Time Management as a Tool for Confronting Academic Pressure
In today’s culture, students are feeling more and more pressure to perform than ever before. Competition is no longer an intrinsic motivator to be the best that you can be, but rather extrinsically to be better than everyone else. Thanks to the rise of technology and social media, peer pressure has skyrocketed. As a result, school guidance counselors are busier than ever. The tendency in many institutions and homes is to make every effort to remove the pressure. While too much pressure is obviously detrimental, it is imperative that we understand that pressure exists in the world and that by teaching time management and executive functioning skills, we can help our students learn to cope and manage the pressure in a healthy way.
Such skills are necessary at every age, but they are more important as students matriculate through school and enter into the real world. With hours of homework, afterschool activities and family responsibilities, the pressure leads to students pressing for extension passes, for later deadlines and to be excused from assignments. It is vital to speak with, not at, students about the variety of ways they can improve their skills.
Creating a Time Chart
To start, students can plot out the different categories of “work” they may have in and out of school. It is important to teach students to think about which things they enjoy and which things are a struggle in order to balance positive activities with those that are more difficult and which may foster avoidant behavior. Looking at due dates, point value of assignments and the level of difficulty are also relevant. Once they understand the deadlines and point values, they can then open up their planner (online or paper) and begin placing the assignments in the appropriate time frame.
Each person has his or her unique way of approaching tasks. Students should put due dates/dates of events/programs into their planner. They then must make sure to stay on track with tasks and manage their time as they feel comfortable. Some may choose to study for a test a week in advance, while others may opt for two or three days prior. Students need to be taught to think about their tendencies and to be honest with themselves about how much time they really need. They should then consider how they break down assignments in their planners. Some might benefit by chunking information while others need to color code by deadline and/or the level of difficulty the work entails for that individual.
Planning time for reviewing the rubric in conjunction with the completed assignment is another organizational tool that requires leaving time prior to work submission. Students should also be taught self-talk techniques, such as asking themselves, “Did I complete this assignment in order to be finished with the work, or did I complete this assignment by putting forth my best effort?” The independent value of putting your best work on paper is not always innate but can be taught through direct instruction and repetition.
After receiving the results of the test/project/assignment, students and teachers should meet again. Evaluation of a process often offers more than the process itself because it allows students to be reflective and think about which areas of the plan were effective and which parts should be changed for future assignments. In terms of balancing the work and stress levels, it is also imperative that students balance their work with time to breathe and engage in activities that allow them to release endorphins. Being positive and happy makes the management of work more bearable.
The Calendar’s Ebb and Flow
Most people, students included, are guilty of planning only for the short term. When a school speaks at the beginning of the year about the ebb and flow of the calendar, students can better plan for the more work-heavy times of the year. Discussing how the chaggim fall out at the beginning of the year helps students to know that if the holidays arrive early, their work cycle is going to be choppy. When they arrive later, students can know that they are going to delve more heavily into work early on but that a series of breaks will follow, helping them to stay motivated and on task during the beginning of the year. The same reminders should also be given around winter break and Pesach/spring break. Announcing a month before the holidays that the work is either going to be particularly heavy right before the break or right after the break helps them to set realistic expectations. It also allows them to see the lulls and to schedule in more of the enjoyable activities that keep them balanced.
Once Pesach looms, high school finals approach, which is another opportune time to teach about executive functioning skills and time management. With heightened stakes and high anxiety levels, students are more willing to listen to their teachers in an effort to raise or maintain their grades. Two months prior to finals, students should be alerted that finals discussions will be taking place. If the Jewish calendar allows for it, the most ideal time to talk as a class about finals prep is the week that students return from break. In cases when Pesach is late, it should be done the week before to ensure that students have enough time to study post-holiday.
Planning for Finals
The initial meeting should be as a group to discuss broad approaches and a general structure of planning, such as finding out which topics will be covered on the finals, the format, setting up meetings with teachers and organizing materials. There should also be a focus on study setting, diet and rest, and the balance of finals and non-finals related work. Once group discussions are complete, meeting with students one-on-one allows the teacher and student to create an individualized study plan for all finals, which helps to reduce anxiety in what could be a high-stress moment and allows students to feel confident and capable.
In creating this final exam plan, the first step is to help the student reflect on how they think. In most schools, finals in math, science, history and English are standard. When meeting with a student, first ask if they need to study a little bit of each subject each day, can only focus on one subject per day for a longer duration of time, or would rather work on two subjects per day, rotating every other day. Then discuss whether or not they want to study math and science together on one day, followed by English and history on another day. This split allows them to compartmentalize their studies into text-based and numbers-based classes. If this method does not present as a strong option, we also talk about studying for the easiest and hardest subjects on one day, followed by the two mid-level challenging classes on another day. Being mindful of how work is compartmentalized is only one piece of the puzzle. Once the student has established how many classes should be studied for on a given day and how to pair them, they can then decide which types of studying are going to be most beneficial.
Understanding what you have to do is a great first step in finals prep, but eventually, a blank calendar is set in front of the students, with the finals listed at the bottom and the opportunity to fill in each date with the option that works best for them. Once the calendar is filled out with a strong work/rest balance, the students can then begin to implement their calendar and their time management training begins. It is important to emphasize to students that this calendar is not set in stone, that other homework will come up and that other responsibilities may arise. By being both organized with a plan and able to be flexible, students tend to stick to the general outline with greater success.
Throughout this study process, build in frequent check-ins to remind students to exercise and socialize, and take the opportunity to give them praise for their diligence and implementing the plan. Share how this process provides a good guide not only for finals but for monthly planning in life. Understanding real-life applications for organization and time management, and a balance of work and mental health, provides students with a way to tackle the pressures of day-to-day life and find success inside and outside of the classroom. By providing tools to improve physical and mental health, and a hearty awareness of how to think about and apply a process tailored to his/her own needs, students will go out into the world capable of successfully managing their time and have a better chance of finding fulfillment in their work and home lives.