By Chris Ouellette
Director of the Academic Skills Center at Miss Hall’s School
Have you ever learned a mnemonic that you don’t think will ever leave your mind? I will tell you what mine is, 30 days hath September, April, June, and November... I find it a bit ironic that today’s offering on time management lands on the final day of November in 2020. As I found myself preparing to lead a workshop for my faculty on supporting the development of time management skills in their students, I laughed out loud at my own sense of time (or lack thereof) throughout this pandemic. Initially, working from home last spring was an amazing break (in an awful time) from the grind of everyday boarding school life. As we entered our first term this year in the virtual world, I started to find that days and weeks began to blur in my memory. When we began our second term in person; it was easier to find my anchor, easier to separate each day and experience. Not only did this help me be better for my students, I was also able to attain much better productivity. If this was occurring this easily for me (and I would imagine some of you), then how much more impactful is this for our students? So, with the surging pandemic in mind, and my school’s return to a virtual environment, the development of time management skills becomes even more necessary.
When you put your hand on a hot stove, a second can feel like an hour. When you put your hand on a loved one seldom seen, an hour can feel like a second. While this quote can be explored slightly differently through the eloquent words of LL Cool J in the 1999 film Deep Blue Sea, the idea that time is relative is necessary. How we perceive time (how much we have, how long something takes) will impact our level of success with time management.
The One-Minute Challenge
is a fun and quick way to see just how differently we all perceive time. The premise is simple: have your students or colleagues sit down when they feel one minute has passed. Have each member of your group stand up in front of their chair and close their eyes. Instruct them to sit down when they feel one minute has passed (open your eyes, remain quiet). Set your timer for 1:30 and say “go”. Throughout my time running this activity, I have only had two humans sit down at exactly one minute. Even those who think they can count to 60 often find that they miss the mark. Now apply this to what you are doing! What happens when you think something will take you 30 minutes and you only set aside 30 minutes? What happens when you feel like you are going to take a 10 minute break and then you look over at the clock and one hour has gone by? The more accurately you can perceive time, the better you are able to manage your own time.
is a great way to look at our priorities a little more deeply. Another simple premise here: each of you $86,400, you must spend it all in one day, you cannot bank/invest it, and if you don’t spend it, you lose it. Watching people decide what to spend their money on is quite amusing. I want to shout out my ~30 fresh-humans the other day as everyone chose to donate large sums of money or pay their families’ bills (we can talk about how far $86,400 goes another time). The fun part comes when you start talking about the real point of this activity. You have 86,400 seconds in each day. What you choose to spend your time on is vital to your success. If you don’t use your time well, you don’t get it back. It is important to help your group to start to think about their priorities, and remember to tell them that rest is an important thing to spend time on.
Races to the Aces
helps us to look more deeply at our schedule. Yet another simple premise: each human turns over their deck of cards and races to find the four aces. Build up this competition so that humans really want to win. What they won’t know ahead of time is that some decks are shuffled randomly, while other decks have the aces strategically placed close to the bottom. “That’s not fair!” “They cheated!” “That’s BS Ouellette!” You should be smiling as you ask them to think of each deck of cards as their schedules. If your schedule is organized and ready to go, then you win the race (or at least have a better chance at winning).
If we can help our students develop; a clearer perception of time, the ability to prioritize, and the ability to create a schedule to follow, then we will help them become better at managing their time. It would be foolish to not reinforce that each area discussed will take much practice, and even the most organized human has moments where time management is a losing battle. We need to regularly help our students reflect on and track how long assignments take to complete, strengthening their perception of time. We also need to help our students prioritize (you may have noticed that some students need help seeing that one less assignment can be more rewarding than finishing the next level, episode, or chapter) their work and restorative activities so that they can find a better life balance. Lastly, while some humans can seemingly fly by the seat of their pants, I promise that it becomes exhausting! We need to work with our students so that they can eventually build schedules for themselves that are both structured and flexible, so that they don’t become overwhelming.
In the interest of my own time management, I will leave you with a quote from J Cole, “they say time is money, but really it’s not. If we ever go broke, time is all we got.” Let’s keep working to help our students make the best of the time they have got!