As an academic coach and human who interacts with folks who have kids online, all through August, I’ve seen quite a few social media comments that look like some version of this:
“Does anyone have tips for helping manage my kid’s transition to the middle/high school workload? Honestly, I’m expecting (and dreading) that I will be finishing my workday sitting next to him and serving as homework monitor…“
That homework monitor situation is one that no one wants. And the start of the school year is the perfect time to get ahead of it.
The way to do that is to find a system for managing the workload that works for them.
And the way to do that is to provide a starting place and help them shape a system that works for their unique set of preferences and circumstances.
The four-step process below provides that starting place with a built-in way for kids to reflect on what works for them, what doesn’t, and how to effectively tweak until they’ve got a system they want to keep using to manage their work every single week.
I explain these four steps below, speaking directly to them.
So parents and caregivers, go ahead and hand this article over to your kiddos. Of course, yours may not be all that excited about reading an article about time management right now. So for them, I’d suggest the free mini-course that’ll walk them through each stage of this process so they can start seeing success right away.
Step 1: Brain Dump
The first step is to brain dump: write down everything you’re responsible for doing during the upcoming week and everything you want to do during the upcoming week. Responsibilities may include school work, assignments, classes, sports practice, music lessons, club meetings, or chores. And things your want to do might be to talk to friends, watch a particular show on TV, play a certain game, etc. Write down everything you both need to do and want to do so that you can make a plan that ensures that you don’t spend 100% of your time on just tasks you have to do. It shows that you have time to do the things you love as well!
While brain dumping, you want to be looking at your calendar, school portal, and assignment book if you have one, and check with your family to see if there’s anything they have planned that you’re not aware of. Then, start making your list.
Then, rate each item to show how much energy it takes. A rating of 1 means that the schoolwork or doesn’t take much energy. A rating of 3 means it takes a lot of energy and leaves you feeling tired. 2 means it’s in between. Later, this will help you not plan all of your hard tasks on one day and make sure to follow up hard tasks with easy ones for a good break.
Step 2: Prioritize
After getting all of your to-dos for the week out of your brain and onto paper, you’ll list the top most important items for you to complete this week. And these are the top four most important items to you. Not to anyone else. So, to make your priorities list, think to yourself, if I could only do one of the things listed on my Brain Dump this week, what would it be? That answer is what you list as Priority number 1. Then, you can think to yourself, if I could only do two things this week, what would the second be? That’s priority number 2. Then, determine what your third and fourth priorities are.
Step 3: Schedule
The first thing you’re going to do to make the plan for the week is to look at the list you made from your brain dump and pick out all of the items that have a set day and time. Then, finish the schedule by looking first at your list of priorities. You want to get Priority 1 on your schedule first since it’s the most important to you to get done. Look at your schedule and see when you have time to do that task each day, and write it down the same way you wrote down the other schedule items, with the times you’re going to do it first. Next, move on to Priorities 2, 3, and 4. Last, read through your Brain Dump and schedule anything else that may be left, making sure to give yourself breaks after tasks that take a lot of energy and spacing them out throughout the week whenever you can. We also highly recommend writing down the time you’re going to start getting ready for bed, then the time you plan to go to sleep each night, especially if one of your goals is to get more consistent sleep.
When you’re sure you’ve got everything on your Brain Dump in your schedule, you’re done with Step 3, and you’re ready to start your week! There is absolutely no expectation that this plan is perfect or that you will follow it perfectly. Instead, just notice what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll have an opportunity next week to tweak it when you complete Step 4.
Step 4: Reflect
When the week is over, answer these three questions:
- Which parts of your schedule worked well?
- Which parts were hard to follow? Or, which parts would you like to adjust? Why?
- What will you do differently next week?
You’re going to answer the first question to identify the things that are going great and that you want to do again next week. And you’ll answer the second two questions to determine what could be working better and the changes you’ll make as you’re planning for next week to make your schedule work better for you.
After you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to use the system to plan the next week, making sure to continue doing the things that worked well and adjusting the things you decided to do differently.
Why bother answering these questions? Because this is your chance to start to shape the time and energy planning process to work for you — who you uniquely are and your unique circumstances.
Many of us think that we are bad at planning and time management or just don’t like it. But that’s because we usually try to make ourselves work for someone else’s system. This process is about creating a system that works for you.
So go ahead and give it a try, and let me know how it goes!
And if you feel like you need some more help, talk to your parents or caregivers about getting the free mini-course: How To Plan Your Time and Energy.
It’s short (about 30 minutes total), and in it, I’ll walk you through each stage of this process so you can start seeing success right away.
Founder & Principal Academic Coach
Laura Fragomeni, Ed.M.
Laura Fragomeni is a Harvard-educated master academic coach and the founder of School Without Suffering, an academic coaching practice specializing in helping struggling students around the world be happy and successful.