In today’s busy world, time management skills for students are increasingly important. While you might be yearning for a simpler era when time seemed to move more slowly, the realities of participation in contemporary western society requires young people to have skills in efficiency and productivity.

While ACC does not advocate for an obsessive, micro-managing approach to a student’s daily life, we do believe it’s important for them to set goals and learn to be effective time managers. In this article, we’ll discuss why time management matters, and list several techniques to help students learn to prioritise and manage time effectively.

ACC also advocates for a balanced approach to managing time, considering God’s desire for us to rest in Him and trust Him to supply all our needs.

What is time management?

Like our energy and money, time is a finite resource and as such, it needs to be effectively managed. Time management is about planning and controlling the amount of time you spend on specific tasks.

Some of the important skills students need to manage time effectively include:

1. Goal-setting

It’s almost impossible to use time well if you don’t know what to do with it. Students can benefit from having short- and long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal might include completing their homework early each day, so they have ample time to practice music. Their long-term goal could be to play in the school or church band, or the Australian Youth Orchestra!

2. Prioritisation

By assessing what needs to be achieved within a given timeframe, tasks can be rated according to their importance. Setting priorities for each day, week, month and year can help students accomplish their goals. It also helps to ensure activities that are vitally important but not urgent – such as personal devotions, adequate sleep and exercise – are given precedence. Some people like to prioritise easy tasks for early in the day and use the boost to move forward. Others prefer to tackle bigger jobs first.

3. Organisation

Once priorities are set, it’s important to have a plan for getting them done. Some people are naturally well-organised, and others need some help. Strategies like maintaining an up-to-date calendar and keeping a tidy study environment help. There are many useful software programs and apps to aid organisation.

4. Managing stress

Nobody performs at their peak under excessive stress. Students need healthy ways to manage the pressures of study while maintaining productivity. Getting enough sleep and exercising are all great ways to keep stress at bay, and actually make learning more efficient.

Many more ways to enhance time management will be outlined later.

Why are time management skills important?

Effective time management allows students to complete more in less time, because their attention is focused and they’re not wasting time on distractions (such as social media, for example. Efficient use of time also reduces stress, as students tick off items from their to-do list. It can also provide a sense of achievement from fulfilling goals. For example, they might plan to complete an assignment by Friday so they can see friends on the weekend.

Furthermore, by using time efficiently, students can complete their work on time, stay engaged with their learning, and have more time free for pursuing activities that are important to them, such as sports, hobbies, youth group and spending time with friends and family.

Good time management allows students to make the most of their abilities and enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishment. It is also one of the most desirable skills for employment.

The Bible also has a lot to say about managing our time. Christians have a different time perspective to the world’s – we know we are part of God’s eternal plan of salvation through Christ Jesus (Eph 1:4).

As a result, we need to ensure our priorities are right, by seeking first His kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33). We are instructed to use our time wisely (Eph 5:15-17), and to seek God’s wisdom about how best to do this (Ps 90:12). We are encouraged to make plans for the future (Prov 21:5) but keep them in balance with knowing they aren’t guaranteed (Js 4:13-14).

Keeping our eyes fixed on the eternal perspective (2 Cor 4:18) will lead to time management that glorifies God and helps us live out His will.

Tips on how to improve time management

Fortunately, there are many ways students can improve their time management. Here’s an extensive list, derived from sites including Grade Power Learning and Deakin University.

  • Start with an agenda – either alone or with your help, have your child record the dates of all upcoming assignments and exams in an online or paper agenda (such as their school diary or an online calendar). Schedule in important activities and free time, too. You can even set deadlines a few days before actual due dates to allow a margin for emergencies.
  • Create a master schedule – from this agenda, block off chunks of time for study or assignment work. This will help your student to prioritise their projects and stay on target with due dates. You could start by estimating how long each project will take, then calculate how much time to allow daily or weekly. Try to schedule in some study every week day, even if it’s only brief. Colour-coding different subjects can make reading the schedule easier.
  • Start assignments early – leaving assignments until the last minute is stressful. Instead, encourage your child to start working on them well before they are due.
  • Make project plans – when study or assignments seem overwhelming, procrastination often results. Help your child to break their study plan or project into smaller, more manageable chunks. You can give each segment its own due date to help them feel good for meeting small goals.
  • Avoid multi-tasking – divided attention is an inefficient way to learn. Focus on one task at a time for maximum productivity.
  • Reduce distractions – during time scheduled for schoolwork, have your child put away unnecessary devices such as mobile phones, and switch off social media notifications. Distractions can also come from internal feelings such as hunger or tiredness, so ensure they’re getting adequate sleep and have snacks and water on hand.
  • Take regular breaks – working on something for too long can lead to lost focus. Short breaks every half hour or so can help them to recharge. Consider having a change of scene, such as a short walk or a drink in the backyard. Just make sure they don’t get side-tracked and don’t return to study!
  • Be an early bird – encourage your child to start their homework as early as possible after school. This gives them more time to complete it while they’re alert and reduces the risk of delayed bedtimes. Also, people vary as to when they’re most productive, so allow your student to tackle challenging tasks during their best time, and leave easier ones (such as organising their books or lists for the next day) when they’re not at their peak. Some might prefer to get up early and work before the school day, for example.

