EF Skills: Time Management

By Jenna Prada, M.Ed


Many smart kids with learning challenges struggle in school due to poor time-management skills Arriving late, turning in assignments after theyre due, and pulling all-nighters before tests are both unproductive and stressful Improving time-management skills now will help your child do better in school and succeed in life

An important executive functioning skill is time management—the ability to accurately estimate time required, how much time one has, and allocate time effectively to meet deadlines. It also includes an awareness that time matters. Students who struggle with time management find that even their best-laid plans do not come to fruition. They are often running behind and can’t figure out how to fit everything in. If your child has problems in this area (see box below), use these guidelines to help strengthen this skill. Like most skills, time management can be improved with intentional, concrete instruction and practice.

Timers, timers everywhere

The first step in developing time management skills is developing a general awareness of time. A child needs to be able to accurately estimate how long an assignment will take so they can allocate the time needed. Use timers to help them learn how much time activities actually take. Some great ones include the Time Timer and sand timers. Also, be sure there’s a clock in every room where your child spends time—even the bathroom.

Have your child practice by estimating how long they need to complete an activity—a particular homework assignment or a shower, for instanceand then have them set a timer to record the actual time they spend. As they practice with more and different activities, their time awareness will improve.

Pro-Tip: For kids that don’t know where to start when estimating their time, have them keep track of their activities over a 24-hour period or a week. Use different colors for different types of activities so they can really see their time.

Do a time audit

When a student can’t seem to fit everything in, it’s time to do a time audit. Make a chart with a list of all of the activities your child wants or has to do on the left. Be sure to include categories such as self-care, sleep, eating, and transportation as well as clubs, sports, and homework.

In the right column, opposite each activity, add their assessment of the number of hours they should spend on that activity each week. Once everything is written down, add up the right column; ideally it should total 168 hours to account for the full week.

Pro-Tip: If their total hours is above or below 168, have them go back to their priorities to make adjustments. If they struggle with tests, be sure to include study-time as separate from homework time. If they are frequently overwhelmed, allowing for breaks is important.

Try the Pomodoro Method

Strictly speaking, the Pomodoro Method consists of 25 minutes of focused work followed by a five-minute break; that’s one Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros, students take a longer, 30-minute break. This approach has several advantages: it respects kids’ attention spans, it separates work time from play time, and it builds time awareness.

There are several apps to help people use the Pomodoro Method. Try pomofocus for a straightforward Pomodoro timer or toggl for more data tracking.

Pro-Tip: For students with shorter attention spans, it’s absolutely fair to modify the Pomodoro Method so that work sessions are 15-20 minutes and breaks are a touch longer.

Provide lots of practice

Keep planning in the forefront by asking questions that prompt awareness of time. Get started with the following questions then add your own:

  • How long do you expect that will take?
  • How many Pomodoros are enough to finish?
  • Will you have time for everything on your list today?
  • How much time will you dedicate to that each day?

As you solicit answers to these questions, remind your child to use timers to assess the accuracy of the responses.

Don’t forget to account for breaks

Even those with a highly developed sense of time are bound to have time-management problems on occasion. For that reason, and because your child’s brain needs time at rest, it is imperative to include breaks or to otherwise schedule activities that help them reset—reading, playing outside, drawing, etc.

Ideally, time management is a tool that gives control back to your child so that they can complete their work with confidence and fit in all the activities that bring them joy.

Is This Your Child?

If you answer yesto any of these questions, your child will benefit from the above strategies to improve their time management skills:

Does your child

  • Complete assignments the night before they are due?
  • Arrive late to commitments?
  • Struggle to be ready on time in the morning or the evening?
  • Stay up late doing homework despite stated intentions to finish early?
  • Make step-by-step plans that then fall apart?
  • Incorrectly estimate how long tasks will take to complete?
  • Miss deadlines at school?
  • Have difficulty fitting everything in, including some activities they enjoy?

Jenna Prada, a certified teacher and administrator, is the founder of the Learning Link and the Director of Executive Functioning & Special Education at Private Prep.

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