As a mum to a soon 17-year-old, I know how the move into Middle School, with subject-taught classes and long-term projects, can test a child’s organisation and time management skills.
Add to it the extensive use of technology in the form of personal laptops given for schoolwork – increasing the sources and amount of information that students have to deal with, and social media and the instant connection to friends – providing constant stimulation.
And, in more cases than ever, the pressure that children get to succeed academically, resulting in schedules packed with extra-curricular activities, tuition, and enrichment classes, and as a result less time for homework and personal study.
No wonder it can be extremely challenging for our teens to stay focused and get their homework done efficiently.
Here are 6 study habits your child should consider embracing to achieve his/her full academic potential.
1 | Study in the same place
Designate a quiet yet conducive study area. Ideally, this space should be used solely for schoolwork. Your child will be more focused if s/he always studies in the same place as s/he won’t need to get used to changing surroundings. Also, no time will be wasted in setting up the space for study. Limit the number of decorative items as they can easily be distracting.
Keep most frequently used stationery and equipment (calculators, chargers, cables, etc.) in his/her desk drawers and his/her textbooks, notebooks, etc. within easy reach on nearby bookshelves. Invest in a comfortable yet well-structured chair and proper lighting.
2 | Set up, and maintain, a robust filing system
Make sure documents are never left in piles on the desk but are always filed. Piles attract random documents to be added onto them, soon making it difficult to find a document when it’s needed. Also, piles collapse, and precious time is wasted tidying things up.
Instead organise notes, assignments, past tests, etc. by subject and file them in clearly labelled magazine holders or binders based on your child’s preference.
Spending 5 minutes at the end of the study time tidying things up will ensure s/he can easily find what s/he needs next time s/he will need it.
3 | Establish a standard weekly schedule
Routines help separate the decision from the action. Instead of wasting time deciding what s/he is going to be doing next or procrastinating things s/he doesn’t enjoy doing, s/he will eventually feel less resistant to doing them.
Allocate a dedicated timeslot in her/his schedule for all the important activities, including extra-curricular activities, homework, tuition, enrichment classes, etc. Take his/her alertness levels into consideration when scheduling their study time. To ensure balance in their life, make sure to fit in their free time as well as exercise and socialising.
4 | Develop a daily homework/study plan
A daily homework/study plan should be developed at least for the week ahead. It is important to block this planning time in their weekly schedule. Obviously, the plan will need to be revisited as additional homework is given as the week progresses.
To put together this plan, they need to start with a to-do list which should include:
- all the tasks they have been given and the ones they want to add onto it for revisions purposes for example
- the deadlines for each task – either homework submission or tests
- a time estimate to complete each task.
Armed with this information and their weekly schedule, they can then decide what to do and when and build a realistic and manageable workload for each day.
They should end each study session by checking their plan for the next couple of days and amending it if needed, in particular, if they have underestimated the time it took them to complete a task, if they have been given new homework with a short deadline, or if a personal matter such as a visit to the dentist has arisen at the last minute…
5 | Make time visible
Time being intangible, there’s often a big discrepancy between how long we think we spent doing something and how long we actually spent doing it. Don’t be surprised if your child genuinely thinks s/he has spent 10 minutes on social media and one hour on homework when in reality s/he spent 30 minutes on each.
Invest in a Pomodoro clock to help him/her visualise the passing of time. You can download Pomodoro applications on his/her phone but I would advise against it as it can then be tempting to use the phone for matters not related to school.
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Use the Pomodoro method to fight procrastination and encourage focus: 25 minutes of uninterrupted work followed by a 5-minute break, cycle to be repeated 4 times before getting a longer break. You can always adapt the cycle duration and the number of cycles based on your child’s age and concentration levels and progressively build onto it.
6 | Clear away any forms of distractions while studying
According to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, it takes an average of about 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after an interruption! So it is best to keep the phone in a room other than where your child studies to keep her/him focused on the task at hand. Similarly, the laptop should be closed down if not needed for homework, or at least notifications should be disabled so s/he is not tempted to check what s/he has received.
With all that said, set points to check phone and email should be allowed during the study time to keep the momentum going.
Please do remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to organisation and time management. Let your child decide which of these study habits to start with, experiment with it, and learn from her/his mistakes.
If your teen is reluctant to listen to your recommendations and work with you on the above, don’t take it personally and consider arranging a coaching session, either onsite or online, for your child with me. After all, why not invest in a professional to help your child build good study habits and skills that will last her/him a lifetime and help him/her achieve her/his full academic potential? Let’s at least have a chat!