Many people hear about time management for the first time at school, where teachers tout the importance of good time management skills in order to balance growing academic and extracurricular responsibilities. However, time management—and how to do it—is not necessarily taught to students in school, leading to poor habits and long-term challenges for many.
Time management is defined by Cambridge Dictionary as, “the practice of using the time that you have available in a useful and effective way, especially in your work.” For students, this work is their schoolwork, including homework, projects, and studying, as well as any extracurricular or other activities they have on their calendars.
Time management skills is one of about a dozen executive functions, which is the set of skills and mental processes that help a person evaluate resources, plan ahead, and execute tasks in their day-to-day life. In this article, we’ll delve into the connection between executive functions, specifically time management, and how students can hone both for academic success.
Time Management as an Executive Function Skill
ADDitude Magazine explains that executive function skills fall into two categories: academic management and socio-emotional.
Academic management executive function skills, which can also be classified as cognition, include:
- Working memory
- Time management
Socio-emotional, also called behavioral, executive function skills include:
- Emotional control
- Response inhibition
While time management is a cognitive skill, it can still greatly affect and be affected by the socio-emotional executive functions. For example, a student with poor emotional control may find themselves overwhelmed or perhaps anxious and unable to manage their time and tasks, not knowing where to begin. Conversely, students who have strong time management skills are more likely to feel capable and confident about their workload.
Studies are exploring the link between internal timekeeping and executive function development, as explained in Frontiers in Behavioral Science, “Executive functions (EF) seem strongly involved in timing ability, allowing us to codify temporal intervals, reproduce durations and/or re-call them after a previous encoding phase. In particular, time processing abilities seem related to three different domains of our EF such as working memory (WM).”
Time management, like other executive functions, can be a complex skill to develop, particularly for those students who find time to be abstract and hard to understand.
How Poor Time Management Affects Students
Poor time management can have an outsized effect on students, impacting their emotional well-being as well as their academic success. This is partly due to the skill’s close connection to other executive functions.
When a student exhibits poor time management skills, they may see their grades slipping. Students can also suffer emotionally from the related stress, as their workload compounds and their inability to keep it managed becomes an increasing weight on their shoulders. This downward spiral can make it even more difficult for students to dig out of the situation—which is an indicator that they may need the support of an academic coach.
Students may also not understand why their peers are able stay on top of their work and appear not to procrastinate their assignments.
Some students with executive dysfunction, including poor time management skills, may also have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD is a chronic neurodevelopmental condition that features ongoing patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity that interferes with their ability to function.
Not all students with poor time management skills have ADHD, and students with and without ADHD can benefit from developing their time management skills.
3 Signs of Poor Time Management in Students
While some parents may intuitively recognize the signs of poor time management, others may not, and some students may be particularly good at masking their struggles over time. Here are three signs to look out for in students.
1. Failure to Complete Tasks on Time
Students with poor time management will procrastinate, waiting until the last minute to work on a school project or study for a test. The student may find themselves staying up increasingly late in order to get their work done. If a teacher, parent, or academic coach notes a pattern of assignments marked “late,” that may be a sign that the student could benefit from focusing on reviewing and developing how they manage their time.
2. Struggling to Plan Ahead
This goes hand-in-hand with failure to complete tasks on time. Students with time management issues often struggle to envision a timeline for their work, thus becoming unable to know when they need to start or work on a task. These students can also face issues with estimating time. They may consistently overestimate or underestimate how long a task will take to complete.
3. Chronic Lateness
When students have poor time management, they often can’t properly envision the amount of time they need to get to a class, practice, or other event. Because of that, they may be consistently late and struggle to remedy that lateness, even for recurring events.
6 Tips for Improving Student Time Management Skills
1. Utilize a time management worksheet specially designed for students.
One powerful tool for better time management is the practice of using visual supports to build awareness, particularly in the form of an interactive document that the student can customize to their schedule. The experts at Effective Students developed this time management worksheet, available for free download, specifically for students who have executive dysfunction. This adult-guided, student directed exercise lets the student build awareness of time and tasks. so they are in charge of creating a solution that works for them.
The time management worksheet helps students analyze all of their activities and their available time so they can evaluate how they use their time. Then, the worksheet can be filled out to make intentional plans to accomplish tasks. Students will find that visualizing tasks all in one place can reduce anxiety, increasing their ability to problem solve and complete assignments.
2. Leverage your student’s strengths.
Having poor time management can take a toll on a student’s confidence, especially in academic settings. Look to areas where your student has strengths and integrate those strengths into their time management practices. For example, if the student is a creative storyteller, try asking them to tell a story about what their day will be like with all the tasks broken up throughout it.
It can also be worthwhile to review how your student is performing when it comes to other executive functions. If they struggle with other skills, time management can be impacted. For example, if a student struggles with the executive function skill of organization, they may be prone to forgetting about tasks or losing track of their assignments.
3. Work with an academic coach.
For many students, time management is not a natural skill. Academic coaches are not tutors, as they do not parrot information about a single subject to a student. Instead, they work alongside the student as a mentor, helping them develop the skills they are missing, like time management, so they can achieve academic success.
At Effective Students, we offer one-on-one academic success coaching for students of all types and all grade levels, including those students who have executive dysfunction or ADHD. Academic coaches can guide students as they practice time management techniques and develop their skills.
Students can also enroll in the Effective Student Method™ course for a complete, step-by-step curriculum that covers time management alongside other key study skills, like organization and study skills.
4. Practice using timers.
When students have poor time management skills, they do not have a good sense of an internal clock and often struggle to understand what a length of time feels like. To help develop an awareness of time, implement timers into not just school work but other tasks so students learn how much time they’re spending.
These timers don’t need to put a time limit on what a student is working on but instead allow the student to see how long something takes. Have the student start and stop a timer when they are doing their morning routine, performing chores, and completing homework. This can help the student develop a better habit of checking the time and checking how much time has passed.
5. Build a routine—and talk about it.
When left to their own devices, even students with good time management can get distracted. Commit to a regular routine or discussing the upcoming week, sharing your commitments and inquiring about what is upcoming for your student.
This is a great opportunity to reflect, plan ahead and ask questions about where your student would like additional resources to help them succeed. It can be additionally beneficial to discuss spending a set amount of time after school for studying and homework. Consider starting that time period with ten to fifteen minutes of planning what the work completion will look like.
6. Plan ahead for big projects.
Practice breaking apart the elements of larger projects and setting due dates for those tasks. A single, large project can cause students to freeze and put off beginning the project, while smaller tasks with estimated time commitments are less intimidating.
This method can take more upfront work, as the student may need help breaking apart the project and assigning due dates, but it can prevent procrastination and limit anxiety about getting started.
Academic Coaching for Better Time Management
Academic coaching can be a powerful tool for overcoming poor time management skills in students, since academic coaching tackles executive functions as a whole.
At Effective Students, we’ve created engaging courses and insightful programs that help students develop a robust skill set of executive functions, leading to long-term success. While our one-on-one coaching sessions are recommended for building executive functioning skills, we also have the Effective Student™ course. This course teaches some of the essential skills our coaches teach.
If you’re ready to find the right option for you, contact our team to learn more.