As a Distance Education (DE) student, time management is crucial to success. When I was a DE student, I had to make a conscious effort to manage my time properly. It can be tempting to spend all day watching TV or reading a good book, but that doesn’t leave any time to get your assignments completed. After years of trial and error, I found a system that worked well for me.

Here are some time management tricks that worked for me:

Make a timeline and stick to it.

At the beginning of the semester, your teachers will send you the timeline for your classes. Make sure to actually read it. I liked to go through and make small adjustments to my due dates that would allow me to take time off around major holidays, while being mindful of the deadlines I had to meet. Then I would communicate my plan to my teacher. Sticking to this timeline and keeping open communications with my teachers really helped me manage my time on a larger, semester-wide scale.

How I did it: There are a lot of digital tools and apps out there, but I use a paper agenda to keep track most of my due dates. Being able to hold my schedule in my hands made it feel more real, and it made me more accountable to myself and to my teachers. For bigger, far off due dates, such as chapter exams, I would use a digital calendar with reminders.

Set your priorities.

Make a list of the assignments and lessons you have to complete and organize it in a way that makes sense to you. For example, I organized my tasks by due date or difficulty. Then, I would start at the top of the list and work my way to the bottom. This method helped keep me busy so I didn’t finish one task, then spend half an hour searching for the next one. It also gave me set, clear goals. By using a list, it’s clear when you’re done all your tasks and can move on to extracurricular activities.

How I did it: Whiteboards are great for organizing priorities. I split the whiteboard into two columns: daily tasks and weekly tasks. The daily tasks would include my readings and meetings with teachers, while the weekly tasks focused on larger items like assignments. Once I completed a task, I would either check it off or erase it entirely. This visual representation helped me keep track of my progress throughout the day and gave me a sense of satisfaction when I had completed everything on the board.

Make some goals.

Set goals for yourself throughout the day, week, month, and semester. Some examples of goals I set for myself were “Read a chapter in my science textbook” or “Book a math chapter exam”. When I achieved one of these small goals, I would do something I enjoy, such as play a song on the guitar or make myself a cup of tea.

My weekly goals were often centered around assignments, with my monthly goals focused on finishing units of a given class. I liked to make my semester goals bigger, such as completing all my studies before Christmas so I could take a couple weeks to relax with my family. I find this system of goals highly rewarding, but you have to be careful not to set arbitrarily small goals — this will just lead to spending all your time rewarding yourself!

How I did it: Both agendas and whiteboards are great for keeping track of your goals. By using these tools together, I was able to keep an eye on both my smaller and larger goals and decide when I could reward myself for completing a task.

Stay in touch with your teachers.

Trust me; your teachers want to see you! I didn’t keep in touch for the longest time. I often spun my wheels on a problem for days before asking for help, which put me behind in my studies. AFter I started communicating more freely with my teachers, I noticed that I progressed through my assignment more quickly and my grades improved. Reaching out can be scary but it’s important to realize that there’s an amazing network of teachers at ADLC, VVS, and CFED excited to help you and they’re only an email, phone call, or Skype chat away!

How I did it: I am not a fan of traditional phone calls, so I would Skype with them or go into the Edmonton campus to meet with them in person. I was lucky that the majority of my teachers were located in one office close to where I lived.

Make time for yourself.

Because there is (probably) no physical separation between home and school for DE students, it can be tempting to continue working on a project for too long. Although this may seem good for productivity, it can lead to burnout. In the long run, this can put you behind schedule and make you more easily distractible. I think it’s important to make time for things you enjoy doing — such as spending time with family, playing music, exercising, or anything else you find fun. These structured breaks away from schoolwork help you to come back feeling refreshed and ready for another full day of work.

How I did it:  In order to help keep work and play separated, I left everything related to school in a separate room. I would only use that room for my schoolwork, which helped me stay in a working mindset while in that room.. This isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can, I strongly recommend keeping your school supplies and schoolwork away from your bedroom if you can. Then, you’ll be able to keep your workspace separate from your rest space.

These five strategies worked well for me and helped me to avoid lulls in my day. The clear timelines let me know if I was managing my time properly in the grand scheme of the semester while the short-term and long-term goals served as positive reinforcement for a job well done. Reaching out to my teachers helped me realize that I wasn’t alone in my education process and taking those well-deserved breaks from studies helped me stay focused and excited about my schoolwork.

While these methods worked for me, it’s important to realize: they might not work for you and that’s okay. What’s most important is that you acknowledge that time management is valuable and you constantly strive to find a setup that helps you achieve your academic goals while maintaining balance in your life.