Teaching Time Management Skills

Credit: iStock.com/cookelma
Credit: iStock.com/cookelma
Students need to learn time management skills, but I suspect that’s true for more than just students. Busyness rules. How many of us are living lives packed with too much to do? We know the issues for our students. Most of them are working, a lot of them full time; they must to pay for college. Many of them have family responsibilities for children, elders, or both.

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Students need to learn time management skills, but I suspect that’s true for more than just students. Busyness rules. How many of us are living lives packed with too much to do? We know the issues for our students. Most of them are working, a lot of them full time; they must to pay for college. Many of them have family responsibilities for children, elders, or both.

Time management merits our attention because students (and an undisclosed number of the rest of us) have trouble accurately estimating the amount of time a task requires. In courses, student estimates err in both directions: they develop idealist study plans, proposing far more time with their books than they will find in their busy days, or they underestimate the hours of study that doing well on a test requires. Those of us who teach (even some who’ve done it for years) often inaccurately estimate the time it will take students to understand course topics. When students don’t understand, we slow down, fall behind, and end up covering weeks’ worth of content in a few breathless days.

We try to teach students time management with deadlines: all assignments have them, and missing any of them usually garners consequences. But observing student behavior, one might be tempted to conclude that deadlines promote procrastination, not the development of time management skills. Most teachers do not provide explicit instruction on time management but rather let students practice it as they see fit.

Virtually all lists of self-regulated learning skills include time management. The ability to schedule time and prioritize activities clearly fits with the autonomy and self-direction that taking charge of learning requires. In addition to accurately estimating the time requirements of tasks are the time-saving skills that make efficient use of, in the case of students, designated study times. The subset of skills that add efficiency include keeping track of what’s been studied, what needs restudy, and what hasn’t yet been studied as well as ordering resources for quick retrieval when completing an assignment.

A small but interesting study looked at incorporating a formal, automated time management system in the learning management system (LMS) used in an online course (Khiat, 2022). The time management system had four components:

  1. Every time students opened the course, the first page they saw laid out a clear and realistic schedule of what they needed to complete that week.
  2. The LMS released course content in manageable chunks, not all at once.
  3. Students got personalized emails that highlighted learning objectives for the week and reminders if they were not making progress within reasonable time frames.
  4. Other personalized emails complimented students on the timely completion of work or offered encouragement when assessment results were not good and progress was slower than it should have been.

With slight modifications, teachers could incorporate a system like this in the online components of a hybrid course. Especially appealing is how this approach offers instruction but without the teachers having to provide it.

One would expect good time management skills to translate into good course performance and some research evidence documents that it does. Less procrastination means more spaced study and better time management means less hurried effort against deadlines. But in this study, positive effects on performance in the course were not seen, possibly because of the small cohort. Some positive effects did occur. Course completion rates improved significantly among those students who experienced the automated time management guidance.

Good time management skills depend on self-discipline. Those of us who teach have learned the value of making reasonable schedules, but as necessary as making the schedule is, the even bigger challenge is keeping to it. Distractions fill our lives, as does endless busyness. Too often we find ourselves engaged in activities that don’t rank high on the list of what we should be doing, what matter most to us, and what we are best equipped to do. Good time management practices make the path to priorities easier to find.

Reference

Khiat, H. (2022). Using automated time management enablers to improve self-regulated learning. Active Learning in Higher Education, 23(1), 3–15. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787419866304