From Strong Magazine
We’ve all been there. At the start of the school year they always start you off gently. “This isn’t too bad” you think. Sure, there’s a bit of homework, but there’s still plenty of time for all your hobbies and to hang out with your friends after school. Life is good!
But a month or so in, it’s like this switch flicks. All of a sudden all your teachers seem to be giving you ginormous assignments that are all due ON THE SAME DAY! You have three tests next week plus your fall sports commitments are taking up about six hours a week and that’s without even thinking about all the hours you need to put into rehearsal for the school play. You’ve promised your Grandma you’ll visit at the weekend and help her sort her closet and told your parents that you’ll help with the grocery shopping. You’re overwhelmed. You feel out of control and stressed. It’s time to organize your time!
To plan your time, you need to know what’s going on.
Plenty of us like to hide from our commitments. They’re not fun after all. No one likes to think about that test that’s due next week or that doctor’s appointment we have to go to on Wednesday. But here’s the thing: if you don’t know, you can’t plan. And there’s not much worse than having a test sneak up on you without you having done any studying or finding out you have to go to the doctor when you were hoping to see your friends that afternoon.
Use a Planner or Calendar
Use a planner or calendar to write down everything you have to do. Some people like to work with good old-fashioned pen and paper planners where you have a week to a page. These are great as they help you to see the week in front of you. Other people like to be able to see further ahead. For them a wall planner that shows the whole month or year may be useful. There are also many electronic calendars available. These have the added benefit that you can set reminders for yourself that will go off a set time before an event.
Start by putting things in your planner or calendar that are at a set time and are firm commitments. For example, if you have Akido on Thursdays at 6pm it should be in your calendar every week. If you have a plan to meet a friend at the movies on Friday evening, that should go in too. Having things in your calendar this way will ensure you never double book yourself or end up trying to cram too much into one day and will also help you plan out when to do things like your homework.
Ask Your Parents to Share Your Home Commitments with You.
There’s nothing more frustrating as a teen than trying to plan your time, but then finding out someone else has planned part of it for you! Ask your parents to share family commitments, such as vacations or family meals, with you. One way to do this would be to sit down with your family each Sunday afternoon to discuss what is going on in the week ahead. Another might be to share an electronic calendar that you could all access. Some families also have a paper calendar where everybody can see it and family members can write down their commitments.
Don’t Sacrifice Sleep
This one’s important. If you have a lot going on, it can be tempting to skimp on sleep to get through all your tasks. This is a big mistake. Your body needs sleep to function well the next day. Commit to getting a good night’s sleep and make it a top priority. Even if you think you need to stay up and study for a test the next day, you will find that when you’re tired, you just can’t focus as well and you certainly won’t be able to perform well the next day on the test itself. Call it a night and get some zzzzs.
Learn to Say No
We’re all human, but so many of us try to be superhuman! A really important skill in life is learning to say no. Obviously you can’t say no to homework, but there are many times in life when we’re asked to do things that we don’t really have the capacity to do but we agree to anyway. In life, you can do anything, but you certainly can’t do everything (not at once anyway!). It can be tricky when you’re still young to turn people down, but often if you agree to do something you really don’t have time for, you don’t end up doing it well anyway. One example may be joining too many after school clubs, or agreeing to babysit several times a week, when you actually have school work to do. It’s important to figure out what you really want to do with your spare time, and say no to other things.
Make Key Tasks Habits
If it’s your job to unpack the dishwasher every morning before school, build it into your routine. Do it after breakfast but before brushing your teeth, or whatever time works for you, but stick to it every day. Whatever the key tasks are that you have to do, build them into your routine and make them habits. Maybe you have to clean out the family rabbit hutch once a week—allot a time when you will do it and do it at the same time each week. Most of us have to do homework everyday. Get into the habit of starting it at the same time, in the same place. This will mean your brain is expecting you to have to sit down and do your homework, say after a snack and a half an hour break, and it doesn’t protest too much! If you have different things to do each day of the week, have a regular plan for each day. Maybe on Wednesdays after school you always have soccer practice or meet friends, but you’re always home at 5pm, so 5pm is homework time on Wednesdays.
Leave a Buffer Between Tasks
When you’re planning out what you need to do, plan downtime inbetween tasks. No one can work without a break. It’s actually unhealthy. You’ll be far more productive if you take time out between tasks to stretch your legs. Maybe walk a dog or even just stop and text your friends for a while.
Be Honest with Yourself about Screen/Internet/TV and Gaming Time
TV, the internet, and games can be huge time drains. How often have you started reading something online and found yourself clicking on all kinds of links only to look up from the screen several hours
later knowing a lot more about which house you’d be in at Hogwarts than the countries of South America you were supposed to be studying? How often have you gone to watch one episode of “How I Met Your Mother” and ended up binge watching five in a row? It’s OK, it happens, and we all need time to let our minds wander and relax. Just don’t kid yourself about how much time you’re spending on that kind of thing and be sure to ask yourself if it’s really what you want to be doing with your time.
