How to Find Time to Beat That Course Deadline

Time clock

By Pat Bowden, published May 10, 2017.

Okay, so you’ve chosen an online course. Now you need to find or make the time to do the course or MOOC.

How Much Time?

How much time will your course take? To fit in a new interest, you may have to change your priorities or manage without a current task or hobby. A good place to start your planning is with the course itself. Most courses have an estimated time commitment, varying from one or two hours per week up to ten or so, but remember that this is an average. Most people take either less or more time than the guidelines.

If you just want to browse the course materials then you will probably need much less than the estimated time commitment.

On the other hand, if you want to complete all the assignments, tests, tasks, and learning objectives then you might need less or perhaps much more than the estimated time commitment. Much depends on your prior knowledge and circumstances. When planning your time, it would be helpful to allow at least two hours per week more than the estimated time. If you take the whole allotted time to fully understand or learn the week’s material, you are still on track. If you finish more quickly, it will feel so good.

When Will You do Your Course?

When will you actually work on your course? Mornings? Evenings? Lunchtimes or even your coffee breaks? On the train to work and back each day? At the table during meals? While the washing machine does a load? Many people find setting a particular time each day is an effective strategy, but your lifestyle may make a larger block of time once or twice a week or on the weekend a better strategy. Time management experts recommend that you spend time consistently rather than binge occasionally. You may need to experiment to work out your own routine.

Make it Happen

Work on your course at your allocated times. Use the Pomodoro Technique to keep your work ticking along.

Be Organised

Set reminders of course deadlines or due dates of assessments. Starting with the course timetable is usually the quickest approach. Some courses have easily downloaded add-ins to your online calendar, or you can enter relevant dates into your phone, computer, paper diary or wall calendar. The main objective is to have important dates quick and easy to find. A bit of organisation now can go a long way towards keeping it simple later. Part of that organisation is making sure nothing is missed, so remember to check that ALL important dates are recorded. Down the track, you may decide to do more than one course at a time. Being organised is especially important when doing several courses, so if you are already in the habit of sticking to a timetable, it will be easier to achieve your goals.

Don’t leave it to memory. You may forget to complete a course. Then again, if you forgot about it, perhaps you weren’t very interested in it after all.

Be Flexible

Sometimes you need to be flexible if things don’t work out. Missed today’s MOOC time? How and when will you make it up? How soon do you have to make it up before you start missing deadlines?


Don’t leave it to the last minute to submit work. This is the time the cat throws up on the carpet or a thunderstorm knocks out all the local power and communications. Or your best friend has just had a huge fight with their boyfriend/partner/mother and needs to cry on your shoulder for several hours.

Check, check and check again—have you submitted everything by the due dates? I have seen students writing frantically in the forums of many courses asking if deadlines can be extended because they were sick, travelling, computer broke down, internet dropped out, they clicked the wrong button and saved but did not submit their work. The list goes on. The very nature of MOOCs (apart from self-paced MOOCs) means that it may be unfair and almost impossible for deadlines to be extended for individual students.

Having said all this, more and more courses are becoming self-paced, or feature more flexible timetables. They often have recommended deadlines but if you are late with an assignment you can still submit it and pass. Sticking to the recommended deadlines is helpful to keep you on track as well as in touch with your classmates via discussion forums. Courses with peer assessments work best with deadlines, otherwise, there may not be enough students around to assess each other’s work. On the other hand, as MOOCs become more and more popular, there may eventually be peers available for assessments all the time.


You need a higher motivation level to complete a course when it starts dragging out. It can become a discouraging chore if it takes too long. Sometimes you will realise that it is just not going to happen at this point in your life. If so, don’t beat yourself up about it, move on with the hope that maybe things will be less busy in the future and you can do it then. What about making yourself a diary or calendar note to reconsider doing the course in, say, three or six months?

Ask friends or family to encourage you to achieve your goal. Maybe someone will be willing to check your progress with you every day or two, or once a week. Knowing that conversation, phone call or email is coming can help you make the time for your course.

A Final Thought

Here, more than at a bricks and mortar university, the ball is truly in your court and you have to rely on yourself to stay in control.