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Skills and techniques

Organisational skills

Organise your space

Make sure the space is big enough to work. You will need:

  • a writing surface where you can spread out your papers, books and files
  • space for a computer
  • bookshelves for books
  • light so you can read without straining your eyes
  • make sure that your computer is at a right angle to the window so light does not reflect on the screen.

You will probably need a computer for your studies. This means that you also need to consider Health and Safety factors such as ensuring that you have appropriate furniture and lighting.

Organise your paper files

  • work on A4 hole punched paper rather than shorthand notepads and small books - you will find this makes it easier to file your notes
  • use a different coloured A4 ring file for each subject or module
  • label every piece of paper - file it
  • keep the content file at the front of the file up to date - this will save you a great amount of time searching for materials
  • use a light file or plastic envelope to carry round the papers and notes needed in the day and file this every night so that it does not pile up.

Organise your electronic files

  • Keep back up copies of everything on the hard drive and on disc
  • Keep your discs in a dust proof box
  • Use a separate disc for each specialism or module
  • Keep files small so that you do not risk losing materials
  • Check disc space regularly
  • It takes up time to re-organise material once discs are full
  • Use a different folder on the hard drive for each specialism or module
  • Save and back up your work regularly
  • Label all discs with their contents

For more advice, see time management and Chapters 4 and 5 of The Study Skills Handbook by Stella Cottrell.


Time management

Working on your own

You will spend most of your time working on your own at university. This offers wonderful opportunities for using the bulk of your time in ways that suit your personal preferences. Some people prefer to study early in the morning or in the middle of the night.

The main risks are:

  • feeling there is more time available than there is
  • not developing sufficient structure to your time to ensure you get everything done
  • missing deadlines
  • drifting - not being sure where you are in time if you have few regular appointments to mark out the time

You will be responsible for organising your time and ensuring you meet necessary deadlines. Tutors do not accept excuses for missed deadlines. If you miss a deadline, you may have to retake part of your programme or be unable to complete at all. This means time management skills are essential.

Five tips for managing your time

  • Keep one diary - write everything in it - take it everywhere
  • Keep a time planner so you can see easily what you need to do
  • Write all deadlines in your diary on the right date
  • Also, write the assessment deadline in your diary, on the date you must begin working towards the deadline
  • Allow time for travel and delays between appointment


  • Buy a diary that you can carry around such as The Palgrave Student Planner by Stella Cottrell
  • Many people find a 'Week to View' most useful
  • Write in all your appointments for each week
  • Write in all the deadlines you must meet this term or semester
  • Write in all your other activities
  • Make sure you leave time to travel and rest
  • Aim at having a complete record of your activities

The Palgrave Student Planner has been designed for students at all levels in higher education, using feedback from students about what they wanted. Features include:

  • Study tips, time management and quick study checks
  • Sections to organise essential bits of information
  • Week-to-view term timetable or semester planner
  • Year-to-view planner
  • Week-to-view diary


  • What additional tips could you recommend to other people about how to save time or manage it more effectively?
  • What are your current strengths in time management?
  • What aspects of time management might you need to improve?

 For further information please see Chapter 4 of The Study Skills Handbook by Stella Cottrell.