Time is what we want most, but what we use worst. ~William Penn
A new semester always feels like a fresh start! Add that to a new year, and January is often a great time to “reboot” and look for areas that need a bit of tweaking. For me – that usually came down to feeling like I needed more time.
Time management was one of my biggest struggles when homeschooling. It seems like we were always rushed, forever behind, and never caught up. If only there were more hours in the day!
While I could have blamed my kids’ lack of ability at time management, it would have been only a partial truth. The big picture of our time management issue was top down, starting with me. Time awareness has always been a struggle for me and working within the 24 hours a day we all have was a family affair rather than a character flaw of just my kids.
Day, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent ~Ambrose Bierce
Some people are just naturally organized, and some are well – just not. If you are in the “not” category, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve. The tips and suggestions below may sound obvious to some, but take practice to implement for those more challenged in time management.
Planners – The use of a planner is an obvious tool for those linear thinkers, but it is something my free-spirit, focus-on-the-big-picture-rather-than-the-daily-details personality struggled with for years. The planning part was not a problem, but the follow-through was. I eventually realized that not all planners are equal and the key was to find one that worked for me and my students.
I prefer a paper planner. For many years I used The Mom’s Weekly Planner by Peter Pauper Press for appointments and activities. Now that my kids are grown, I’m using this basic planner. When homeschooling, I used a separate planner for homeschool assignments. I eventually moved my homeschool planning to a digital method.
For students, I would recommend purchasing an academic planner that has both a big picture monthly 2-page spread and a weekly 2-page spread. If your student finds a different method that is effective for them – whether that be an electronic method, a whiteboard, or something else – encourage them to take ownership. What is important is they are actually planning.
Checklists – When my kids were younger, I utilized daily assignment checklists more than planners. It was less overwhelming to see plans for a day, rather than a week or month. I would also include things like chores and music practice. If I was unavailable to help when one of my kids needed assistance, they could easily scan the checklist and move on to something that could be done independently, making better use of waiting time. Checklists also gave a sense of accomplishment as items were completed.
The reward of a thing well done is to have done it. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Planners and checklists just lay the framework; kids will still need training on how to manage their time to get the job done.
Chunk It & Goal Setting – Do not assume children will naturally know how to tackle a project. Even teens will still have trouble estimating how long something will take. It takes training and experience. Each week we would sit down and discuss upcoming projects. Have your children create their own schedule to present to you for approval. It will give them the practice of thinking about projects and breaking them down and you plenty of opportunities to help train them in realistic expectations. Another term for this when it comes to individual assignments is “chunking.” Here is an example of chunking a writing assignment on Understood.org. While this website is a great resource for students with learning differences, many of the tools are beneficial to all students.
Timers – Some children are overwhelmed with starting a task. They think it will take forever and as a result, work in slow motion. Instead, set the timer and tell them they only need to work for a certain number of minutes, then they can take a short break or do something fun. They may even discover that those ten math problems really did not take long after all! Read about the effectiveness of the Pomodoro Technique, which uses increments of 25 minutes. Use the same method with smaller time increments, depending on the age of the child.
One of my children has a very poor concept of time and when younger was unable to distinguish the passing of five minutes from the passing of an hour. Therefore, it you told him he had to work for only fifteen minutes, he had no internal awareness of when the time would be completed. Frankly, it stressed him out and diverted his attention from the task at hand. I found visual timers to be much more effective than standard timers. You can use a regular hourglass for shorter time periods. However, the Time Timer was a very helpful tool in our home.
How did it get so late so soon? ~Dr. Suess
Self-Awareness Techniques – You’ve heard it before, “But Mooooommm, I’ve been working on this forever. I’m trying really hard,” complete with a dramatic sigh and a hand to the forehead. When one of my teens claimed she was overscheduled, I gave her a chart with a space for every fifteen minutes with instructions to document everything, whether it was a break, family time, or focused time on school assignments. It gave both of us concrete information to use in making appropriate adjustments. I found some of her assignments needed a longer time to accomplish than I had anticipated and she discovered she wasted a lot of time getting started in the morning and taking too many breaks.
I recommend you take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves. ~ Earl of Chesterfield
My younger child was a drifter and I would often find him staring out a window or into space, completely unaware. I sometimes would sit next to him, doing another activity, and tap the table when I found him drifting. I discovered a unique tool called the MotivAider. This pager-like device can be set to vibrate at a set increment, reminding the user of a behavior they are trying to change. I originally thought it would become my automatic “table tapper.” My son, however, decided he was going to use it to work on his tendency to get frustrated too quickly. In reality, this issue was actually contributing more to his time management issues than drifting off. Once frustrated, his ability to problem solve and stay on task was all but diminished. I noticed a great improvement and a much more positive attitude when he made a conscious effort to stay calm and focused.
Now, this was well before the time of everyone age six and up having a smartphone in hand. There a likely digital tools or apps that will achieve the same results if you don’t want to go old school. Either way, you don’t really need a gadget to solve a time management issue, just some awareness.
The key is to help your children identify in a positive way where they need to improve and work together on how to accomplish that improvement, rather than allowing unfinished assignments and tasks to be a negative focus.
Limit Social Media and Screen Time – Monitoring social media and screen time can be difficult, especially for teens. In our household it was a challenge because not only were email, Facebook, and texting a connection to friends, they were often used as a means of communication means for teachers and fellow students. I took the approach of teaching my kids to manage on their own, just as they would need to do when they left our home, rather than banning the use during school hours. However, when I saw the privilege being abused, I pulled in the reins and banned social media and electronics until schoolwork was caught up for the day and for longer periods when necessary. The internet can be very useful but addicting as well. Make sure you monitor usage, your kids and your own, appropriately.
We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favored heroes attain-not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. ~ C.S. Lewis
Learn to say NO – Remember – you cannot do it all. There are an abundance of opportunities for homeschoolers. Between the opportunities and my kids’ many interests, it was very easy to overschedule. It isn’t about choosing between good and bad options, it’s choosing among MANY good to great options! Prioritize what you put on your schedule and guard your students’ time as well as your own.
Time management is a skill, one which will reap great rewards when mastered. Teaching your kids how to manage time is a wonderful gift they will use throughout a lifetime.
● Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
● Where’s My Stuff? By Samantha Moss
● That Crumpled Paper was Due Last Week by Ama Homayoun