Time to clock in? Find the tried and true time management strategies that online learning experts use and recommend for staying on track of work and development.
It used to be that the response to “How are you?” was “Good! How about you?” and not “busy.” But times have changed. Especially as we move towards online and remote environments, it’s become harder to set boundaries around work, study, and personal life. Proper time management is more and more important as days seem to be shorter than they should and weeks fly by.
As an online learning platform, we’re no strangers to the challenges of self-paced and remote learning. While it’s a lot more flexible than traditional models, it’s not easier to adjust. Because online learners are in charge of their own training, they need to be careful with how they use their time.
With that, we’ve compiled the top 10 time management tips to teach your workforce remotely — although these would work for in-person activities as well.
Our top 10 time management strategies for online and remote learners
1. Plan your week
One of the biggest timesucks is sitting around figuring out what to do next. Instead, prep your week ahead and map out an action plan for everything you need to do. Friday or Sunday are good days to do this.
Check the syllabus for important deadlines and account for the time each assignment should take. While you may not have an exact timeframe, try to be realistic or use past assignments for reference. Then block off actual time on your calendar (you are using a calendar, aren’t you?) to get the work done. Include deadlines and check-ins with instructors on your calendar too.
It’s a smart idea to plan a daily check-in to keep work from piling up at the end of the week. Most online learning platforms encourage students to schedule 1.5 to 2 hours of dedicated study per day to get the best out of their courses.
2. Set priorities
The truth is time management is a lot about managing priorities and expectations. A lot of people get distracted by endless to-do lists and struggle to check anything off. As you plan your week, prioritize the tasks that need to be completed instead of the ones that would be nice to complete. Of course, play and rest matter as well, so be sure to include them in your schedule.
There’s a famous strategy called the 1 3 5 rule that helps you break down your to-do list based on the size of the task you’ll be doing — so you schedule 1 big thing, 3 medium things, and 5 smaller things per day.
To prevent stretching yourself thin, keep an eye for open tasks you can assign to someone else on your team. It might surprise you how many tasks you can outsource to someone else on your team.
3. Plan for interruptions
You’ll likely not be able to work uninterruptedly for more than a few hours. it’s just not realistic to expect to do so. To prevent spending more time than you should on unexpected interruptions, it’s best to account them into your schedule. Watching a three-hour seminar? Plan for a quick break halfway to get some water and move your body for a few minutes.
Other temptations when studying online include social media, your smartphone, and even your inbox. Instead of “banning” them and then checking them mindlessly, set specific times to check without interrupting your workflow.
4. Schedule tasks around your most productive times
Whether you’re a night owl or an early riser, use the times when you feel best to get the most focused work done.
One example of this may be scheduling all the tidying up and proofreading for Friday if you don’t think you’ll be able to write a paper then. After a while of online training, you’ll learn your rhythms and figure out a routine that feels good where you can produce your best work. Stick to it!
A good rule of thumb for time management is planning your day in 45-50 minute increments. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to focus for much longer than that without a little break. Many fitness trackers even beep at the 50-minute mark to encourage you to move around for a minute or two.
5. Designate (and organize) your work area
A lot of people have a hard time with remote learning because they’re in the same space all day. One way to beat this is setting up a workstation to create a transition from personal to business. Much like you would during your commute.
It’s also important to keep your desk (or table) clean, stocked with work essentials, and free of distractions. A water bottle, some snack bars, and a pen and paper are all you need around when you’re studying.
6. Stop multitasking
If you’re doing a lot at the same time, you’re being productive. Right? Not true. Multitasking means transitioning from one thing to another in a short span rather than devoting undivided attention to one thing. So you may end up taking longer to complete a task than you realize.
Studies show that it takes your brain a while to adjust when switching between tasks. So instead of juggling 2-3 things at once, you want to focus on one thing until you finish or for a fixed time. Try both approaches depending on what the task is. If you need a breather, find a good stopping point and take a break. You’ll be able to get back to another task for another block of time.
A lot of remote workers use a time management technique known as batching, where you schedule everything that’s similar in one block of time. For example, outline all your assignments for a course at once, even if the deadlines are far apart. Another method you can use is time blocking, where you set 1-2 hour blocks of time to a specific task, breaking your day into multiple blocks to work through your list.
7. Set deadlines
Especially for self-paced courses, where no one is pushing you to deliver, it may be hard to complete your work on time. In this case, set deadlines for yourself even if your syllabus is lenient. This keeps your workload even and manageable throughout the duration of the course.
8. Devise an accountability plan
Another important element of in-person training is instructors holding you accountable. This may not be the case in online training. Thus, personal accountability is crucial for effective time management.
If you need some outside motivation, consider enlisting a friend or classmate to keep you accountable — and do the same for them. Regular check-ins make it easier to stick to your plan and do the work on time.
9. Break projects into milestones
A lot of us find ourselves looking at a big project and unsure of how to tackle it. If it’s happened to you, an easy way to beat the overwhelm is to break the project into milestones that feel manageable and take things one step at a time.
A milestone can be anything from outlining a big paper to finishing the research for your presentation. As long as you can pinpoint a start and endpoint to it, it’s valid. Monday.com defines milestones as “checkpoints in a project that are used to identify significant events.
10. Set clear goals
If you can’t see a goal for the course or program, it will probably be harder to manage your time. In general, dropout rates in online learning are high, so it’s important that you feel compelled and motivated by your goal.
Your goal should be something that matters to you. Whether you want a pay raise or a promotion, or your boss assigned this course, you want to have an end in sight in order to stick to your planning.
Time management is less about time and more about priorities
It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole of endless trackers and task lists that may feel productive in practice but in reality, are only filling your day with busy work that would lead to very little results.
In reality, all the calendars in the world will mean little if you’re focused on the wrong things or unclear about what you need to focus on. That’s why the time management tips included in this list start with prioritizing and blocking out time for everything you need to accomplish.
Once you’re clear about what you need to do and why, your days will flow much better and it’ll be easier to get to what really matters.