Lucille Ball famously said “if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” Inherent in this statement is the assumption that busy people know how to get things done because they can manage time effectively. What secrets do they know? How and what can we learn from them?
Time management is a key Executive Function Skill (EFS) that translates a plan into an actual schedule for accomplishing a goal. Recall from previous articles the map of EFS: Organization à Planning & Goal Setting à Time Management à Self Regulation à Accountability. Previously we’ve discussed Organization and Planning & Goal Setting in detail. Organization means “everything has a place and everything is in its place.” This provides us with a supportive environment in which to think and work. Planning & Goal Setting means “determining what needs to be accomplished, and by when.” This breaks down complex goals into manageable steps. Now we’re ready to figure out when to actually do the activities we planned – and how to fit them into an already busy schedule.
Scheduling work and activities is more challenging than ever before. Why? According to Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted, we have compressed time over the last 100 years to the point where we are now “layering time.” While multi-tasking may be necessary for adults to accomplish several things in parallel, it is not a desirable situation for learning – especially for children. When learning something new we need to be in a calm, receptive, and attentive frame of mind. That’s why “Time Management” is such a critical EFS skill to develop – both as a life skill and as a direct enabler of learning.
When putting planned activities into a schedule or calendar, be realistic. Allow enough time to work AND breathe. Plan for breaks and, if needed, rewards for reaching milestones. Tracking progress over time allows us to learn from our experience, so we can make better plans in the future. Not over-scheduling is critical to allowing sufficient time and space in which to reflect, consider, think, and create. Also, consider personal work-styles. If you need to see the light at the end of the tunnel, plan to complete bigger or more difficult tasks first. If you need early successes to motivate yourself, start with smaller or easier tasks. Find what works best for you (or your child) in different situations.
How do we model and teach these skills in a Waldorf School setting?
In Early Childhood, teachers leave plenty of time for preparation before an activity so children don’t feel rushed. Daily and weekly rhythms help children learn what to expect and what’s expected of them. Following a sequence of steps is more important at this stage than how long the sequence takes.
Lower School students have a simple weekly rhythm of activities and assignments. Students learn a base of repeatable patterns, and begin to pin those patterns to a calendar. Word lists assigned on Monday are always due on Friday.
Middle School students receive multiple assignments from different teachers. They must manage parallel workloads with overlapping due dates. Class and specialty teachers discuss with the whole class when and how to break down assignments into manageable chunks. Teachers also work with individual students who need more explicit guidance and support in scheduling activities and school work.
High School students take on more autonomy and responsibility for increasingly complex, longer-term assignments. Teachers monitor completion and quality of student assignments and provide additional skills support and coaching as needed. Students are also asked to provide feedback on individual assignments and potentially conflicting workloads.
At home, parents can model these same time management skills and, as children get older, discuss family schedules. Collaborative problem solving engages children in figuring out who does what when and where, so that everything gets done without over-burdening one family member. An eight-year-old who volunteers to set the table while Dad makes dinner and Mom picks up the twelve-year-old from practice is learning time management. Parents who stay abreast of their children’s school-work can ask how and when their children plan to get it done. Give your children leeway to plan their own time, and even make mistakes, while providing more explicit support when necessary. Offer suggestions to demonstrate choices and alternatives which your children may not have considered. Children need guidance from parents in finding a reasonable balance of work and play to grow into healthy, confident, capable and resilient young adults – and they need experience managing their own time.
Try different approaches to prioritization and scheduling. Discuss what works best for family members as individuals and for the whole family. Consider using different tools such as color-coded calendars, chore-charts, to-do-lists, and planners/agendas. Without obsessing about schedules, encourage children to become aware of how proactive time management impacts quality of life, and how to incorporate time management into their own behaviors. Comment below to let me know what you discover about time management.