A Guide to Time Management

Breaks and Rewards

Why are Breaks Important?

Breaks and rewards are two of the most underrated, yet important, aspects of effective time planning. Students who are stressed and feeling pressured may think that they don't have time to take breaks and often try to work for long, sustained periods lasting hours. The things that make studying effective are concentration, metacognition, and motivation get lower and lower while stress and exhaustion increase exponentially when students grind on hour after hour. No matter how busy or under pressure you are, you need to take breaks. Why?

Breaks have several important functions:

Do’s and Don’ts

The biggest problems students have when taking breaks is limiting them and getting back to work. Here are some do's and don'ts that might help:

Longer Breaks or 'Vacations'

If you're laying out a schedule for the work on a major project, particularly if the project will occupy more of your time than anything else (like a thesis), it's important to plan in some major breaks or "mini vacations" from the project. Long breaks can also serve as a reward because typically they are scheduled when a milestone has been reached in the project - the end of a stage in the research or the completion of a chapter, for example.

A major break doesn't have to be scheduled at one of these milestones to be effective, but there's a risk of losing momentum if you take a hiatus in the middle of a chapter or section. On the other hand, if you're stuck and feeling in a rut, a major break might be just what you need to recharge your motivation and get a fresh perspective on the topic. Planning a "mini vacation" from a big project requires foresight and advanced planning. Whether it’s a day, a weekend or an entire week or more, periodic long breaks can be essential in circumventing burnout and maintaining motivation through the course of a long project.


Rewards are another important part of using time effectively. Some students dismiss them as a form of self-bribery or manipulation, and others claim they just back-fire by making people feel worse when they don't accomplish what they wanted to and don't "deserve" the reward. Students sometimes have mixed results with using rewards as a time planning or motivation strategy; however, a negative outcome may be the result of not using them effectively, rather than them being a flawed strategy. Here are some guidelines to use when deciding how and when to reward yourself: