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Effective time management is associated with greater academic performance and lower levels of anxiety in students; however many students find it hard to find a balance between their studies and their day-to-day lives. This article examines the self-reported time management behaviors of undergraduate engineering students using the Time Management Behavior Scale. Correlation analysis, regression analysis, and model reduction are used to attempt to determine which aspects of time management the students practiced, which time management behaviors were more strongly associated with higher grades within the program, and whether or not those students who self-identified with specific time management behaviors achieved better grades in the program. It was found that students’ perceived control of time was the factor that correlated significantly with cumulative grade point average. On average, it was found that time management behaviors were not significantly different across gender, age, entry qualification, and time already spent in the program.

Time management


A number of studies have identified the positive impact of time management. Time management skills have been shown to have a positive impact on student learning and student outcomes (Kearns & Gardiner, 2007; Kelly, 2002; McKenzie & Gow, 2004) and Krause and Coates (2008) report that the capacity to successfully manage their time is the foundation of students developing good study habits and strategies for success. Time management offers individuals the means to structure and control their activities (Claessens, van Eerde, Rutte, & Roe, 2004) and Wang, Kao, Huan, and Wu (2011) found that time management is important beyond the university campus, where the capacity to manage one’s free time is found to significantly increases an individual’s quality of life. O’Connell (2014) also suggests that the balance between sleep, exercise, and appropriate diet alongside an increase in “downtime” would lead to a decrease in student illness, therefore suggesting the link between time management a physical health.
For Ponton, Carr, and Confessore (2000), learning is a function of effort and resilience, where individual approaches to learning involve students actively engaging with their studies in the face of challenges such as the perceived lack of time. Such a time management strategy is referred to as “planning behaviour” (Claessens et al., 2004) where effective time management involves understanding the effort required to address the many aspects of learning and is enhanced through motivation and goal orientation (Braxton, Hirschy, & McClendon, 2004; Law, Sandnes, Jian, & Huang, 2009; Martin, 2008). Individual student characteristics such as their motivational drivers, their self-control, and their need for attention impact their capacity to persist in times of perceived difficulty (Braxton et al., 2004) and extensive course load and the various challenges in academic curricula necessitate the use of effective study strategies (Deshler et al., 2001).

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While Kelly (2002) highlights the importance of individuals having an awareness of time and the activities that fill up one’s time, Kelly also notes that not only do individuals typically underestimate or overestimate how long it takes to complete a task but that they rarely give an accurate estimation. Making effective use of time involves maximizing functions such as starting a task, staying focused, and balancing one task against another. Developing work plans may be one way to address this; however, students who typically procrastinate do not feel less anxious after developing work plans (Lay & Schouwenburg, 1993), possibly because they are aware that, although they have planned to do an activity, their innate voice tells that they will still have trouble actually starting the task and will have trouble juggling their various tasks. Britton and Tesser (1991) found a positive correlation between short-range planning and grade point average (GPA) of students, which suggests that students who are actively engaged in time management processes are likely to see attainment benefits. Britton and Tesser stated that short-range planning was a more effective time management technique than long-range planning because plans could be adjusted to fast changes or unpredictable situations, which allowed for flexibility, something that is clearly relevant in the lives of fast-paced, multitasking modern students, but also something that might not lead to students developing effective study habits. Without the development of effective habits, such as such motivation, metacognition, and self-regulation, students are likely to perform poorly and find it difficult to improve future performance (Baothman, Aljefri, Agha, & Khan, 2018).

Students who are able to develop time management strategies and set appropriate work goals for themselves offer a self-regulatory framework (Miller, Greene, Montalvo, Ravindran, & Nichols, 1996) regarding their approach, effort, persistence, and time management. Strongman and Burt (2000) suggest that there is a relationship between academic attainment and the ability to stay on task for extended periods of time and found that students with higher academic standing took fewer and shorter breaks. They do not necessarily suggest that there is a causal relationship (in either direction) between academic attainment and ability to stay on task; however, many studies have found that high levels of motivation help maintain focus (Dupeyrat & Mariné, 2005) and are likely to lead to success in general (Deci & Ryan, 2000) as well as specific success in student outcomes (Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer, & Elliot, 2002; Husman & Lens, 1999).
In their study of workload expectations among first-year engineering undergraduate students at the University of Toronto, Gerrard, Newfield, Asli, and Variawa (2017) found that there was a link between how students perceived difficulty and the time they spent on assessments, and that time was the most impactful factor. Likewise, in examining anxiety among engineering students Yanik, Yan, Kaul, and Ferguson (2016) asked students to write journal entries in which they expressed their fears and anxieties and found that in the students’ reflections time management was a prominent theme ,Law et al. (2009) investigated the factors that lead to student success among engineering students and found that extrinsic factors (pulling forces, group pressure, and approaches to learning) have a general motivating effect but that intrinsic factors (individual attitudes and expectations) have a higher effect. Thus, for many engineering students, goal orientation is individualized and the ability of a teacher to motivate an individual is circumvented by the student’s personal perspective. In such a condition, successful approaches to time management are dependent on individual students (Miller et al., 1996) and teachers are limited in their capacity to address poor time management.

From key messages drawn from the literature, we find that for students to successfully plan their behaviors so as to be effective in their time management they need to have an awareness of the factors that fill their time; they need to have a good understanding of how long it takes to complete individual tasks; they need to be self-directed, and they need to be able to be involved in short-term planning.
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