Over 2,000 years ago, Roman writer Publilius Syrus noted, “To do two things at once is to do neither.” Syrus’ advice might seem outdated in a world where multitasking is the norm, but it still rings true.
Multitasking is a common habit for students and parents alike. Students attempt to complete their homework assignments while listening to music or checking social media. Parents attempt to complete work projects while reviewing each new email that comes into their inboxes.
While we might think that taking on multiple tasks simultaneously increases our productivity, research consistently indicates that multitasking only slows you down, increases stress, and causes you to make more errors. In short, multitasking is a myth! Instead of multitasking, students are better served improving their time management skills.
What Is Time Management?
Time management is the ability to organize and plan your time. Effective time management allows you to get more done in less time, meet goals, and free up time for other activities.
Time management is an executive functioning skill. Executive functioning refers to a suite of skills used to stay organized, prioritize tasks, focus attention, and complete multiple tasks in the most efficient manner. No one is born with executive functioning skills; they must be learned.
The Importance of Time Management Skills
It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of time management skills. Time is the most precious commodity we have because we cannot earn it back — once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. When students know how to manage time, their productivity improves along with their ability to reach their goals. They learn to make the most out of their time, whether they’re working towards college, studying, or participating in extracurricular activities.
How important are time management strategies? A study from the University of Connecticut showed that multitasking negatively impacted college students’ grades and study times. The more work students try to do at once, the less work they get done overall.
How to Manage Your Time
Learning how to manage time better is no different than learning any new skill. The more you practice, the better you become at it. The following time management tips can help students improve their ability to organize and prioritize tasks:
- Plan ahead. Set workable goals for each day, then look further ahead and make goals for the week, the month, and the year.
- Schedule important activities for the right time of day. Schedule a regular time block for studying each evening if you study best later in the day.
- Make a to-do list and stick to it.
- Allow time for interruptions and distractions. Research has shown that it takes over 20 minutes on average to fully refocus each time you are distracted from a task. Keep interruptions to a minimum.
- Learn to prioritize tasks.
- Don’t overcommit yourself to too many events or activities.
- Break large, intimidating tasks down into smaller, manageable tasks that are easier to complete.
- Take breaks. No one does their best unless they’re alert and refreshed.
- Create consistent routines. Once a routine becomes a habit, it’s much easier to follow.
- Reward yourself for completing tasks.
Using a Time Management Quadrant
Time management quadrants, also known as prioritization matrices or Eisenhower matrices, are excellent time management tools. All you need to make a time management quadrant is paper and pen or pencil. Here’s how to make one:
Draw a large square and divide it into four smaller squares. Number the quadrants and assign them the following categories:
- Quadrant One: Important and urgent
- Quadrant Two: Important but not urgent
- Quadrant Three: Urgent but not important
- Quadrant Four: Neither important nor urgent
Assign a quadrant for each of your upcoming tasks, events, and responsibilities. For instance, studying for an AP exam that’s six months away might go into quadrant two; it’s important but not urgent. Completing homework that’s due tomorrow might go into quadrant one (important and urgent), while cleaning your room might be urgent but not important, so it goes into quadrant three. Any task that winds up in quadrant four can be put off until your more urgent and important tasks are finished.
Time Management Tools
If you’re interested in developing your time management skills, your local bookstore or library will have books on the subject. Many time management books focus on business and careers, but you can adapt the strategies they cover to school work. Online resources are another excellent source of time management strategies, such as the advice in our Executive Functioning Guide.
One of the best time management tools you can use is a calendar or planner, as long as you use it consistently. Online planners and time management apps are ideal for older students, as they can send reminders, track time spent on different goals, and help students stay organized. Some of the best time management apps include the following:
- Forest App: Get rewarded for maintaining your focus.
- SelfControl App: Block yourself from accessing distracting websites. Research from the American Association of Pediatrics highlights how checking social media while doing schoolwork negatively impacts students’ grades.
- myHomework Student Planner: Track your assignments, exams, and upcoming events.
- 2Do: Categorize your task with color-coding.
- Google Keep: Use a pinboard format to pin notes, lists, and media, which can be searched and shared with others.
Students of all ages benefit from time management skills. One of the most effective ways to teach time management strategies is through one-on-one instruction, something few students can access through their schools. Revolution Prep’s private tutors teach time management, prioritization, and organizational skills alongside subject-specific material, helping students master executive functioning skills that will help them at all levels of education, from elementary school to university graduate programs.