Time Management for Teens
At the beginning of school last year, 16-year-old
Hannah was invited to participate in several school activities.
"I knew I didn't have time to do them all," she says, "so
I chose the ones I knew I would really enjoy." Hannah practices
a smart strategy for success in high school-she's in control
of her time.
Homework. Band practice. Chores. School
projects. Track team. Part-time job. Friends. Dating. Throw
in the SATs or a state proficiency test, and the result can
be major stress. Practically every teen has been stressed
out with too much to do and too little time to do it in. One
of the problems, as Hannah found, is that so many activities
compete for one's time. Teens who manage their time well have
their personal favorite tips that work best for them, but
all agree on one important strategy: Set priorities.
For Hannah and Zane, 16, school is number
one. "If I have a test coming up," Zane explains, "I'll turn
down an invitation from a friend—schoolwork before fun." Hannah
agrees. Like many teens, she doesn't like the feeling of having
an unfinished project hanging over her; it's a major stressor.
"Say I have a big project due in two days," she says. "I would
do the project first, then I can enjoy the time I spend with
my friends." Hannah also starts right away on her assignments.
Zane tries to break down projects into small pieces and not
tackle them all at once.
Not so with 15-year-old Andy. School is
a priority for him, also, but his style is a little different:
"Most times I wait to finish things. I won't put them off,
but I don't rush to do them. This seems to work well for me,
though I know most people have a hard time doing that. And
I make sure assignments are completed on time and thoroughly."
Andy reports that this tactic works well for him; he's rarely
overwhelmed or stressed out by upcoming assignments. He plans
out beforehand what he needs to complete, and he's able to
fit in a large class load, play piano and bass in a band,
and spend at least one night a weekend with friends.
The difference in these teens' styles points
out the importance of developing time management skills that
work for the individual; one size doesn't fit all. For example,
one conventional time management tip is to write down everything
in a master planner. But Hannah has found that keeping different
calendars for different purposes works best for her. She has
one calendar for school, one for soccer practice, and another
for dance, birthdays, student council meetings, and so on.
Andy writes down homework assignments in a school planner,
but says, "Most things I don't need to write down because
I have a good memory." Teens should experiment with different
strategies until they find what works for them.
Most teens do find that keeping some form
of written schedule is helpful. Activities that come at fixed
hours and cannot be changed should be listed first. Classes,
activities with fixed time periods, work, and sleep fall into
this category. Teens have more flexibility in determining
when to complete homework assignments, exams, and papers.
Sleep is one area in which teens shortchange
themselves. They need at least nine hours of sleep each night,
but a recent study at Brown University School of Medicine
found that teens averaged just 7.3 hours a night. The researchers
also noted that students who had mostly A's on their report
cards averaged more sleep than those who received D's and
F's. Inadequate sleep also can cause or aggravate stress.
Getting enough sleep isn't always a matter of merely scheduling
sleep time—it's also budgeting enough time to finish assignments.
Some teens stay up late to finish assignments because they
misjudge how much time they take. A rule of thumb is to estimate
how much time one thinks an assignment will take, then tack
on another 25%.
Teens need to realize that time management
strategies such as these won't magically allow them to squeeze
in everything they want to do. They must make choices on how
to spend their time—back to priorities again. "It's hard to
say no," says Hannah, "but you have to if you want to manage
your time. It's better to be fully involved, for example,
do your share for the club or group, than to just show up
and not be prepared or do nothing. Make sure you have the
time to contribute. It's better to do well in fewer activities."
She advises time-stressed teens to drop some activities if
they're feeling it's too much.
Some people find the idea of managing their
time restrictive. "I don't want to turn into an efficiency
robot," they protest. But managing time doesn't mean being
controlled by a schedule; it means having control. What it
doesn't mean is over-scheduling. Rigorous schedules
with every minute planned are doomed to fail. In fact, lack
of flexibility is the major reason that students give up on
schedules. Unexpected events happen, things take longer than
anticipated, and new obligations continually pop up. As Zane
advises, "Don't schedule yourself too tightly." Leaving some
time open to move activities around and for recreational and
"down" time is crucial.
Good time management skills are a proven
buffer against academic stress and can help teens lead a more
balanced life. Like any skills, people are not born with them.
They have to practice. Encourage teens not to give up if they
find themselves stressed out despite their efforts to manage
their time. The key is to keep trying and, as Andy says, "Try
not to worry too much about it. The more you worry, the harder
things will be."
Activity: Time management
skills often can help people reach their goals. Suppose a
student wants to raise his or her grade in math. The student
might schedule a set time each day for study or tutoring,
rather than just saying, "I'll study harder." Have students
choose a goal that they have had difficulty reaching. Help
them to experiment with writing objectives for their goal
in terms of managing their time for it. Each objective should
be specific, measurable, realistic, and have a completion
The Bulletin Board
Try these tips for managing your time, and share your favorite
time management tips with your classmates. When you're in
control of your time, you reduce your stress level.
Ten Top Tips for Schoolwork
- Budget enough time. For each project
you undertake, calculate how long it will take to complete.
Then tack on another 25% as a buffer against mistakes, interruptions,
or unanticipated problems.
- Set aside a time each day to study.
- Study in blocks of one hour. Take a
five-minute break in-between. Use a kitchen timer or the
alarm on your watch.
- Look over your notes every day. Even
if you don't have homework or an upcoming exam, take five
to ten minutes every day to look over your notes for each
subject. This will help prevent having to cram before a
- Write down assignments as soon as they
- Study your hardest assignments first
while you're more alert.
- Say no to social invitations if you
have to study for an exam or complete a project.
- Break large tasks into smaller, more
manageable ones. If you have a paper to write, break it
down into researching, outlining, and writing.
- Chunk your time. If you have two weeks
to do an assignment, figure out how much time (plus 25%)
it will take. Then divide by the number of days until it's
due and do a little bit every day.
- Keep file folders to hold paperwork
for each class, and color code them.
Getting Organized (Looking for
things wastes time.)
- Do the worst thing first. Study for
your hardest class or do a chore you dislike to get it out
of the way.
- Think small. Set up small goals. Need
to clean your room? Focus on one bookshelf or one corner
at a time. Reward yourself when you finish each goal.
- Set a timer, and work on a chore or
task for just 10 or 15 minutes at a time.
- Say, "I choose to" instead of "I have
to." We often rebel when we feel we "should" do something.
- Jump in! Stop waiting for the right
moment or talking about what you're going to do, and do
Time Traps to Avoid
- Make your lunch, and set out your clothes
and items needed for school the night before.
- Clean out your locker every Friday.
Take loose papers home to sort and organize.
- Make a place for everything in your
room. Keep loose school papers in a cardboard box, for example.
- Take a few minutes every day to straighten
up your desk at home. Keep the supplies you need to study
on your desk.
- Hang a clear, plastic shoebag over your
bedroom door, and use it to place little items that can
end up as clutter.
- Overscheduling your calendar
- Committing to too many activities
- Cutting down on sleep to squeeze more
in your day
- Giving up when you have a setback managing
- Failing to set goals
|Ginger Panico, M.P.H., M.Ed., is a former epidemiologist and science/health secondary teacher. Special thanks to Andy, Hannah, and Zane
for agreeing to be interviewed.