As a teen, having time management tips and strategies is a critical life skill that can help you feel more confident in your day-to-day decisions.
Just think of how you manage your time in any given week, from planning your meals, to scheduling outings with friends, to making time to watch your favorite TV show.
The biggest challenge for teens is that there is never enough time. You barely feel like you have enough time to complete all your school work, study, socialize, and do chores. When you go to bed at night, you know that the next day will bring all of these demands — plus an extra hour or two of random life surprises. It can be overwhelming when it feels like you’re losing control of your schedule and falling behind in important areas.
Time management is a skill everyone must master. But time management is not just about being disciplined, sticking to a calendar, and organizing your day in an orderly manner. When you zoom out, time management is the ability to effectively organize the tasks of your daily life in order to reach your goals — whether that’s achieving a good GPA, maintaining your physical and mental health, or just having enough time at the end of the day to do what you want to do.
Tip #1: Learn your internal clock
No, we aren’t talking about your sense of fashion or music preferences. We’re talking about your unique rhythm. We all have times of day when we’re able to be more productive than others. Morning owls will enjoy waking up near dawn to knock out important assignments, whereas night owls will prefer starting work when the sun goes down.
Start by observing yourself:
When do you feel most motivated to do the least exciting tasks?
When do ideas in your brain seem to flow more clearly?
What times of day can you power through work easily?
When you’re thoughtful about which activities you prefer to do during different times of the day, you’ll soon realize your optimal times for squeezing in a study session, a workout, or some social time.
Over time, you’ll build the skill of arranging and optimizing your schedule according to your unique internal clock.
Tip #2: Get curious about your stressors
Stress is notoriously difficult to manage. This includes outside pressure to succeed, parent’s expectations for grades, the fear of failure, and so much more. It could also include internal pressure like when you set very high standards for yourself.
However, you’ll generally accomplish much more if you can manage your stress. To stay calm and remain productive, try these things:
- Sleep at least 8 to 10 hours per night. Sleep is a huge factor in keeping stress in check. Go offline at least an hour before bed, and if you need to use a device, wear blue-light blocking glasses.
- Work out every day. Physical activity is an essential stress reliever. Squeeze in 1-2 power walks, a YouTube pilates session, or a jog around the park to help relieve stress.
- Journal it out. Research shows that writing your thoughts out can help reduce mental distress and improve well-being. For example, that writing about positive feelings — including the parts of your day that you’re grateful for or proud of — can relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Get close to nature. Getting outside is an effective way to relieve stress and improve overall well-being. Try studying on the lawn at your local park, taking a hike in a nearby trail, or even checking out the pets at your local animal shelter.
- Stay mindful. Try downloading an app like Calm or I Am to help you stay grounded and present.
Tip #3: Prioritize well
Let’s say that you have an APUSH midterm first thing Monday morning. What would you do if your friends asked you to hang out on Sunday evening?
The key to prioritizing well is recognizing your first priority — in this case, acing your U.S. History exam — and saying no to anything that puts your first priority in jeopardy. If you know it takes 4 to 5 hours to prepare for a midterm, and you aren’t able to squeeze in those study hours before hanging out on Sunday evening, you’ll need to take a rain check for that Sunday hangout.
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first. ”
– Mark Twain, American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer
Mark Twain’s famous “eat the frog” quote can be boiled down to this: “Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.
Tip #4: Eat the frog
Everyone wastes time. And when we say “wastes time,” we mean “distracts himself/herself” with the Internet, watching Netflix, reading emails, playing video games, basically anything that takes your focus completely away from the task at hand.
Starting early puts you in the best position to reduce stress. Starting at the last minute guarantees stress. When you stop procrastinating, life flows smoothly.
Tip #5: Watch the clock
Have you ever become so deeply absorbed in your work that you ended up spending 1, 2, or 3 more hours than you originally planned to? This happens all too often, especially to perfectionistic types.
If you often find yourself losing track of time, take advantage of all the tools at your disposal:
- Use a watch
- Even better — use the timer function on your phone or watch
- Use a physical or digital calendar to time-block your schedule
Tip #6: Batch your tasks
One of the best ways to manage your time is by batching your tasks. That is, complete all your Debate Club tasks on Monday after band practice, all your laundry on Tuesday after school, all your personal grooming tasks on Sunday before bed, and so on. Doing so saves you both time and energy.
The more repetitive the task is, the more helpful task-batching becomes.
Task batching is a planning process that groups similar activities together to improve focus and productivity. A lot of us finish a busy workday exhausted, but we may not have actually crossed anything off of our to-do list. That’s because we often interrupt our focus with distractions like emails, and we start to jump between multiple projects instead of completing one. This is where task batching comes in, helping to remove the want to check-in and multitask. By breaking projects into specific steps and sorting by similarity, you can better focus and reduce time spent switching perspectives. We know time is money, and finding the best way to utilize the 24 hours in a day is key to success and proving your value at work.
Tip #7: Conquer digital distraction
Digital overload may be the defining problem of your generation.
From the moment we log online on our desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones, we’re bombarded with so many messages and notifications that even when we want to focus, it’s nearly impossible. And when we’re tempted to procrastinate, diversions are only a click away.
Here are some ideas for resisting digital distractions:
- Turn your devices on airplane mode (or totally off)
- Keep your devices in another room (or on a different floor of the house)
- Use the Pomodoro Technique and allow yourself to use your device as a reward while on your break
- Use the Forest app to prevent yourself from mindlessly checking your phone
- Use RescueTime to track your time and block specific websites
When you are faced with a big task, it helps if you break the task down into smaller, more manageable parts. This will help you avoid stress and procrastination. People who procrastinate often comment that when they wait until the last minute, they feel overwhelmed, and the task seems insurmountable. By setting priorities and breaking the bigger project into smaller tasks, the work is more manageable and less intimidating.
Tip #8: Scale down
It’s common to put off long-term, time-consuming tasks when we don’t know how or where to start.
For instance, “writing a term paper” can seem like a relatively straightforward task, but what does it really entail?
- Finding a block of time in your schedule when you can sit down, uninterrupted
- Making sure you have a solid wi-fi connection
- Creating a thesis statement
- Creating an outline, picking your arguments, and making sure they align with your thesis statement
- Writing an introduction
- Gathering research for each argument
- Citing your resources
- Writing a conclusion
- Asking someone else to take a second look at your paper
- Submitting your paper
No wonder you can’t get around to “simply” writing your paper — it’s anything but simple! You can scale down big, intimidating tasks by breaking it down into smaller tasks and checking them off one by one.
Remember that time management is a skill that has huge, far-reaching benefits. Once you have a hold on your schedule, you’ll be able to make better, faster decisions; have more time to hang out with friends or work on hobbies; and feel less anxious about upcoming deadlines.