I have a standing bet with my students. Five dollars says that they cannot find a professional adult who does not use a planner of some kind, whether that’s a wall calendar, a desk planner, an online calendar, or a to-do list on the fridge. Having some sort of time management aid is a necessity in today’s hectic world. Unfortunately, so many of our students struggle to use their planners efficiently and effectively. Here are three reasons planning is such a challenge, and suggestions on how to turn these challenges into solutions.
Challenge 1: No choice!
Many students’ first introduction to planners are the planning notebooks they are given by the school in middle school. While well meaning, these planners have limited appeal to students. They are often loaded with cartoony imagery and various fun facts that send the message that these are planners for kids instead of tools to promote responsibility and independence.
The Solution: Give students a choice
By letting students pick the planner they use, they will be more motivated to use it. Some students might want a black leather planner, while others prefer something electronic that syncs to their phones. When students are able to choose their planner, they feel more independent and are more likely to take the responsibility of planning their time seriously.
Challenge 2: Technology
Many schools today have online portals where students can check their teachers’ websites and view their homework. This is amazingly convenient; however, from a student’s perspective it negates the need for planners. Why should they use their planner when they can just look up everything online? Of course this view is short-sighted and ignores the fact that planners help us do more than track upcoming due dates. We can use planners to break down long-term projects and assignments into manageable steps, making sure we don’t get overwhelmed at the last minute.
The Solution: Technology!
There are many, many great apps that students can use to manage their time effectively. These include apps that mimic traditional planners, helping students break down their day-to-day assignments and schedule their workload over weeks or months. Sometimes these planners can access your school’s calendar directly, so students get the convenience of using the school website with the flexibility of having their own planning tool. There are also time management apps that will help students resist distractions, remember which classes they have on which day, and even time their work.
Technology should not be overlooked when teaching students how to engage with time management.
Challenge 3: Why even bother?
Our students have a narrow window of time. They typically do not think about what they’ll be doing in a month or even in a few days. So the concept of time management is a bit nebulous to them. This is likely the culprit when a student ends up starting a major assignment only a few days before it is due. When we talk about time management, students think about the work they have due over the next couple of days, but time management involves so much more than that!
The Solution: Show them how it’s done!
Many teachers structure larger assignments to help students avoid the last-minute crunch. That’s a great start, but why not help students build an understanding of time management from the ground up? The SMARTS curriculum starts by helping students develop their time estimation abilities and learn to differentiate between mandatory tasks (“have-to’s”) and optional tasks (“want-to’s”). Students also practice both long-term and short-term planning, so that they are able to play a more active role in breaking down assignments and structuring their productive time throughout the week.