Whether you’re reading course material, completing an assignment or taking an exam, focus and time management are crucial. Developing these skills early can help you succeed not only academically, but also in your career and other aspects of life. Keep yourself on task and away from distractions with these five terrific time management tools:

1. Maintain a healthy sleep schedule
Many people believe that an early to rise, early to sleep schedule is most conducive to maintaining focus throughout the day. Others concentrate best during the afternoon or evening hours. No matter what hours your schedule demands, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule keeps your mind in tip-top shape. Avoid strenuous or stimulating activity in the hours leading to your bedtime. If you have trouble sleeping, consult your doctor.

2. Break down large tasks into smaller ones
Don’t let large tasks intimidate you. Break them down into parts or steps. Once you can visualize both the big picture and the smaller details, even colossal tasks become manageable. Above all, don’t push the task until the last minute. Chip away at it steadily and you’ll get it done sooner than you think. For example, if the task is studying for an exam, you might delegate each day to a specific topic or chapter.

3. Create a prioritized list
Arrange your to-do list in order of importance. Tackle the most pressing tasks first and the rest later. When studying, start with the topics you’re unfamiliar with before reviewing the ones you know well. When managing assignments, you may choose to organize them by due date or difficulty. Having your obligations clearly outlined is more helpful than leaving them floating randomly in your thoughts.

4. Take breaks
As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as can-do, world conquerors, our bodies and minds need rest. Break up long study sessions with a refreshing walk. Even watching a short movie or playing a video game can help you unwind and reboot. You don’t have to time your work periods and breaks to an exact number of minutes; listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard.

5. Use the tools that work best for you
Everyone has their preferred tools for staying focused. Some prefer calendars and sticky notes; others swear by a pocket-sized planner or a voice recorder. In today’s digital age, many people prefer to keep their lists virtual. Many task management and note-taking apps are available for computers, tablets, and smartphones. Still, you may find that the act of writing down a task with pen and paper more helpful than typing it on a screen. If your current tools of the trade aren’t keeping you on task, try something different. 

With determination and smart study habits, you can achieve your educational goals and prepare for the career you want. Follow these tips as you complete your studies to increase your chances for success – and make your life easier in the meantime.