Counselling Chronicle (5)
Many adolescents have difficulties with organising themselves and managing their time. Parents may like to assist their children to implement some of the following strategies to help them develop these important life skills.
1. Use a diary or calendar
It is imperative for students to learn how to use a diary or calendar to keep track of upcoming events. Students may like to use a colour-coding system for different kinds of events, e.g. birthdays, homework, sport. Some students may like to keep a calendar or to-do list on a whiteboard in their room.
2. Use a reminder system
Students should set helpful reminders to remind them before an important event, e.g. a reminder alarm to pack their history assignment the night before it is due. If using an electronic calendar, students can easily set reminders when inputting the event. There are a number of apps that are available for keeping track of tasks.
3. Visibility is key
Keep a copy of your child’s schedule and/or school timetable on the fridge, where all family members can see it and provide prompting if necessary. Other members of the family may like to do this too, so as to model effective organisational skills to the student.
4. Plan backwards
Students can also use a diary or calendar to plan their time for completing projects. Students should work backwards from the due date to the present date, breaking the task down into small chunks.
Students should aim to have one spare day before a task is due, to allow cushion room for any unforeseen circumstances, e.g. printer out of ink, internet outage.
5. Calculate optimal attention efficiency window
Students should work out what the length of time is that they can concentrate and work efficiently. Students in Years 7-9 may find that this is 20-30 minutes, whereas senior students may be able to work effectively for 40-60 minutes before fatiguing. This is their attention efficiency window.
6. Chunk your time
Students should break homework and assessment tasks into smaller chunks/goals, which can be accomplished within their attention efficiency window.
Students should then work on one project for a time, then swap to another subject/task, alternating to the limit of their attention efficiency window. For example, a Year 11 student may work for: 40 mins on maths, 40 mins on an English essay, 40 mins more on maths, to complete their homework.
They may need to take short breaks between their attention windows to feel refreshed. They could write a plan or keep a checklist of the longer tasks they are working on so that they know where they’re up to.
Teach your adolescent how to prioritise tasks.
Help them estimate the time they will need to complete tasks, bearing in mind that tasks always take longer than originally thought, and that building in some “just in case” contingency time is a wise strategy.
Teach your adolescents that tasks with closer due dates or higher importance are more urgent than those further in the future or less important.
8. Keep a routine
Students should aim to have a consistent and predictable routine.
To help boost attention, it is useful to have a set homework time each day (where possible). This way, the student’s brain learns that homework is concentration time from 4-5pm (for example), but they can then relax and “switch off” after this time. Homework time should be distraction-free.
9. Schedule in fun and relaxing tasks
To work effectively and maintain wellbeing, students have to have a balanced mix of tasks that are enjoyable, connect them with other people, and give them a sense of achievement. As social and fun activities are often sacrificed when under stress, it is important to schedule these in with equal importance to tasks such as homework.
The same is true for sleep – adolescents should be sleeping 8-10 hours per night. Some students may need to alter their night-time routine to achieve adequate sleep.
10. Pack school bag the night before
This cuts down on the “morning frenzy” and reduces the risk of things being forgotten.
Students need to be encouraged to consult their timetable, CANVAS and list of homework/assessment tasks due, when packing their bag.
11. Make a checklist
If your child is just learning certain organisational skills or seems to have difficulties, they may benefit from a checklist for daily tasks.
Students may benefit from being able to tick off completed tasks, as a visual reminder of where they’re up to.
To do lists for tasks, noting completion dates and times, are helpful for students who struggle with time management. For example, breakfast 7.00am, school uniform on by 7.20am, teeth brushed by 7.30am.
12. Keep things in one place
Create a system in your house for where things belong.
Students may like to have a pencil case for school and one for home, to reduce the likelihood of a pencil case being left behind at home.
Encourage students to tidy up after themselves and to make putting things away a priority when arriving home. For example, shoes and school tie should go in the same place every day, and iPad should be put on their charging station every night.
13. Have a system for filing and returning important documents
For example, permission notes should go in a visible and frequently checked place, with a reminder set on the student’s device to prompt them to return them to school. An in/out tray system may be useful if your family has a number of important documents coming and going at any one time.
14. Encourage responsibility
After your teenager has started to implement some organisational skills, start to take a step back.
Students need to learn that they must be responsible for their own time management and organisation. This may mean some “tough love” as a parent, particularly if your child is disorganised purely because they can’t be bothered, get up too late in the morning, or view you as their maid/taxi driver.
For example, if your child regularly forgets their PE uniform and calls you asking you to drop it off for them, it may be worth refusing one time. This will help teach your child that in the adult world, mum’s/dad’s courier system does not exist and they must face consequences for disorganisation.
It is better for young people to learn this now, than after leaving high school when it’s their own job or reputation on the line.