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Time Management Tips for Busy Students: Step 2

Posted on 01/31/2017, by Dr. Ellen Fithian to Parents of 7th and 8th Graders, Parents of 9th Graders, Parents of 10th Graders, Parents of 11th Graders, Parents of 12th Graders (0 comments)

Getting organized, covered in the previous article, is a key element in efficient time management, but it's only the beginning. 

Some students positively delight in the trappings of organization; they use color-coded calligraphy to painstakingly transcribe homework assignments in their planner. Such attention to record keeping is admirable, but may be of limited value if the student subsequently leaves the assignment until the last minute and does a half-baked job.

Bottom line: organization is important, but serves primarily as a foundation to support the other time management strategies.

Step One: Get Motivated

Before students can improve their study habits, they must take ownership of the process. You can’t force your daughter to relinquish bad habits and adopt new ones unless she’s a willing participant. So help her find the motivation to change, and try to make it positive. Persuading her that becoming a more efficient student will free up time for other things is a more effective motivator than threatening to ground her if her grades don’t improve.

Once teens have been convinced that it’s in their best interest to make more efficient use of time, what strategies should they employ?

Keep Up With School Work

The first is simple; learn the content of each course as it’s covered in class. High school students spend somewhere in the neighborhood of six hours each day in classes. That time can either be used to advance their learning and decrease their study time after school or can be a complete waste of time. Unlike the writers of soap operas, teachers do not write lesson plans intended to allow someone tuning in for the first time to quickly grasp what’s happening. Today’s conversation exercise in Spanish assumes that you learned last week’s vocabulary words. If you did, the exercise serves as an excellent review of the words. If you didn’t, it may serve no purpose at all.

Understanding each lesson as it’s taught allows a student to take thorough class notes and clarify misunderstandings that might interfere with the understanding of later lessons. Moreover, learning the material as it’s presented makes it far easier to relearn it for the midterm or final. This is much more efficient than waiting until a day or two before the exam to learn a semester’s worth of content from a friend’s notes or the textbook.

Use Small Blocks of Time Productively

When the math analysis teacher gives students ten minutes at the end of class to start on homework, some students do just that while others try to unobtrusively text a friend, daydream about who they’d like to accompany them to Homecoming, or catch a few winks. It’s tempting for busy students to while away brief interludes of down time, and sometimes a short nap really does do more good than completing the first five problems of a homework assignment.

In general, however, efficient students use their ten or fifteen minute breaks during their day to polish off uncomplicated tasks – defining vocabulary words for English or labeling countries on a map for geography. The reward for these efforts can be larger blocks of free time at the end of the day to relax or get a few more hours of sleep.

Divide Large Projects into Smaller Chunks

Another time management strategy that becomes critically important in college is breaking large projects into more manageable chunks. Rather than attempting to write a ten page paper on the night before it’s due, a savvy student will divide the components of the task into smaller chunks and devise a timeline to accomplish them – i.e. gather references the first week, do the research and compile notes the second week, complete the rough draft the third week, and finish the revision two or three days before the due date. 

This last point is an important one. One of the biggest failings of procrastinators is that they tend to not only leave tasks to the last minute, but also to underestimate how long they will take. Projects often turn out to be more complicated and time consuming than we expect, so it’s a good idea to build in a comfort zone.

Beyond Resolutions

Many teens, particularly those who’ve recently been humbled by a bad report card, swear they’ve seen the light of righteousness and are ready to become born again students. Under such circumstances, they may earnestly agree to adopt the foregoing recommendations. However, as we all discover every January, it’s far easier to make heartfelt resolutions than to follow through with them, and resolutions that are not acted upon are powerless.  Nobody ever got abs of steel by simply signing up for a gym membership.

So how do you get your teen to muster the gumption to turn off the television Sunday afternoon and actually spend the two hours studying that he budgeted for that time? Try telling him what I used to tell my kids - that if you can’t take orders from yourself, you’ll be taking them from someone else – first your parents and later on your bosses. Being able to manage yourself is the price of independence.

Parent Prescription: Sympathy and Patience

I earnestly believe that the foregoing recommendations will help your high schooler get a better control of her life. But let's be honest; even a master of time management would have difficulty handling the challenges faced by today's busy teens. They have scores of adults - teachers, coaches, choir directors, and the like - making demands on their time, and many are issued on the spur of the moment. An extra soccer scrimmage is suddenly scheduled for tomorrow night or an unexpected quiz announced for Friday. Teens can't entirely control their schedule, so encourage them to adopt strategies to improve their time management, but also let them know that you sympathize with the difficulties they face.

Finally, be patient. Building time management skills takes time and effort, but with perseverance it could make your teen’s life – and yours – a whole lot more pleasant. 

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Posted on 01/31/2017, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)




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