Skip to main content

Introduction to university study: Time-saving tips

"Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it."

Rick Warren,   The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

We cannot make more time but we can stop it being wasted. The other pages in this guide have already given some useful advice but this one concentrates on some simple tips that are relatively 'quick wins' that can all add up to saving lots of time.


Tip 1: Don't waste time fragments

Always have something with you that you can do when you have small fragments of time - on the bus, waiting to pick up kids or for friends to arrive, between lectures etc.

Reading is the easiest thing – have a book or paper or guidelines with you at all times (or access to them on a mobile device). You may need to re-read a difficult but useful paper several times to pick out the most important parts and doing this little and often can really help.

Save your longer stretches of time for things that need concentration and focus – do the little tasks in between other stuff instead.


Tip 2: Learn how to read efficiently

Students have to read A LOT - but they don't always read efficiently. This comes down to:

  • Reading the right things
  • Reading the important parts of the right things
  • Recognising if you need to read the article/chapter in full.
  • Making effective notes that stop you having to re-read.

Our pages on Finding books and journals and Reading at university will give you the help you need.


Tip 3: Carry a notebook

It's a great idea to carry a notebook or mobile equivalent all the time - not just during lectures. An incredible amount of time is wasted when you forget ideas you had about your assignments or projects. Every-day events or things you hear in conversations can trigger ideas about all sorts of different things: a great way to introduce or conclude an essay, a reason why a particular point is perfect, a way that things can be linked together - and often these are forgotten by the time you sit at your computer ready to write.

If you have a trusty notebook or app then you can jot down the ideas and you just need to flick back through these to remember that great insight. 


Tip 4: Do essential but easy jobs at your 'bad times'

We all work better at different times of the day. Don't waste time by trying to do the hardest work (the parts where you need to concentrate and think) at your worst times. You will find you get little done and you just get frustrated that the time has been wasted. Use those times for jobs like organising your notes (see below), searching for articles (rather than reading them), typing up references etc. Don't waste your best thinking time by tidying your room or sorting your socks!

Most people have a golden concentration time of about 2 hours per day - this is usually about 1 hour after you have fully woken up so reserve that time for really important thinking work!


Tip 5: Organise your notes, handouts and essays

Time will be saved in the long run if you take time to organise items such as old essays, current notes and handouts systematically so that you can easily lay hands on them when you need to do so. Here are some tips for organisation, both within your notes and with your notes:

  • File as you go to save time and possible confusion later.
  • Number and /or colour-code your notes for ease of reference.
  • Summarise lecture notes into a paragraph so you can refresh your memory quickly before other lectures or when revising.
  • Take down full references to sources as you go. It will save time in the long run even if it seems a nuisance at the time! Alternatively, use referencing software like EndNote or RefWorks to store these (see below).

Tip 6: Learn to use referencing software

Once you have learned how to reference (you need to be able to do it manually first), we recommend learning how to use referencing software such as RefWorks or EndNote. These can save incredible amounts of time, especially by the time you are writing longer assignments such as independent projects, dissertations or theses. We have a Referencing Software SkillsGuide to help you get started and run regular workshops

RefWorks and EndNote are the only two systems we recommend as they alone have the Hull Harvard and Footnotes referencing styles. If you are using APA, OSCOLA or RSC then you could use Mendelay or Zotero but we do not offer central support for these.


Tip 7: Embrace technology

As with the referencing software mentioned above, there are many ways that technology can save you time as a student. Learning to use new apps and programs such as those for notetaking or data-analysis and getting more confident and efficient with MS Office software like Word, PowerPoint or Outlook can save a lot of frustration and time.

Check out our Software for Academic Use pages as well as our workshop programme.


Tip 8: Say 'no'

Nobody likes to upset friends and family but sometimes you just have to prioritise university work over things that other people want you to do. As long as you do this politely and with a clear explanation of the problem, then you should still maintain healthy relationships.

A good way to do it is to be aware of when you do have some free time (such as just after a hand-in date) and say something like "I can't do that now because [...] but I'd really like to do something with you on [...]". 

If you say "yes" to every request on your time then you will not be able to accomplish the things that really matter to you.


Tip 9: Stop multitasking

You may think you are good at multitasking (watching TV whilst revising; checking social media every now and then whilst reading journal articles; keeping an eye on a Fifa game whilst writing an essay) but research suggests the ability to do this well is a myth. The tasks you are trying to do (revise, read, write) will take longer and suffer in quality if you do not focus on them completely.

So switch off the TV, turn off the phone (or at least block social media apps for a while) and put away the PS4/Xbox controller. Get your work done in half the time and then think about how to spend your extra time.


Tip 10: Study with a friend

A "study buddy" can share research and you can brainstorm ideas together. Two heads are often better than one. Just make sure your final work is all your own. It can be encouraging to talk to friends about how you organise yourself and your time. You may be able to pass on advice and /or learn from them!



Image credits

Tip 1: Steve Rhodes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Available online: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/4976172140

Tip 10: MC Quinn (CC BY 2.0). Available online: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcquinn/2302027163