Everything about Time Management for Adult Learners

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Time management is arguably one of the most important life skills an individual can learn. This is particularly true for adult learners, who are working to maintain a healthy balance between work, school, and everyday life. Although most adults report being constantly busy, many are being busy while not accomplishing the things they really need to be accomplishing. Procrastination is a common problem among adult learners, and procrastination works against effective time management. Learning to stop procrastinating is an essential step in learning and implementing time management. Time management consists of learning how to effectively prioritize tasks, make lists, maintain realistic expectations, and stop procrastination.

In order to understand time management, adult learners must first identify how they spend their time. According to Jan Farrington, author of “How to manage your time” (1995), the first step to learning time management is to discover how time is currently spent. This involves recording every active by the hour for an entire week. This exercise will reveal how much time is spent on each individual activity, as well as the times of days and days of the week dedicated to specific activities. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine attempted to discover how Americans spend their time.  Of their 79,652 survey respondents, 80.7% reported spending a majority of their non-work and non-sleep time watching television. Keeping a time journal for a week will enable individual adult learners to discover how much of their week is spent on non-productive activities like watching television. While leisurely activities are not inherently negative, they can interfere with proper time management. 

Once it is identified how time is spent, an adult learner to learn to make better use of time through four simple steps. The first step is detailed by R. Merrill, author of Life Matters: Creating a dynamic balance of work, family, time, and money (2003). The first step is identifying priorities. Effective time management means spending the appropriate amount of time on high and low priority activities. Adult learners should write down all the activities they see on their time log in the order of priority. For example, during the semester, schoolwork is a priority. If the adult learner is also work, work is a priority. The priority list may also include items like family, church, and hobbies. Once all the activities are recording in order of priority, the list can be used to help with scheduling to make sure more time is spent on higher priority tasks. 

The second step is to make lists. Both Farrington and Merrill discuss the importance of lists in their writing. Making lists of tasks and goals will enable adult learners to stay focused and feel accomplished when crossing things off as they are finished. Making lists will also relieve adult learners from the pressure of trying to remember everything. Farrington (2005) utilizes the words of several great authors on the topic of time management; including Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. According to Farrington’s interpretation of Covey, lists should be liberating, opposed to restricting. Instead of viewing the list as an unending source of tasks, the list should be view as a resource. This resource is intended to help adult learners prioritize tasks, get things done, and feel accomplished. 

The next step is to maintain realistic expectations. Although making a list of tasks can and should be very helpful, it is important to be realistic about what can be accomplished in a given amount of time. The time log will also be helpful in setting realistic expectations. Not adding too many things to the to-do list will give adult learners the opportunity to feel accomplished, as well as reduce stress and anxiety (Farrington, 2005). It will also allow adult learners to recognize if they literally have too many things to get done. This is helpful because it will show them where they need to either cut back or delegate tasks to others. When it is discovered that cutting back is the only option to successfully get things done, the priority list should be used to determine where things can be cut. 

The fourth and final step is to learn how to stop procrastinating.  Farrington (2005) offers the clearest action plan on how to stop procrastinating. There are already achievement gaps in education because of the years spent out of school - procrastination just makes it worse. She suggests a seven-step process to get past procrastination. First, check the weekly action plan every day to decide what the most important tasks are for the day (Farrington, 2005). Then, adult learners need to cut out avoidance behaviors and delegate tasks that can be delegated (Farrington, 2005). The fourth suggestion is to do the most unfavorable tasks first; Farrington argues that gets them out of the way quickly allowing the adult learner to focus on more favorable tasks (2005). The final three steps to ending procrastination are setting hard deadlines, starting the project, and not waiting for perfection (Farrington, 2005). Setting hard deadlines is important because without a deadline, there is little motivation to really get started on a project. Starting a project can be the hardest and most important task; the longer one puts off actually starting a project, the more rushed they will be to get it finished. Finally, not waiting for perfection is essential because perfection may never happen. Getting a task done to the best of one’s ability is accomplishing the task. 

Although time management skills are essential for nearly all adults, these skills are particularly important for adult learners because they are attempting to balance more things than most average adults. There are also a constantly growing number of adult learners as more adults are deciding to go back to school to pursue a different career path. This is made easier as colleges move from traditional to technology-based-learning. According to J. Cornelissen, author of “Study Skills for the online adult learner” (1999), the number of active military personnel going to school online has increased as they are preparing themselves for life after the military. Adult education is often long-term since adults are balancing classes along with work and family. It makes the process of earning a degree significantly longer, and the need for effective time management skills ever more important. 


Tudor-Locke, C. (2010). Frequently reported activities by intensity for U.S. adults: The American time survey. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 39(4), e13-e20.

Merrill, R. (2003). Life matters: Creating a dynamic balance of work, family, time, and money. 

Cornelissen, J. Study skills for the online adult learner (1999), Retrieved from http://military.com,

Farrington, Jan. (1995). How to manage your time. Scholastic Inc, 24(2), 6. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy2.apus.edu/docview/209777485?