And here’s some more useful tips from Psych Central, Lifehack and The Balance Careers.

  • Set time limits – such as “finish Introduction to Humanities essay by 3.30pm”. This prevents tasks eating into time allocated for other activities.
  • Use time tracking apps and software, such as those listed here on Lifehack.
  • Keep a clock placed visibly before you – to stay aware of current time.
  • Avoid perfectionism and fussing over unimportant details – trying to make your work perfect, especially first-time round, is frustrating and a huge time-waster. Rather, get something on the page (or into the brain). You can go back and improve it later if necessary.
  • Use your downtime well – for example, students could be rehearsing their times tables or practising an oral presentation in the car on the way to or from school. On public transport, they may be able to study or think through their plan for that day. This tip should be used with wisdom and moderation though, as time for relaxation and rest is also essential.
  • Reward achievement – when your child has accomplished important goals, don’t forget to celebrate. This doesn’t have to be something big or expensive. Preferably, it should be something healthy. Possibilities include some extra device or TV time, a visit to a favourite beach, park or activity, a small treat, or even a contribution towards something they are saving for.

Time management tips from highly successful people

Clearly, some people are gifted at time management and have used it to great effect. Here’s some of their tips.

Author, teen mentor and lifelong straight-A student Daniel Wong lists 45 student time management tips. Some of his excellent ideas include:

  • Setting a timer for two minutes if you’re feeling unmotivated – there’s a good chance that once you’ve started, you’ll continue working after the two minutes are over.
  • Keep a time log for a few days – have your chilld track the time they spend on each activity. This will show them places where they could use time more effectively.
  • Make checklists of all you need to do – writing things down helps you to remember and prioritise tasks.
  • Unfollow everyone on social media except people you really care about. Wong reports saving hundreds of hours since doing this. He also advises unsubscribing from YouTube channels.
  • Learn to say no. With endless ways you can spend your time, Wong recommends saying no to activities that don’t fit with your priorities.

Entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Airlines Richard Branson sticks to a morning and evening routine, which he says helps him to focus and achieve what he needs to. He rises every day at about 5am before doing some exercise (such as tennis, walking or cycling), then eats a high-fibre breakfast like muesli and fruit.

According to this article in Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, most successful entrepreneurs have some form of morning routine like Branson’s, which usually includes rising early, exercising, eating a healthy breakfast, and doing their most challenging task first.

They also point out that successful people, including Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, don’t overfill their schedules. Rather, both men reportedly attribute successful time management to leaving plenty of blank spaces in their calendars. This allows flexibility for handling unexpected circumstances. It also gives them space to focus on their passions.

Is it possible to be over obsessive about time management?

Encouraging children to manage their time well is prudent, yet it’s also possible for obsessive time management to be counterproductive. Continually searching for ways to use time more effectively can leave children feeling more anxious and stressed.

According to this BBC article, the available evidence suggests that time management tools and strategies work for some people in some circumstances, but not for others. Reporting on 2017 research, they note that continually chasing better time management becomes a self-defeating strategy, in which people can initially complete more by using these tools, but forget the fact that productivity has limits.

A more serious consequence occurs when people lose sight of their real motivations. This is one of the main reasons why such techniques fail, said Christine Carter, senior fellow at the UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre. Many of them rely on willpower for success, but “you are not really motivated by willpower as much as by your emotion.” 

Brad Aeon, one of the study’s authors, points out that people today usually have considerably more freedom to organise their time and are juggling multiple projects, which causes a lot of pressure. “Freedom comes with a responsibility: you have to think a lot more about how you manage your time,” he says.

He had something of an epiphany after considering that we are all going to die, and it transformed his time management philosophy. He now wakes daily at 9am after a nine-hour sleep, works for four hours per day, and goes to the gym and reads daily. He uses several time management strategies, including to-do lists, calendars and timers, but not to stuff his life with work. Rather, he says, these tools “should allow you to take control of your life, and then structure your work around it”.

In a culture that often makes an idol of busyness, this is an important reminder about life’s purpose and priorities. God entreats us to trust Him to provide for our needs, not fill our days with restless striving (Matt 6:25-34).

He promises to meet all our needs according to his glorious riches (Phil 4:19), and while God calls us to be co-labourers with Him (1 Cor 3:9), we are to remember that He promises rest for the weary (Matt 11:28-30).

Perhaps most important in our era of exalting hard work and success is the Bible’s warning against an egotistical pride in our accomplishments (Prov 21:4). Rather, God calls us to enter His wonderful rest (Heb 4:1-11). While He worked hard, Jesus didn’t hustle through his days obsessed with managing his time. Rather, He only did what He saw the Father doing (Jn 5:19). Christ is our perfect example of time management.