Time management for teens is an executive functioning skill which is essential for academic success.
Since I started “Skills for Academic Success”, I’ve heard more and more questions about time management from teens. Here’s how Keith put it:
“I want to do a good job on my homework. But by the time I’m finished, I don’t have enough time for my friends. But if I see my friends first, I end up studying until midnight. How do I get more time?”
Good question. But you can’t get more time.
The problem isn’t how much time you have, though. The problem is that the time you have is invisible. That might obvious and a little strange, but bear with me.
When I was a kid, my friends and I sent secret messages to each other written in invisible ink. I’m sure there was nothing top-secret about what we wrote, but it felt top-secret at the time. It was an adventure to sneak notes past dangerous spies (aka our parents and teachers).
But you can’t do much with an invisible message. Messages are only useful when you can see them – in our case by holding the paper over a flame until the letters turned dark (and ideally without lighting the paper on fire and thus drawing the attention of the spies).
Learning to make things visible is not only useful for passing secret messages. It’s also a great life skill, and accomplish more of what you want.
Making Time Visible
To make good choices about time, you have to make time visible. One of the most powerful ways to do this is by using a weekly calendar. Okay, I admit it doesn’t sound that exciting.
But here’s the amazing thing: the students I know who use a this time management for teens strategy spend more time with friends, and less time studying – about 30% less. And they get better grades than students who don’t use calendars.
Here’s why this works:
1.Decisions take mental energy. Every time you make a decision, you have less energy for your schoolwork. Creating a weekly calendar pre-makes many of your decisions, so you don’t spend your valuable study time thinking about things like:
- when to study
- how long to study
- where to study
- which subject to study first
- whether or not to get a snack before you start
- whether or not to text a friend before you start
2. Adding something to your calendar is making a choice. Once you make a choice, you’re less likely to get distracted by a noise in the kitchen or thoughts about next weekend. Instead, you focus on doing things you want to do (like talking with friends) and doing things you need to do (like homework). Time management for teens means not wasting time doing things you don’t even care about.
3. Calendars let you see how long things really take, so you don’t plan too much or too little time for them. (My clients who start using calendars are always surprised at how much or how little time some things take!)
Time Management for Teens: A Strategy
Here’s how you can put this time management for teens strategy into action:
Step 2: Fill in scheduled events. These include:
- sports practice
- regular tutoring or academic life coaching
- part time job hours
- travel time
- eating and sleeping
Step 3: Put that page inside a plastic sleeve. That way it will last the entire semester (or quarter).
Step 4: Get some “arrow” tabs from an office supply store, and use them to schedule your study time (see the sample below, and imagine that the colored boxes are sticky arrows). You’ll be able to see at a glance how you’re balancing your social and downtime with study time.
Step 5: Repeat step 4 every Sunday evening, so you’re prepared for the week.
Here’s Keith’s calendar. He was on the Mountain Biking Team so it was tricky for him to find enough time for homework, but there were some choices. He could have taken a break right after school and done his homework later in the evening. But he decided that for him it would be easier to do his homework first.
Because he didn’t waste time making decisions about when and how he was going to study, he usually finished with an hour left to relax or talk with friends. He used Sundays to catch up.
If you’d like to use this time management for teens strategy with your student, you can try modeling the process. For example, you might consider using a wall calendar where you can schedule important family events, and keep it up-to-date.
Another way to model is to talk about how you plan your week, and how you make choices about what to do first, and what to say no to. These decisions might seem tiny and unimportant, but they are the tiny choices that allow you to create the lifestyle you want.
When we started, Keith was pretty stressed about school. But with just this one key time management for teens strategy, his stress all but disappeared.
And the cool thing is, it’s not just about school. Keith will be using this strategy his whole life to finish what he needs to do, and make time for what he wants to do. A calendar does for time what a flame does for invisible ink – it makes time visible, so you can work with it, and get everything done.
Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D., helps students who are stressed out about school learn the skills, strategies, and mindset they need for academic success in high school, college, and beyond. Her “Skills for Academic SuccessTM” program uses the principles of micro-change to help students study smarter, get better grades, and still have time for friends and fun. As a psychotherapist, Board Certified Neurofeedback practitioner, and former credentialed secondary school teacher, Pat knows a lot about learning and the brain. She has taught middle school math, high school chemistry, college social sciences, and has 30 years of her own schooling under her belt. She is the mother of college-age twins, and provides Academic Life Coaching in Berkeley, CA. www.ladouceurmft.com/academic-coaching