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We all start the school year with noble intentions and big ideas about self-discipline. But now that we’re halfway through, many of us are pleading for extra time on assignments or skipping sleep in the dash to make a deadline. As a high school student, time management is one of the most challenging and important skills. Here’s the good news: Managing your time comes from good habits, not willpower.
This daily outline is a general framework based on behavioral science. It does not incorporate classes, jobs, varying internal body clocks, and so on. Adapt these underlying principles to suit your own schedule.
As soon as you’re up (whenever that is), start the day with purpose.
Make your bed
Making your bed is the most popular quick fix among fans of the Happiness Project, an ongoing exploration of how to improve your life. Making the bed can help us start the day feeling “efficient, productive, and disciplined,” says Gretchen Rubin, happiness guru.
Be mindful about social media
Research shows that what we see on social media can influence our mood and self-esteem, so it’s probably best to be mindful about when we’re looking. Earlier in the day is a good time to check social media, a 2010 study suggests. An analysis of 509 million tweets revealed that around 8:00–9:00 a.m., posts are more upbeat and enthusiastic than they are later in the day. Checking social media now may help you resist squandering your peak hours on Instagram and Snapchat later.
Claim the day for your own goals—or the modern world will steal it from you.
“Not having a plan, goals, or a system in today’s world is dangerous because the default isn’t neutral,” writes Eric Barker in Barking Up the Wrong Tree—a science-based site on “how to be awesome at life.” In other words, our world is so full of distractions that it’s working against us.
Keep it brief
List your tasks for the day—but be selective. Having too many high-priority tasks can feel daunting and unmanageable, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Share your plan
People who wrote down their goals, shared them with someone else, and sent that person weekly updates were on average 33 percent more successful in accomplishing their goals than were those who only devised them, according to a study at Dominican University in California.
When are you most productive each day? Dedicate this time to high-brainpower projects.
Our window of peak productivity varies from person to person. For many of us, it’s about two hours after we wake up—that’s when we’ve got about 2 ½ hours where we’re super productive, says Dr. Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and developer of the time-management app Timeful. For example, if you get up at 6:30 a.m. on a school day, your peak productivity window may be 8:30–11:00 a.m. This is a great time to schedule your hardest classes (if you can) or get work done during a free period or study hall. You can also keep this in mind for the weekends—try studying for a couple of hours two hours after you wake up.
Focus is about eliminating distractions
Many experiments have shown that distractions break concentration and increase the time you require to finish tasks. In a 2013 study of first-year female college students, reading magazines and social networking were associated with lower GPAs.
Eliminating distractions is about controlling your environment
Social science has demonstrated that our actions are influenced much more by our environment—and much less by our conscious decisions—than we may like to think. By controlling your environment, you can improve your focus. Try color-coding your calendar, controlling the noise around you, and reducing clutter in your workspace. Read more tips here.
Schedule fun and energizing activities for the afternoon.
Be social. Have fun. Get moving. Identifying the projects and people who energize us is essential for using our time in ways that make us happier, says Dr. Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
You need about an hour of physical activity a day, recommends the National Institutes of Health. Physical performance tends to peak between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m., says Michael Smolensky, co-author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health (Henry Holt & Co., 2000). After school is a good time for soccer practice, a skateboarding sesh, or a walk around the neighborhood.
Pencil it in
“When you put something on a calendar, you’re more likely to actually do that activity,” says Dr. Aaker.
“‘Consistent forward progression’ means doing something every day, no matter how small, to complete the assignment,” says Amy Baldwin, director of University College at the University of Central Arkansas.
Play with your sense of time
We do better with deadlines when we deliberately play with our sense of time, studies suggest. Deadlines within the current month feel closer than do deadlines that fall outside it, even if the time frame is the same, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Instead of the due date, focus on the number of days to get there. This way, the task seems more current, motivating you to get started and work on it consistently.
On your calendar, color-code the time frame for each project (e.g., a blue band spanning from the date the history paper was assigned to the date that it’s due). In a study, this simple technique helped people meet their deadlines.
Return to problems that have previously stumped you.
Insight may come easier
For certain challenges, tiredness may make us more open to alternative solutions. These are the tasks that psychologists call “insight” problems—the stuff we wrestle with and then resolve with a beautiful “aha!” That’s according to a 2011 study in Thinking & Reasoning. Evenings may be a good time for homework assignments that require an open, creative mind-set.
The value of reflection
Learning from experience is a key component of emotional resilience. Reflection “involves thinking about how you think and coming to terms with how you learn,” writes Laura Stack, a writer and speaker on productivity and performance. This means identifying what’s working for you (or not), integrating new knowledge, and preparing for future challenges.
“I almost always make sure I get my homework done before dinner, if possible. I also keep a planner so I keep track of all the work I have for the week.”
—Laura, sophomore, Brooklyn, New York
“Start with the easier assignment and then the hardest. Easier assignments are technically your break from hard assignments.”
—Lucia, sophomore, Boston, Massachusetts
“The minute I get home from school I start on my homework so that I can’t procrastinate until it’s really late.”
—Price, sophomore, Winnetka, Illinois
“Being organized and knowing where all my assignments are located helps me to manage my time, so I always ensure that my room remains clean. I also use a calendar on my wall where I list all my important assignments and when they’re due.”
—Megan, sophomore, Brooklyn, New York
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