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Time Management for Non-Traditional College Students

Updated on December 2, 2014

According to the National Center for Education Statistics about 71% of college students are categorized as the non-traditional college students. These are people who didn’t enter into college immediately following high school. Many college students today have fulltime jobs, a family to take care of, and a myriad of other responsibilities. Earning a college degree can be overwhelming for people today.

Yet, it can be done. I poll my students after every online class I teach. There are always two primary reasons they had difficulty during the semester: Self-discipline and time management. I completely understand where they are coming from. I earned one college degree in the seated format and two in the online format. I empathize with my students every semester.

Time management tends to have ripple effects into our emotional and physical health. If we don't learn how to manage our time, we tend to have more anxiety and can even feel the effects of brain fog. Anxiety leads to higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels which thickens our blood and can cause other physical and emotional ailments. In essence, we need to learn to manage our time better so that we can avoid health disasters caused by stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.

If we aren’t managing our time...we aren’t controlling our time. When we lose control of our time, we lose control of our life. Here are some time management ideas for your consideration:

Frontload your time: While this isn’t always possible, do it when you can. This means you need to make sure you have someone who can help you with your children if you have a major assignment due or a test to study for. Don’t wait until you need them. Also, when you are preparing meals, always make extra to freeze. This makes it easy to have future meals ready if you are the primary cook in your family. Also, review your syllabus. If there is anything you can do for school ahead of time…do it!

Use the study time wisely: When you do set aside 60 minutes for reading or homework be sure you are using that time to the fullest extent. This is very important. Distractions are easy to come by. Do you need your phone by your side for this hour? Can you stay off of Facebook or other social media for that hour? Do whatever you can to avoid distractions. Use those minutes selfishly.

Set a study time and stick to it: If you know that after dinner is the most plausible time to work for an hour on homework/reading, and then make sure you "take" that hour. You don't need to set aside four hours to do homework. That isn't healthy. But, if you can set 30 minutes (perhaps at lunch) and 60-90 minutes in the evening (at a specific time) you are likely to succeed in meeting that commitment. You may not have to study every day, but having that time set aside could form a positive habit. Weekends are also a prime time for non-traditional learners to work. I used to get up extra early on Saturday mornings. People form bad habits relatively easy; we can form good habits in the same way.

Calendars: If you have a family and people who count on you it would be wise to have one main calendar posted where everyone can see it. If everyone has a calendar app on their phone, you can share the calendars that way. Technology has made it very convenient for people to share calendars. Along with your family calendar you may want to have an extra task list just for your school work/events.

To-do list: This was my best friend from my undergraduate degree through my doctorate. There was something very powerful about crossing things off of my list (emotional value). While you can use an app on your phone for this, I used pen and paper. I found that when I wrote it down with pen and paper I would comprehend my list better. It helped me tremendously.

Sacrifice: Yes, sacrifice. You will need to compromise. I missed many family gatherings, outings, and other fun events because I had to stay home to write a paper or study. This is where your self-discipline will be challenged. If you have a strong support system, this won't be as difficult. Fortify your emotions so that you don't feel pressure from people who are trying to veer you off of your course. Remind yourself that you are doing this for a reason and that you have some incredible goals that you are going to achieve in the near future. Often, when we "sacrifice" we tend also to feel "accomplishment". It made me stronger.

Get physical: Where do you find the time to exercise? I know…it's very difficult. However, if you can find even 20-30 minutes early in the day, you will discover that you will have less stress, anxiety, and brain fog. When you exercise you increase the oxygen in your bloodstream, and this helps your brain in so many ways. You don't need a lot of time. Just try to do something during the day.

Junk the junk food: Seriously….try to NOT touch it! When we are stretched for time…our health can fail. We don't exercise, and we eat the easiest food we can find: snacks and fast food. Frontload your time in buying healthy food and snacks at the beginning of each week. Pack something you really like in your bag, car, or container at your desk. If it's a healthy snack that you really like, you are more apt to eat it rather than using a vending machine. The sugar and fat from unhealthy food can spin your brain out of control and losing focus is typically the result. You can’t afford to lose focus! Losing focus cuts in your time.

Be flexible. Every person is unique and so is their environment. Try a few different things to see what works. You may find that getting up extra early is a better time for you to study than after dinner in the evening. Also, sharing calendars on your phone with family may not work well either. You may need an entirely different calendar system. You may also find that you function higher while working on your laptop at a coffee shop, or you may need the serenity of a quite library to write that lengthy paper. Don’t force a square peg into a round hold. Be flexible and try new things to see what works best for you.

There is no "one size fits all" for time management. The time management scheme that fit me may not exactly fit you. If you keep working at it, you will find the perfect blend of compromise and scheduling that will meet your needs. When you do…share your gift. Pass on your ideas to others!


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    • Dr Kitty Brandal profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr. Kitty Brandal 

      3 years ago from Huron, OH


      Isn't that the truth! Although I am not immune to junk food myself, I do know it has a major impact on our concentration and even our current point of view. Being foggy or feeling tired can have a major strain on our time management. I don't know that many people realize that...but, what we put into our body...impacts our brain!

      I really appreciate your comment!

    • rebekahELLE profile image


      3 years ago from Tampa Bay

      This is such a helpful hub for the busy non-traditional college student as well as any college student. You've covered the important points well. I love the part about junking the junk food. I know it's so easy to stop and pick up fast food. I also think it's important for them to get outside in nature and relax, or take the homework outside to a quiet place. This will be shared!


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