There are three key tools of effective time management that you should uses to best manage your day-to-day: a schedule or calendar of events, a prioritized “to-do” list, and organized note taking. You’ll notice that these items don’t necessarily relate only to schoolwork – you can and should use them to sort out your entire day, week, year, etc. And you should also use them together for the best results.

Here’s a non-education-related example: You are having people over on Friday evening for dinner. You put the chores you need to take care of prior to the party on your to-do list, in the order of most important to least important – the hour you need to run to the grocery store as well as the time you need to clean up the house a bit. In addition to just listing those items, you also provide details, or notes, about the specifics of each “to-do.” You need to clean the bathroom and the kitchen? Include things like “wipe down counters,” “scrub sink,” “mop floor,” etc. Finally, you also schedule time for your cleaning and grocery store run on your calendar, along with the actual party. Ta da! You just used the three main tools to manage your time as best as possible!

Just like adding chores to specific times on your calendar, I strongly encourage you to not only include your education-related items on your to-do list, but to also use a calendar to schedule time each day (or within your week at least) to focus on those school items. You’ll want to schedule time that will allow you to have the most amount of privacy possible – if that’s how you function best, that is – and that will avoid the most distractions. Therefore, if your house is the busiest at 7pm – with kids finishing their own homework, the family finishing dinner, getting toddlers ready for bed, taking the dog for an evening walk, etc. – then maybe that’s not the best time to try and sit down by the computer.

However, if that’s the only time you have, you’ll really want to manage not only your time, but the tasks that need to be done while you’re working. Therefore, if you know the kids will sit down and do their homework alongside you, use that to your advantage! Make it “family study time” and engage each other in the topics you’re working on (if possible). Or if it’s dinner cleanup, ask family members to help out while you study, and come up with ways you can help them out in return.

No matter what you have to do to manage your time, the most important aspect of all of this is planning. The more you can plan out every detail of your day, the easier it will be and the less overwhelming and stressful school will be on top of everything else. But with that comes the requirement of being flexible. There will always be things that come up and change everything, and the only way to help ease the stress of those moments is to do what you can to prepare – stay on top of your schoolwork, have a back up plan as much as possible, factor extra time for studying in your week and then reward yourself with “me time” or something enjoyable when you find you don’t need that extra time.

Keeping an up-to-date calendar and having daily or weekly to-do lists that are kept prioritized is a fairly common response to “How can I improve my time management?” But keeping organized notes might seem a little odd, especially when you’re thinking about time management between schoolwork and household chores, or something similar (compared to in the workplace). However, think of it more along the lines of that detailed to-do list – not only do you want to have a list of tasks, such as “bake cookies for school bake sale” and “complete discussion topics for class,” but you can also include more specific details along with those tasks so that you’re organized and most information is in one spot. For instance, include the cookie recipe right next to your task list item, and write down a bit about when topics you’ll be discussing for class or what ideas you have in mind. Not only does this help keep you organized, which is a key part of time management, but it can also speed up a lot of your to-dos, which, in a way, creates more time in the day!

Finally, the last piece of advice I have to help you manage time more effectively is to think about what distracts you and eliminate it, or actually schedule time specifically for those distractions. You login to check a post you received notification about on Facebook, and suddenly it sucks you in and you spend 30 minutes scrolling through the newsfeed!? Been there, done that! So actually schedule time in your day to spend on Facebook and stick with that schedule. Then, to really make sure you don’t go over that allotted time, schedule something you enjoy doing right after your “social media time.” Making dinner is something you love to do? Well, then skim social media for 30 minutes before it’s time to start dinner. Walking the dog is that peaceful time of the day you look forward to? Make sure it’s the thing you do right after Facebook time – plus, you know that dog will demand you sign off anyways, unless you enjoy cleaning puddles off the floor as well!

All in all, you have the tools to manage your time and it just takes a little habit-building and practice in order to start using those tools. It might take some getting used to, but you’ll be happy once it starts positively effecting not only your productivity with your courses, but also your day-to-day life.