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Maximize Your Minutes: Time Management Tips and Tricks

April 2, 2024



Managing time commitments to both work and leisure activities requires organization, planning, and prioritizing skills. Adults may need to work around job responsibilities to schedule an evening out with friends. Adolescents may need to examine their extra-curricular commitments, homework assignments, and family obligations before finding time to socialize. The federal government’s Healthy People 2030 project, a data-driven national measure of 358 objectives to improve well-being, found that, in 2021, 50.7% of children ages 6 to 17 played organized sports or took sports lessons after school or on weekends.


While parents/guardians often arrange activities and manage events for younger children, the obligation shifts when youth attend middle school or junior high school, having opportunities to sign up for before and after-school clubs, lessons, and sports. During the early adolescent years, school responsibilities—managing and organizing schoolwork, keeping track of assignments and deadlines—also increase.  Adolescents start to develop greater autonomy and self-regulation skills in various aspects of their lives, including time management. The responsibility and privilege of driving a car also creates the need for curfews, budgeting, and consequential thinking. However, the exact timing may vary depending on individual maturity levels and environmental factors.


Time management and planning skills may come more easily to some than others. Maintaining a calendar (whether on paper or digital), removing distractions from a work environment, and identifying how to manage time efficiently are not necessarily intuitive. 

When working with clients to improve time management skills, we often discuss “time robbers,” or those distractions that reduce levels of productivity, despite good intentions. I often use the metaphor “going down the rabbit hole” to describe what happens when a client shares that he or she has spent too much time on the internet researching one topic and ending up on another that is totally irrelevant to the original task.


Managing time effectively not only means avoiding distractions but also means establishing the mental commitment to begin. My client’s and I use a “Am I Ready” system to make certain that they have accessibility to all needed materials, understand what they are required to do to satisfy the assignment, access an appropriate work setting, and have basic needs (food, drink, or bathroom break) before beginning. Arriving at the library to study when one does not have the necessary text book or notes can be avoided by identifying what essentials are needed in advance.


While a Cogmotion Learning coach can help personalize an effective time management plan, the following are general tips to promote effective practices:


1. Use Time Blocking: When using a daily planner or calendar, block out those times that are “non-negotiables” (or must-do activities) first, like classes, appointments, or mandatory events. Then, block out times for studying or other important activities. The intent is to plan a regular, anticipated time to manage essential work/study.


2. Break Tasks into Manageable Parts: Some of my clients have a difficult time initiating a task because the complexity of the assignment is too daunting. Breaking assignments into smaller, more manageable parts may reduce stress and increase productivity. Breaking work into smaller steps also allows for short break times between tasks.

 

3. Set Realistic Goals: While one may eagerly begin a lengthy, multi-step activity with the goal of completing it, this expectation may or may not be realistic. The task may take more time than allotted, endurance and focus may diminish, and/or other competing activities may also require one’s full attention. It is essential to set reasonable, doable goals. Otherwise, one may become defeated and reluctant to continue the hard work required.


4. Prioritize Tasks: In addition to teaching individuals how to prioritize tasks, I also recommend color-coding individual assignments. Tasks can be viewed in order of importance and urgency. If several assignments are due the following day for school, complete the most challenging tasks first. Complete the easier, more motivating tasks later when less mental effort is needed to be successful. 

 

5. Use Visual Tools: Visual aids such as planners, calendars, or digital apps can help individuals with staying organized and tracking deadlines and appointments. While the intent of this blog is not to focus on digital apps, the reader may wish to investigate the following to assist with time management, deadline tracking, and reducing distractions:


a. Todoist: A task management app that helps organize tasks, set deadlines, and prioritize activities.

b. Trello is a project management tool that visually organizes tasks and workflows using boards, lists, and cards.

c. Forest: An app that encourages focus and productivity by growing virtual trees when users stay away from their phone.

d. Freedom: A distraction-blocking app that allows users to block distracting websites and apps for set periods to improve focus.

e. Focus@Will: A music app that provides scientifically optimized music tracks to enhance concentration and productivity.

 

6. Minimize Distractions: One of the biggest issues I have found when working with clients is that they are consistently online. They have to respond to texts, check email, or social media sites. When studying or completing an important task, smartphone accessibility is a major distraction and time robber! As part of the “Getting Ready” or planning component, disconnect from any distracting or non-essential internet time. Select an environment conducive to focusing. Besides reducing distracting websites, select a quiet location where socializing opportunities are not available. Consider using noise-canceling headphones or apps that block distracting websites., as mentioned above.


7.Take Regular Breaks: It is highly unrealistic that an individual will study productively for extended periods of time without taking brief, intermittent breaks. Study breaks do NOT mean scrolling online, watching a video, or checking social media. These activities are actually counterproductive to creating a “brain break” and neither re-energize nor refocus one’s attention. Specific time recommendations for breaks vary based on individual preferences and study habits, the nature of the task, and personal attention span. General

guidelines suggest that college students, for example, should take brief breaks (about 5 minutes) every 25 to 50 minutes following focused study time. This type of study/time management system can be found easily by searching “Pomodoro breaks.” Several Pomodoro apps can be downloaded to help students maintain consistency in their work schedules. Other external reminders, such as alarms and timers, also improve accountability, allocation of time, and opportunities to redirect focus/attention.


Intentionally implementing time management techniques will improve work flow and efficiency. Those who maintain a schedule and stick to it actually free up time for greater work-life balance while reducing overall stress and fatigue levels. Effectively managing one’s time improves preparedness and personal satisfaction. Cogmotion Learning can help identify time management issues, develop personalized strategies for improvement, and assist with progress-monitoring.


Note:

A Pomodoro timer may be found at https://pomofocus.io/

Additional information about the Pomodoro strategy can be found at: https://science.nichd.nih.gov/confluence/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=160956640

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