Time Management Activities for Anxious Students

School is underway, your list of extracurricular and homework activities have capitalized your time, and you’re already counting down the days until next summer.

The start of any new school year has its own fresh set of anxieties. You have to get back into the routine of writing things down on your calendar. Sleep deprivation sets in as you have to stay up later to get assignments finished and get up earlier to make it to class on time.

While you may have had your anxiety under control at the end of the last semester, your weeks out of school have made you forget how you could have ever had such an unruly schedule under control.

A number of things can cause student anxiety: deadlines, lack of interest in an assignment, a teacher’s judgement, a sense that everyone else is doing better than you, too many things due at once…the list goes on.

In our blog post today, we’re going to go through separating out what you’re anxiety is telling you and, based on what it’s telling you, what the best time management activities are to get you back to being productive.

What’s your anxiety telling you about your priority management?

As research has shown, a human’s tendency to feel stressed and anxious is very different from non-primates. As Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist and professor from Stanford University, has said in many of his lectures about stress, “If you live in a baboon troop in the Serengeti, you only have to work three hours a day for your calories, and predators don’t mess with you much. What that means is you’ve got nine hours of free time every day to devote to generating psychological stress.”

Indeed, we frequently stress ourselves out without needing to. Feeling stressed can give us a sense of importance that we crave as social creatures who want to be seen as individuals while simultaneously accepted as part of a group.

With school, stress often rears its head when it comes to studying and doing assignments by a certain deadline. However anxious you might be about these 2 items, your stress is either telling you that you are:

  1. Dreading doing the work, or
  2. In desperate need of a break

Most of the time, a good old honest self assessment will tell you which one your anxiety is speaking to.

Have you been whittling away hours on Instagram even though your 5 page paper is due in 2 days and you’ve not even got a topic picked out? This is some pretty classic procrastinating and a reasonably good sign that you are dreading doing that paper.

Have you been working for hours on finishing an assignment and stressed out because you’ve not even begun studying for your exam tomorrow? It may sound counter-intuitive, but you need to take a 15 minute break, clear your head, and re-assess which task deserves higher priority right now. Without stepping away from the assignment at hand and giving your mind a breather, you’re likely to arbitrarily give it greater significance than studying when a clear, unbiased mind wouldn’t make the same call.

Once you’ve figured out whether you are anxious because you are dreading an assignment or in desperate need of a break, see the time management activities below to get yourself on the right path.

Time Management Activities when you are dreading the work

So you’ve taken a good look at your anxiety and determined that you are dreading the activity that’s been put in front of you. Assuming it is an assignment that you have to do, lest it negatively affect your grade, here are some time management activities you can use to get through it:

Activity 1: Create a Time Management Worksheet

Assignments, when looked at as a whole, can be really overwhelming. If you break the whole down into its parts, however, you’ll have a better look at what’s required of you and how long each individual piece should take.

Let’s say you’ve been assigned a 5 page paper that’s due in 2 weeks. The first night you hear about the assignment, you don’t have to start your rough draft, make an outline, or even choose a topic. All you have to do is come up with a handy time management log to work off of until your assignment is due.

All students could benefit from doing this, but it’s something far too few feel is “worth” doing. Boy, how wrong they are (and how much I wish I knew this technique when I was in school).

  1. To get started, get a blank piece of paper and write at teh top the name of the assignment (in this case "5 page paper for Professor So-and-So's class).
  2. Make a quick list of the things you know are going to be needed before you have a finished product and how long each will likely take you. This could look something like this:
    1. A topic that I'm interested in - 1 day
    2. 5 solid resources that I've read and understand - 2 days
    3. A thesis with 3 strong supporting arguments - 2 days
    4. A bibliography in MLA format - 1 day
    5. An outline to make sure I don't get off track - 2 days
    6. 5 page rought draft - 2 days
  3. Now, create a 14 day table leading up to the day it's due:

Day 1:

Create Time Management Log

Day 2:

 

Day 3:

 

Day 4:

 

Day 5:

 

Day 6:

 

Day 7:

 

Day 8:

 

Day 9:

 

Day 10:

 

Day 11:

 

Day 12:

 

Day 13:

 

Day 14:

Have polished print off ready to hand to Professor

  1. Working backwards, fill in what’s needed on the other days. Your finished product would look something like this:

Day 1:

Have a Time Management Log

Day 2:

 

Day 3:

 

Day 4:

Have a topic picked out so I can make the most of my library time

Day 5:

Have library time to find sources that relate to my topic

Day 6:

Have sources picked out so can read through them and make notes

Day 7:

Have solid understanding of sources so can form thesis

Day 8:

Have supporting arguments picked out so can start outline

Day 9:

Have outline started so can review logic of argument

Day 10:

Have outline together so can start rough draft

Day 11:

Have rough draft started so can finish working on it

Day 12:

Have all sources cited in proper format

Day 13:

Have a rough draft & bibliography ready for editing

Day 14:

Have polished print off ready to hand to Professor

As you’ll see from making your time management worksheet and table, you’ll probably have time to spare. As such, see if there’s anything that you can space out because you dread it more than the other activities. If you really hate doing research, for instance, go ahead and put down 3 days for doing research and spend less time in the library each time.

If you have a time management worksheet in front of you, you’ve gone a long way toward breaking down the individual components of an assignment that, when combined as a whole assignment, were really overwhelming you.

General Note: I know that this doesn’t work as well when you have an urgent deadline, but it still does help to break your assignment down into manageable bites, even if you have to get all of it done in one night.

Activity 2: Start Small by applying the 2 minute rule to your worksheet

See if there’s any part of your worksheet that can have the 2 minute rule applied to it (we talked about the 2 minute rule last week). Is there anything on there that can get done in 2 minutes?

In the case of the paper example above, when it came time to cite the sources, it may be that every individual source will only take you 2 minutes to create the citation for. Maybe you can mark down in your time management worksheet that you are going to spend 2 minutes when you find your source creating the citation and make Day 12 that much easier.

In another example, perhaps you have a group project and you need to schedule days to get together to prepare a presentation or go over something. Sending an email to the group to start working out that time will probably only take 2 minutes but will feel like a huge relief to get checked off and scheduled away.

Activity 3: Use the Pomodoro technique for the longer tasks

When you get to your longer tasks, employee the Pomodoro technique where you work for 25 minutes and then break for 5 minutes. This will keep you from getting burned out and keep you fresh for all the time you really are putting full focus on getting a task complete.

Activity 4: Set SMART goals for tomorrow, today

Often students get into a cycle of procrastinating. It’s not just a one night love affair with putting off work, but a habitual routine. As such, go ahead and set your goals for tomorrow, today and make them non-negotiable. (Wondering how to make something non negotiable? I’ll refer you to the one and only Marie Forleo)

In goal setting, don’t try and be overambitious. Be honest with yourself and set S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) to keep from burning out.

Time Management Activities when you need a break

You’re working as hard as you can and stressing yourself out that you’re not working harder. Be fair to yourself and admit that this doesn’t make any sense. Just because you’re stressing out about conflicting deadlines or too much going on doesn’t mean that you’re somehow going to have an infinite amount of time to get things done.

Here are some great activities to try out when you just need a break

Activity 1: Get a good 15 minute stretch or heart rate increase in

When you have to break from school work, its best not to engage your mind in an academic way. Let it have a breather and give your body (which has likely been hunched over at your desk) a much needed stint of work. Just, please, for the love of all things related to priority management, don’t take a 15 minute break and continue browsing something on your computer. Afterward your break, come back and ask yourself how to best prioritize the rest of the time left you have to getting all your conflicting assignments and studying done.

Activity 2: Snack

No one can think very well when their stomach is talking louder than their thoughts, but when you are experiencing high anxiety, many people will forget to eat. Check in and see if you could use an appetite fix and go fix yourself some kind of power study food.

Activity 3: Call a friend

Have a pact with someone you know motivates you and let them know when a stressful day is coming up. As soon as the time hits, where you’re feeling the most stressed, give them a call and say, “Hey, I need the 15 minute pick me up. I’m super stressed and I just don’t know how I’m going to get it all done. Can you tell me how awesome I am really quick?” Community encouragement gives everyone a boost, so plan ahead of time to have this option at your disposal.


There are tons of other great break activities, but those 3 are accessible at any time and require little planning to put into action. The most important thing is to keep your anxiety from getting the best of you. So let us know in the comments below what kind of anxiety you’re currently experiencing and is it telling you that you’re dreading something or that you’re in need of a break?