Editor’s note: This is the first post in a three-part series on technology and online student success. Look for Part II in the series a week from today on Wednesday, June 5.

There’s an old Irish proverb that states, “You can’t plow a field by turning it over in your mind.” If that proverb originated today and was applied to online students, it would probably go something like, “You can’t write a paper by browsing your Facebook news feed.”

As a distance learner myself, I know the challenges of time management and the temptation to review clever social media memes on friends’ timelines. Unfortunately, though, looking at pictures with hilarious captions isn’t going to get your paper written.

Fortunately, the world of 2013 provides us with a number of ways to sharpen our time management skills. Our focus today is identifying three technology tools to help with time management in school:

1. RescueTime

RescueTime is an application that monitors how you use your computer, focusing specifically on your web surfing habits and time spent working within documents. It works on a five-point scale and rates activities from -2 (least productive) to +2 (most productive).

The developers spent a great deal of time configuring websites and particular activities, so you don’t have to worry – your three hours posting “I can haz” cat pictures on Facebook are already rated as -2. If you’re a Grantham University student, for instance, your research in the EBSCOhost library in GLife is a +2!

Each week, the app emails you a time management report. For those of us who think we don’t have enough time to do homework, a RescueTime report showing that we spent four hours during the week watching online videos can be a serious wakeup call.

2. AutoSMS responder

The second tool I have found useful is an AutoSMS responder for my Android phone. There are a number of these free applications available for both the iOS and Android platforms. This is an application that you turn on when you need to focus (or before you get in your car and are going to be driving) that responds to all incoming texts and calls with a message that you preset.

An interruption can disrupt focus on a task, as specifically displayed in this research at UC-Irvine from an interview with Associate Professor Gloria Mark. As a result, I use the AutoSMS responder to ensure no one bothers me while I’m concentrating on homework.

I turn it on and input a message, letting those trying to get in touch with me know that I will not be available until a certain time. I then put the phone on silent and put it in another room, or if I’m at the coffee shop, I put it in my laptop bag and try my best to forget about it.

3. stickK.com

The third tool I use for academic motivation is stickK.com. Based on behavioral economics (and research done by Dean Karlan, an economics professor at Yale), stickK keeps you to particular goals by essentially having you bet real money against yourself. Let’s say you want to spend three hours on Saturday working on a research paper. All you have to do is set that as a goal, assign a reasonable amount of money to it (say, $10-$20) and then indicate where you want that money to go if you don’t “stickK” to your goal. You can have the money go to a friend, a charity, or, even more motivating, a political action committee with which you don't agree!

We live in a time where we can use these tools to help manage our productivity. All of these are free to use, so try them out and see if they impact your study habits. They’ve been essential to the development of my own time management skills and each has had an impact on my productivity as an online student.

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