks/goals you have in your life and it’s up to you to decide what goes in each quadrant.

5. Factor of Safety

This tip is often overlooked by most people. When we are delegating our time for the day we should always include a factor of safety to account for distractions and error in judgment. In a perfect world, I would be able to finish 11 Pomodoro’s in the day and seamlessly jump from task to task, but that’s not how the world works. We aren’t machines. We have relationships with other human beings, and it’s necessary to make time for them and to factor them into our daily planning. As a general rule of thumb, we can assume a task will take 10-20% longer than we originally think it might. This will help account for small distractions, conversations, and other things that might mess with your schedule. So, if a task is supposed to take 60 min to complete, schedule 72 min to complete it. This makes your daily planning much more accurate. You might even find that you finish tasks sooner than expected and can get even more than you planned completed in the day.

What practical time management tips do you use?