One of the most common questions Inspiration Education is asked by students and parents is how to better manage a balanced school life, and improve their time management and organisation. This is particularly relevant for students who have a lot on their plate, such as sports, clubs, hobbies, or a part-time job. However, it’s equally important for students on the other end of the continuum, who struggle to apply time management skills to their week and often end up falling short on deadlines or commitments.
This can be a tricky subject for parents to address, as you may be rightfully wary of taking a managerial position in regards to your child’s schedule. Not only can this impact their willingness to implement and execute a better routine, but even if they do, it may be less effective psychologically than one they feel they have control and responsibility over. The best approach is then providing guidance and encouragement for them to better manage their week, with goals and strategies that you both agree on.
This is easier said than done, but is certainly possible. Not only that, but it may also be more effective for your child’s development into self-directed study after high school as well as developing skills for their professional life and personal development. After all, habits are one of the most important foundations for success, and now is when better habits can be created.
Coming out of lockdown may provide an opportunity for a mental ‘reset’ for your child’s mindset regarding their school life. Not only this, but post-lockdown will likely be a gradual implementation of school commitments, hobbies, sports, jobs, and social life – a perfect time for gradually implementing a better, more organised, more enjoyable routine and schedule.
This article will cover the concept of a weekly schedule, whether having one is positive, how to ensure your childs is, and how to organise the different aspects of a busy school life in a balanced way.
Take a pyramid approach to your child’s schedule
A 2015 TED Talk by the founder of Elevate Education, a company aimed at researching higher-performing students and raising performance in schools, discussed the results of surveying top-performing students across the world. It’s called ‘What do top students do differently?’ and focuses on habits.
One of the takeaways of this presentation revolved around the concept of scheduling – specifically during exam time, but we can apply the same methodology throughout the year with some minor adjustments for greater long-term consistency and flexibility.
The survey found that when scheduling their time, these higher-performing students often scheduled rest or free time first. There are two possible explanations for this. Firstly, by scheduling in free time, students are more likely to create a manageable and balanced schedule, which they will be more enthusiastic about and adhere to better. Secondly, this concept effectively treats rest time as a productive part of a school week.
For some students, their schedule lacks structured productive time for their studies or similar commitments. For these students, the task is then for them to honestly assess how much time they need to achieve everything in a week, and then reflect on how much time they are spending on leisure activities or their social life that they may need to reduce to achieve balance.
However, for other students, their schedule is too focused on strict time for school work or productive activities, like the gym, debate practice, or a part-time job. For these students, the task is to create a schedule that emphasises rest time in order to achieve balance.
What can you do?
When advising your child to create a time management strategy or a written schedule, tell them to schedule in free time or hobbies first, bearing in mind the times that rest will be most beneficial or enjoyable.
Start slow to build consistency
You wouldn’t start marathon training with a 12km run, nor would you start weight training with a 180kg deadlift. Why? Because it’s disheartening to attempt, and you might get hurt.
Creating a consistent weekly routine is the same. We have to ease ourselves into habits, build upon them, and continue to make those incremental improvements to get to where we want to be. Encourage your child to take a slower and more allowing approach at first when creating a weekly time management strategy, to encourage them to ease into a productive routine that feels achievable and gives room for progress.
It’s better to be consistently good than sporadically awesome. Habits are key, and they also form over time. Your child will be much more likely to stick to and even have a much more positive attitude towards their school week if it starts from the ground up, building good habits over weeks and months that show them how easy and rewarding it can feel to consistently get better. After they’ve instilled productive habits into their life, they’ll be much better equipped to ramp up the volume when exams loom.
More flexibility is also important at first, for two reasons. Firstly, it will give your child a sense of control and leadership over their own schedule. Self-discipline is incredibly important for a productive and successful life in and out of school, but self-discipline also takes self-responsibility, which your child will be more likely to build if they feel it’s their schedule to create and maintain.
Secondly, more flexibility at first will facilitate long-term consistency. Rather than starting with a strict schedule that they’re not used to, start with a bit more freedom and lenience. This means that they can get used to those new habits being created, and when life inevitably gets in the way or when some elements of the schedule or routine need to be adjusted, they won’t feel like they’ve fallen off the wagon.
Learned helplessness refers to feeling like you’re unable to control or change the situation, so you feel unwilling to try. This is extremely prevalent in students, who, without the knowledge or habits necessary to make positive change in their time management or academic life, become disheartened and even antagonistic towards the idea of a routine school week. As such, self-responsibility and control is an integral part of the time management process.
What can you do?
Advise your child to ease into their time management strategy or schedule, beginning with the minimum effective time you both think is necessary to start making positive change. Encourage them that they have the power to control the aspects of their routine and to temporarily go off track if they want to, but emphasise that this is their responsibility.
Separate the different elements of school life
As we know, a school week is not just school and study. There are multiple important aspects of a student’s life that contribute to a positive, productive, and balanced lifestyle that will help them develop into adults.
