By Janet S. Fox, author of Get Organized Without Losing It (Revised & Updated Edition)
When I was in my early teens, I realized—the night before the project was due—that I’d forgotten to prepare an oral presentation, essay, and poster on a South American country. My mother was furious, I was frantic, and the presentation I put together in the dark of night was a disaster. I don’t remember my exact grade, but I’m sure it was pitiful and I was deeply embarrassed.
This was a true life lesson, and is perhaps one small reason why I love to help kids manage their schoolwork deadlines so they don’t experience such stomach-churning moments. Here are some tips that I hope will help you and your students with the essential skill of time management.
The Tool to Use: A Student Planner
First, I recommend that all students have a personal planner or calendar. Some schools provide students with planners, but if yours does not, there are hundreds of options to choose from—both hard copy and digital.
- An online search for “student planner” will pull up a range of options available to purchase or as a free download.
- Planner apps, complete with alarms to signal deadlines, are available for smartphones and can be synced with other devices.
- A simple 12-month calendar can be repurposed as a planner, as long as it is large enough to record notes on individual dates and small enough to fit in a student’s binder.
- I recommend stocking up on colorful stickers, colored pencils, and sticky page tags to mark important dates.
- Planners should be portable, so students can record dates as soon as they are announced in school. However, a secondary large wall calendar or dry-erase board (for noting reminders) in the student’s room can be useful.
The First Skill: Using the Planner
Now that your students have some kind of planner, how should they use it, especially for long-term projects?
- As soon as the project due date is announced, record it in the calendar. Highlight it in color, set an alarm, or flag it with a sticky note or sticker.
- Make a list of all the steps needed to complete the project. In the case of my country project, I should have noted deadlines for research, buying supplies (poster board, glue), finding pictures, writing the essay, making the poster, making presentation notes, and practicing the presentation.
- List the order in which these steps should be completed. Record which steps require specific times or places, such as library research and supplies purchasing.
The Second Skill: Time Management
Now comes the hard part—setting up each of these steps and allowing enough time for each at the right time.
- Without experience, no one has a clear idea of the time required to complete a task. Teachers and parents can help their students understand how much time is required for each of the steps in a project timeline—which is an invaluable life lesson.
- At Free Spirit Publishing’s website, you’ll find a free downloadable “Long-Term Project Planner.” Use it to help students organize the steps and the time needed to complete them. Add specific dates for those mini-deadlines. Leave plenty of extra time for unexpected additional work.
- Don’t forget to note conflicts or interruptions to project work, like soccer tournaments, tests and assignments in other subjects, or (important!) rest and free time.
- To break down the steps into even more manageable bits, make a task timeline for each step. For example, it might take an hour to plan the essay, two hours to write it, and another hour or two to revise it. Note those times in the planner, so they don’t become overwhelming and so the student can allow for breaks.
The Third Skill: Thwarting Procrastination
Using these strategies will also help mitigate the urge to procrastinate. Procrastination is probably the principal reason, aside from learning differences, for a student’s difficulty with school. Here are a few tips to beat procrastination.
- Make certain the student checks his or her planner every morning at the beginning of the school day and every evening before beginning homework.
- All work and no play make for poor performance. Students need time off. Good planning includes break time, free time, brain rest time, physical exercise time, and healthy sleep time. Having planned breaks will actually help reduce procrastination.
- Good nutrition is also key to student performance and the ability of a student to focus when focus is required.
I had to learn how to plan ahead the hard way, but there is no reason that your students need to suffer in the same way. With only a few minutes of class time or a bit of parental guidance, your kids can learn how to manage schoolwork and long-term deadlines—a skill that will aid them throughout their lives.
Janet S. Fox writes award-winning fiction and nonfiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the nonfiction middle grade book Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit Publishing, 2017) and three YA historical romances: Faithful (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010), Forgiven (Penguin, 2011), and Sirens (Penguin, 2012). Janet’s debut middle grade novel The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle (Viking, 2016) has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Bozeman, Montana.
Janet is the author of Get Organized Without Losing It (Revised & Updated Edition).
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