A major paper is due tomorrow, your teen agreed to fill in for a coworker at their part-time job, and the phone rings. It’s their best friend asking if they can come over for a bit to play that new video game they just got. You watch your teenager struggle once again as they try to figure out how to fit everything in. You’ve tried to help but this scenario plays itself out over and over again. This is even more true when your teen has something like ADD or autism that causes poor executive functioning. What can you do to teach time management skills to teens? It helps to first understand why time management is an important skill that will help not only now, but for the rest of their lives.
Why Time Management is Important
Time management skills aren’t something we simply have floating around in our DNA. We have to learn them. When we or our teens don’t know how to manage our time effectively, we often find ourselves missing deadlines, being consistently late, and feeling overwhelmed the majority of our time. In many cases, school and job performance suffers. This adds even more stress to the situation. By learning time management skills when you are young, you have the best chance of carrying these skills into the adult world where they will aid you every day.
Having good time management skills will aid in better performance, better decision-making skills, increased independence, more free time, and less anxiety.
Time Management Tips for Teens
Let’s explore some time management tips for teens.
1. Learn your productive times and performance style.
We all have different styles of performing tasks and we also have different body clocks. Some people are more productive during the morning hours, while others find they get more done late at night. Finding out your teen’s style and schedule preferences will help them schedule difficult tasks during their most productive periods.
2. Utilize planning tools.
There are planning tools that match every style. Teach your teen how to use a planner, checking it every day. You can teach them to schedule their week ahead of time and even a month in advance. Wearing a watch that helps them become aware of the passage of time also helps. There are many good apps out there that can also help. Just make sure if your teen is using an app, they don’t fall into the trap of getting sidetracked with social media or texting.
3. Teach the skill of setting priorities.
This is often the most valuable tool in getting your time under control. So often, teens, and even adults, don’t know what is most important. The Eisenhower Method is a simple tool that is great for teens. It involves dividing your tasks into four categories: Urgent, not urgent but needs to be done, can delegate or automate, and don’t need to do. This will help your teen learn how to make time for urgent things first and then prioritize time for the rest.
4. Track time to avoid planning fallacy.
One reason we often miss deadlines is that we fail to realize just how long a task will take. This is called planning fallacy. Have your teen note how long certain tasks normally take. This will help give a more realistic view. Then, have them add extra time in case of distractions or events that are unplanned, such as illness, electric outages, and such. In the end, if this extra time isn’t needed, they just end up having extra free time.
5. Get a good night’s sleep and eat healthy meals.
Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep each night. When teaching your teen to create a schedule, make sure they plan for this time. Without a night of good sleep, the body and mind don’t perform as well as they should and everything else takes longer. Healthy snacks also keep energy levels up and the brain at its sharpest.
6. Start early.
That paper may not be due until mid-year, but by breaking it up into smaller tasks and starting now, the paper not only gets done on time, but your teen can spend more time researching and writing, making a good grade much more likely. This goes for any large task. Teach the art of breaking the task into smaller steps. This allows for progress each day without feeling overwhelmed. Make sure to include rewards for achieving the smaller steps as this will help your teen maintain motivation.
7. Eat a frog.
This may sound silly, but it is a very effective tool. One of the greatest things that hinder our effective use of time is to put off large, unpleasant tasks until the last minute. They keep going to the bottom of our to-do list. Think of these tasks as frogs. If you need to eat a frog, getting it out of the way quickly will make everything else seem easier. So, eat that frog as soon as you can and the other things will fall easily into place.
8. Don’t multi-task.
Studies show that when you multitask, it may feel like you are being more productive, but you actually make less progress on each of the things you are doing because you can’t fully pay attention to each task. Focusing on only one task at a time allows you to feel less stress and not break that state of flow that is so important for consistent productivity. When the focus is broken, it can take as long as 23 minutes to get it back on track. This greatly reduces the quality of production.
9. Practice stress management techniques.
One thing that can make time management difficult is anxiety. Unfortunately, missing deadlines and performing badly increase anxiety. It becomes a vicious circle. Teaching your teen how to manage stress will help them in many areas of life. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and many other practices are very effective. Sometimes, simply concentrating on slow, deep breathing is all it takes. Consider the personality and behavior of your teen and choose a method that appeals to them.
10. Model good time management skills.
You can tell a child anything you want, but if they don’t see you doing it, your words won’t mean much. Let your teenager see you practice these time management skills. You can even ask them to help you prioritize things or determine how much time is needed for something. This allows them to learn the skills without having to feel pressured.
11. Take breaks.
You have seen your teenager studying for four hours straight. While you may admire their tenacity, this isn’t good for retention. Teach them to take regular breaks to stretch, walk around, and grab a quick snack. A good method that works well with many is the Pomodoro Method. You can even get a cute little timer that is designed for this but any timer works. Set a timer to work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. After four rounds of this, take a longer break. This allows for both the body and the mind to regenerate.
12. Learn to say no to obligations.
Most teenagers want to do everything. Some have school, sports or clubs, a part-time job, and friends and family that they want to spend time with. The trouble with time is that there is a limited amount each day. Teach your teen that they don’t have to be involved in everything all the time and it is okay to say no to extra obligations such as an extra work shift, an extra credit project, or even participation in an activity that no longer really seems interesting. This all ties in with prioritizing.
13. Try waking up earlier or planning the night before.
For some teens, waking up an hour earlier to make the morning less hectic will work. For most, asking them to start the day earlier is like asking them to jump off a diving board into an active volcano. For those teens, help them get in the habit of doing some of the prep work before bed. They can pack a lunch, make sure everything for the next day is in a backpack by the door, and their outfit for the next day is chosen and laid out. This will allow them to feel less rushed and eat a good breakfast before heading out the door.
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