Top 5 Time Management Mistakes of College Students

Top 5 Time Management Mistakes of College Students

Most college students start the school year with the best of intentions. Stay on track, try my best, get decent grades, that sort of thing. No one plans on letting assignments pile up to the point of pouring a fresh cup of coffee at 1:00 AM to catch up. 

So if this isn’t the reality students want, why do they end up there?

There can be a few contributing factors. Students who have to work jobs while in school will struggle with finding the time for their schoolwork. Others struggle with anxiety, burnout, or sickness, diminishing their emotional and physical capacities.

But by and far away, the major contributing factor to stress and struggle is not knowing how to manage their time.


College Students and Time Management

A 2023 study reported that a whopping 87% of college students said that better time management and organization skills would help them get better grades. Less stress, more success? Yes, please. 

That same study also stated that 88% of college students want to improve their ability to manage their time. After all, no one envisions their college experience being riddled with bad grades and sleep deprivation. 

If the desire is there, this begs the question: what’s the holdup? Why are college students still struggling with their productivity? 

This question is akin to asking why someone would struggle with a marathon after running a 5k. You’re talking about a different level of necessary training. 

For most college students, their journey into postsecondary education is their first taste of independence. They’re often no longer around their family support system and are now the sole manager of their time and well-being. No curfews, no packed lunches, no family functions. They’re the only ones to manage and see their day-to-day life. 

If students aren’t trained on how to handle this level of responsibility and college-level work (plus trying to navigate an entirely new social scene), it’s easy to see why they stumble. 

Adaptability varies depending on your personality, upbringing, natural skills, and other factors. However, no matter where your starting line is, everyone can learn the important practice of effective time management. 


Time Management Mistakes

Time management is the practice of effectively scheduling, planning, and self-managing your time and tasks. When you learn how to manage your time well in college, you improve your grades, motivation, and stress levels. It’s a win-win-win situation. 

The (not-so-much) secret is to avoid five common mistakes when trying to get organized.


Mistake #1: Unrealistic Expectations

Bill Gates once said, “Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.” While setting goals is an important and effective tool for your success, overambitious expectations for a semester can lead to disappointment and burnout. 

How to Set Realistic Expectations

Practice SMART Goals

It’s difficult to manage an overloaded schedule effectively. One way to make sure your expectations for the school year will spur productivity is by using the SMART goal framework. Is the goal Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound? 

For example, if you struggled to get good grades in high school, it may not be a highly achievable goal to get all As in your first semester of college. Aiming for Bs would still work towards the greater goal of academic success while still working within your realistic capabilities. 


Mistake #2: Procrastination

Every college student will deal with procrastination at some point. Psychologist William Knaus estimated that 90% of college students experience procrastination. Out of that group, 25% are chronic procrastinators who are highly at risk of dropping out of school. 

Procrastination is relatively easy to identify. If you find yourself saying, “I’ll get to it later,” but “later” never seems to come around, you’re procrastinating. The key is to identify why you’re procrastinating and build a game plan to address that issue. 

How to Overcome Procrastination 

Time Blocking

Time blocking is the process of creating blocks in your schedule to tackle specific tasks for an allotted block of time. A great tool for this is The Centered Student Planner. This planner was designed to give students an all-in-one visual snapshot of their entire week to make time blocking quick and easy. You can also use a digital calendar or dry-erase whiteboard calendar to accomplish the same goal!


A major reason college students procrastinate is because they feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done. “Chunking” is the process of breaking down a task or assignment into smaller, more manageable tasks. 

For example, if you have a research project due in two weeks, writing “Do research project” on your To-Do List Pad will feel vague and daunting. Instead, break it down into achievable steps like, “Collect five resources on [project topic],” or “Add introduction and first paragraph to the first draft of outline.” 

By minimizing the task size, it’s easier to get started on the work. 


Mistake #3: Overcommitment

College is a fun and exciting time that offers a lot of opportunities for students. However, if your calendar is suddenly filled with study sessions, dorm events, sports practices, and parties, you’ll find yourself stretched too thin to do your best.

How to Avoid Overcommitment

Perform A Time Audit

It’s difficult to know what you should say yes or no to if you’re not sure how much time you have to give. This is best done by timing yourself, rather than making estimations. Research shows we’re prone to underestimate the amount of time a task will take, even when we’ve completed that task before. This is known as the “planning fallacy.” Spend a few days tracking your time to see how much your routines currently cost you. 

You can download our free Time Audit Worksheet to evaluate your schedule and make sure it’s lining up with your priorities and goals. 


Download our free time audit worksheet


Once you’ve performed a time audit, you’ll have a much better idea of what you should and should not commit to so you can stay on track.

Think it Over

If you’re a self-identified people pleaser, you may be guilty of quickly agreeing to any commitment that comes your way. Even if you’re not, you still might be overextending yourself. A simple trick to avoid this is by building a new reflex. 

If someone asks you to study with them, join their club, or attend an event, practice the quick response of, “I’m going to need to check my planner!” This will buy you time to check your schedule. If you have the margin for it, you can say yes knowing that you’re not adding to your stress!


Mistake #4: Distractions

One of the greatest enemies of effective time management is distraction. Disruptions can come from roommates, our own brains, or unexpected circumstances, but research shows that technology is one of the major culprits of attention theft. Two-thirds of U.S. students reported that they get distracted by using digital devices, such as smartphones, websites, or apps. 

Eliminating Distractions

Digitally Simplify

While avoiding technology altogether is nearly impossible for college students, there are steps to take to minimize possible distractions:

  • Put away the technology you’re not actively using. If you don’t need your phone to study (and you probably don’t), turn it off and put it in your backpack. 
  • Turn off your notifications. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole when something pops up on your computer and find that you’ve lost 30 minutes on something pointless.  
  • Use a website blocker. There are plenty of free tools that can temporarily block access to websites that will suck away your time. 

Pick A Dedicated Workspace 

Having a spot that’s dedicated to productive work helps minimize distractions and signals to your brain that it’s time to get work done. This could be a corner of the school library, a desk in your dorm room, or a local coffee shop. Wherever it is, make this location’s sole purpose getting work done. Enjoy movie nights, hangouts, or other activities away from your workspace to maintain the rhythm in your body and brain of arriving at your spot and being productive. 


Mistake #5: Lack of Organization and Planning

This is the biggest mistake when it comes to time management. Time is similar to money. If you don’t plan how you’re going to spend it, you’ll find yourself with less than you thought you had. Returning to the marathon analogy, you wouldn’t expect yourself to run 26 miles without training properly. Why would we assume we can do our best academically without a plan? 

Become An Organizing Pro

Use A Planning Tool

One of the best resources for learning and implementing time management is The Centered Student Planner. The only academic planner created by a teaching college professor, this planner was designed to teach students the step-by-step process of practicing effective organization. 

You can also use digital resources like Google Calendar or a free project management tool like Asana or Trello to plan your schedule and manage your tasks.

When planning, here are key items to keep in mind:

  • Class schedule
  • Assignment due dates
  • Study sessions
  • Extracurricular activities or events
  • Self-care routines
  • Semester goals

Check In Regularly

Organization doesn’t function as a “set it and forget it” system. One of the key principles of maintaining time management is planning on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis. A sustainable practice of organization requires regular attention. This can look as simple as a one-hour planning session on Sundays with a quick 10-minute check-in each morning. Whatever your routine is, make it consistent. 

By avoiding these time management pitfalls and implementing organization techniques, you can completely change your college experience. 

Bye-bye, all-nighters 👋


Manage your time with The Centered Student Planner




  1. RP news wires. (2023). College students struggle with organizational skills.; Noria Corporation.
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