Most notably, these include:
- Academics (school, assignments, study)
- Physical life (sports, training, walks, outdoor hobbies)
- Creative or intellectual hobbies (painting, music, reading, debate team)
- Social life
- Part-time jobs
- Rest time and hobbies
All of these are important and can contribute to a well-rounded individual who can prioritise, manage, and balance the different elements of life. What’s important is not to rank or sacrifice these aspects, but to balance them productively.
For example, a social life is important for training your child’s social skills and facilitating a positive mindset, both of which will help them in later life. Physical activity and the outdoors is also integral for physical health and wellbeing, as well as motor unit skills, self-confidence, and a mental break from work or other hobbies. Creative or intellectual hobbies are awesome for developing their brains, passions, and skills for later life. A part-time job can be important for some students and can be a good way to start building a work ethic (although isn’t essential and monitoring its impact on school is important – check out this article).
It’s important to reflect and assess the current structure of your child’s life, and the time and effort allocated to each element of the school week. This will require honesty and non-judgement, and a positive approach towards school-life balance.
Talk with your child about these areas of their life and their current approach, and whether there is reasonable time allocated to each to achieve any goals and whether some are less balanced than others. Plan for what is out of control (trainings, debate practice, a party) and allow your child to work around that to pencil in other aspects according to how they feel and when they’d like them to happen. For example, they may feel more motivated to study earlier in the week and leave the weekends free, they may prefer going to the gym in the evening, etc.
What can you do?
Have a talk with your child about the various elements of their school life and the importance of each in helping them develop into the adult they want to be. Assess whether enough time is allocated to each to help facilitate that positive development and whether they feel that their school week is balanced, unbalanced, or too busy. Then, talk about what the ideal week could consist of.
Frame around goals, not time
This is something that we talk about within the context of study, but is equally as applicable to a school week. It’s about setting targets around achieving big and small goals, not time.
A lot of people frame their goals around time; for example, “I’m going to study for an hour and a half” or “I want to read for 7 hours a week”. This is the most obvious way of conceptualising a schedule, but may not be the most ideal.
For starters, it can treat important aspects of life as chores to be done for the minimum amount of time required, rather than important skills to be worked on and improved to achieve what you want to achieve. Also, it can actually be less effective if the mindset is to go through the motions for a set amount of time rather than achieving something productive with more focus.
When we achieve a goal, no matter how big or small, our brain rewards us with dopamine. This feels good, and it also helps create a positive and productive cycle: we set a goal, we achieve it, we feel rewarded and motivated to do it again.
There are two types of goals:
- End goals are the overarching goals we’re heading towards achieving at the end of the process. For example, getting an E endorsement in chemistry, getting Scholarship English, or getting into a particular university course.
- Process goals are smaller goals to consistently achieve in order to reach those end goals. For the above examples, they could be recapping content as it is learned, regular mini-testing, or a practice exam once a week.
A schedule should be framed around the dedicating time in order to achieve process goals. This will not only ensure that your child is actively working towards their end goals, but will be better equipped to create a productive cycle of achievement and motivation.
What can you do?
Sit down with your child and talk about their end goals for all aspects of their year. For example, they may want an endorsement, to win a prize in their sports team, to become debate captain, to get fitter, or even to have a fun year with their friends whilst maintaining good grades.
Then, set weekly process goals to help them achieve those end goals. These process goals are the habits that need to be maintained. Schedule time to achieve those process goals, rather than scheduling a set amount of time for time’s sake.
Balance is key
We’ve already touched on this in the context of a schedule, but it’s important to emphasise within the context of holistic development of your child’s high school years. Evidence suggests that physical life and social life are key aspects of a child’s development, and ought not to be hyper managed or viewed as harmful to academic success.
This is something that often affects students’ attitudes towards school and positive development and can come from both student and parent. Some students are extremely motivated and can put too much on their plate or too much pressure on themselves to achieve academically, and this can contribute to burn out or a negative mindset. For these students, curating balance is important.
On the other end of the continuum, some students often neglect academic life, often due to learned helplessness or alternatively as a rebellion against a strictly-managed schedule that views other aspects of life as counter-productive. For these students, curating balance is also important.
This doesn’t mean spending an equal amount of time across all of the things we’ve covered in a school week – sometimes, academics will need to be prioritised or some things will need more time in order to achieve certain goals. Sometimes, students will just want to focus on something more for a certain amount of time. If your student is also really motivated to succeed academically, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re neglecting physical health or social skills either, and they can feel proud of their greater effort.
After all, a holistic mindset towards education includes all parts of a holistic balanced life. How those parts fit together is completely individual, but the goal remains the same.
Whether it’s a written schedule, a habitual routine, or a rough strategy in managing their time, is up to you and your child. What’s important is not how much time is dedicated to each thing on the school week plate, or even the things themselves, but whether your child is motivated and on track to achieving the goals that they want to achieve.
Learned helplessness is defeated with control and a cyclical sense of reward and motivation, which comes from self-responsibility and self-discipline that’s consistently built over time.
As a quote often misattributed to Socrates says: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”