Talk to Your Parent or Guardian
I guarantee you that every single adult in your life has at some point or another struggled to manage their time. Also, it’s very easy for parents to forget or not fully appreciate some of the pressures teens and tweens are under in their lives. Don’t forget, for years they’ve been used to organizing your time for you; it’s hard for them to get used to the fact that you have your own commitments now. If you’re struggling to fit everything in, talk to your parent or guardian. There are probably things they can do to help lessen the load. Yes, you’ve committed to cleaning out the car for your mom, but if she knew how much school work you had, maybe she’d be happy for you to put it off for a few days. Don’t sit and stew and panic.
Ask for Help at School
Try as they might, many people just really struggle to stay organized and manage their time. Everybody’s brain works in different ways. There are many fully functioning adults out there holding down great jobs who struggle to organize themselves to have food in the house for dinner or to buy birthday cards for people on time. That’s OK. These people cope by developing habits and using tools to help them in everyday life. These tools may range from simple checklists to visual planners, alarms and alerts going off to remind them when to do things. People learn techniques for coping over a lifetime and they are often helped along the way. If you are really struggling to get organized you will find that most schools have things in place to help you out. Talk to a teacher or guidance counselor to find out if there is a club you can join, or any tools your school provides to help people out with their time management and organizational skills. Don’t suffer in silence.
Make Time for You!
Yes, there’s school work and there are after school clubs and there’s helping look after your siblings and household chores, but there’s only one life and only one you! We all have very busy periods of time in our lives, but it is really important to carve out time for you to do the things that you love to do and that make you happy. Make time for you!
Managing Your Homework
Decide exactly when you’re going to do what.
As soon as you get an assignment or learn about a test, put the deadline or test date in your calendar and work out what you need to do before it. If it’s a big assignment, such as an essay, break it down into chunks and figure out when you’re going to do each part. For example, you may decide you need five hours to do research, plus two afternoons to write a draft of the essay and a day to finesse it. Allot time in your planner to do the work that you need to do. If it’s a test then work out what areas you need to study, divide them up, and allocate days to study each section.
Don’t put it off!
This doesn’t just apply to homework, it applies to all your commitments! Those five hours you need to spend doing research for that essay? It’s possible you’ll do five hours and still not feel you have enough material. Start work early and build in extra time in case you need it to complete tasks.
Sometimes easier said than done, but if you have decided that you’re going to read 15 pages of your book at 4pm, put all other distractions aside and do the thing you said you’d do. Turn your phone off or leave it in another room to avoid being tempted to join that group chat that keeps pinging in your ear! There is very little in life that can’t wait half an hour for you to finish a task. If you’re working on a computer, close the other browsers so that you don’t get distracted and start reading about something else.
Sometimes it can honestly feel like there is just too much to do. At times like these it’s important to know how to prioritize. If you have a huge assignment that’s due tomorrow that’s worth a big chunk of your grade and your social studies teacher also asked you at the end of the day to make a mask and bring it into class tomorrow, reach out to your teacher and explain your situation. Teachers are human too (most of them!) and if you’re open and honest with them and tell them you’re feeling overwhelmed they’ll often give you extensions on a piece of work.
Keep your papers and files organised.
Devise a system for storing your papers and stick to it. This could be as simple as having a folder at home with dividers for each subject. Take time to file your papers at the end of each day. If you work mainly on computers then organise your online files into folders. This will save you so much time and stress later on!
Chose an environment where you can focus.
You know best how you work. There are some tasks that you can do with lots of people and activity all around you, and others that you need quiet and focus for. Make sure when you start a task you’re in the right environment. There’s no point sitting in a noisy kitchen surrounded by your siblings and all their friends when you’re trying to figure out quadratic equations. You’re just going to end up frustrated and the work will take longer. Instead, go somewhere quiet. If there’s no quiet space at home, consider a local library or staying later at school to get work done.
WAYS TO SAY NO (POLITELY!)
- Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t do it right now.
- I’m really sorry but I can’t do that, I can do this instead if that helps?
- I’m just too busy right now, but if anything changes, I’ll let you know.
- I’d love to, but I’m afraid I’m already over committed.
- I’m sorry, I’m busy.
- That sounds so fun, but I’m not available. Maybe next time?
- I don’t think I’m the right person to help you with that.
- I’m so honored that you asked me, but I really can’t commit the time at the moment.
About Strong Magazine
This piece was originally published in STRONG, a new magazine aimed at tween and teenaged girls that seeks to break the mold. While many other publications for this age group focus on celebrities, STRONG focuses on real girls with diverse interests. While other publications focus on body image and fashion, STRONG focuses on keeping a healthy body and mind. STRONG also presents great role models - girls who have overcome adversity and thrived, and women who are breaking glass ceilings in areas previously dominated by men. Visit www.strongmagazineforgirls.com to learn more.