Fostering Student Time Management and Organization At Home
Many students struggle with time management and organization at home. This struggle can lead to procrastination, unfinished assignments, disorganization, and frustration. There are many solutions to this problem that are effective and can save your child (and you) many hours of painful toiling to accomplish goals.
The three fundamentals for tackling at-home time management and organization are:
The first step in planning is to make a list of all goals to be accomplished. These could be assignments, chores, errands, or anything else your child might need to complete by a deadline. Sit down with your child to create this list once a week--even if there are not many tasks to be completed in a given week. Being consistent with sitting down and making a list creates a habit of doing so that will benefit your child in the future when they are more independent.
Once you complete the list together, order it by deadline. For example, if you make your list on a Sunday and a task needs to be completed by Monday morning, it should be at the top of the list. A different task that needs to be completed by Wednesday afternoon might fall somewhere in the middle of the list. This process helps your child prioritize which goals to focus on and when to focus on them.
For some students, this weekly list may be enough. They simply refer to it every day, complete a few goals in order each day, and check off what they have accomplished after completion. For others, more organization may be needed. In this case, I recommend the use of a daily or weekly planner. You can often find these at the dollar store, or you can create them at home using a calendar or technology.
To use a planner, sit with your child and the prioritized list you created together and organize the tasks into the days of the week. For complex tasks or ones that may take longer to complete, you might only schedule one task per day. For simpler tasks, you might schedule several per day. If a task will take more than one day to complete, schedule it over several days with a daily completion goal. For example, if your child has 14 days to read a 200 page book, you might write "Read 15 Pages" on each day of the week for two weeks.
Make it explicit that once a task is scheduled on a day of the week, it is a contract your child has made with themself for completion on that day that is non-negotiable. I myself use this technique to complete chores I do not particularly like doing. As an example, I have a small pond in my back yard that gets mucky without regular maintenance. I am not particularly fond of getting down in there to clean it, but, if I don't, there are consequences. The pump will get clogged, the fish will die, algae will bloom, etc. I use my planner to schedule cleaning the pond and pump filter every other week, and know that by writing it down I have made a contract with myself to complete the task. Since starting the scheduling in this way, the water in my pond has remained crystal clear, the fish healthy and happy, and no algae has grown. There are also consequences when students do not complete tasks. They could get lower grades on assignments, they could lose privileges for not completing their chores, etc. Emphasize natural consequences and possible rewards for non-completion and successful completion of each task. You could even schedule rewards in the planner to create some excitement for something upcoming that will be fun! Also emphasize the natural rewards of completion: the fact that there will be no natural consequences.
Technology can also be useful for scheduling tasks. I have had several students with phones schedule their tasks in their phone's calendar with an alert. When they hear the alert, they know that it is time to get started right away.
Once you have established the contractual nature of a planner and made a weekly plan, it is time for your child to execute their tasks. You can use the planner to schedule what time on each day they will complete each task, or let them choose when to complete them more naturally. The goal here is that the tasks get completed by the end of the day they are scheduled for, not necessarily what time they get done. You know your child best, so use your judgment as to which method will work best for them.
For academic tasks, find a place free from distractions for your child to complete their work. Fostering concentration is golden when it comes to academic success, so minimizing interruptions and distractions is key. Allow them to complete their work independently, but encourage them to come to you if they need assistance. The point is to make your child feel confident, competent, and capable while also offering support when needed. There is a sweet spot between challenge and support. With too much challenge, students feel frustrated. With too little challenge, students feel board. With too much support, students are not developing their own skills. With too little support, students feel defeated.
It is often beneficial for students to complete chores and errands immediately after school following a short break or a snack, or, during summer break, first thing in the morning. That way, the chores and errands are out of the way early, their brains get a break from academics, and the rest of the day is free for other tasks or free time.
When your child completes a task, it's important for them to quickly double check their work. Once it is satisfactory, they can check the task off of their schedule or list. Simply checking off a task provides a sense of accomplishment and also helps with accountability for completing tasks. If your child is struggling with completion, do not discourage them by getting upset. Rather, remind them of the natural consequences and rewards of work completion and ask them what they think they could do the following week to have more success in completing their tasks. It is important not to be punitive about non-completion as it often shuts students down and makes them believe planning and organizing work is pointless and only leads to disappointment.
Just like any skill, time management and organization require practice. You might be surprised with how quickly implementing and practicing a plan fosters more independence in your child!