Organizing is one of the most important skills to acquire – I would even rate it above a solid Math or English foundation. Organizing involves sitting down and planning out the tasks at hand, scheduling them throughout the week, and prioritizing them. Often times, students run into the poor habit of cramming for tests or starting projects last minute. Some students even take pride in it, thinking that getting away with mediocre results with minimal effort means they are “smarter”.
The truth is that schools never stress the importance of scheduling and prioritizing, which is critical for senior high school and university. This is one of the reasons why many students get overwhelmed and obtain poor results, beginning in their grade 11 and 12 years. But all these are manageable – the student just needs to see the projects laid out in front of them, and manage the time required to complete them. The key is to separate the important tasks from urgent tasks, stay away from distractions, and break down work into manageable pieces.
Here are 5 tips I would like to share in this article:
Tip #1: Develop a schedule and have your child buy into it.
Developing the schedule is the start; the key part is having your child agree to it. Once they do agree, the ball will start rolling.
Break down the test or project into manageable pieces. It’s better to tackle small parts than to try and overcome the whole thing at once and get overwhelmed. Develop mini-goals of what should be done each day. For example, if a project is due next Friday, spread it out across the schedule as equally as you can. You’ve got 10 days to complete it, so try and make it so you don’t have major parts to complete 1 day before it’s due. As adults, we can only maintain focus on one specific topic for so long – can you imagine attempting a 10 hour project the night before it’s due? Your child will be completely stressed out.
Scheduling work has to be specific. This means that the student has to write down precisely at what time he will be working on which task. For example, daily studying on chemistry must be done from 4:00pm – 6:00pm every day. Math test studying will be done on Friday to Sun between 3.00-5.00pm. General statements such as doing some work in the evening are not good enough.
Tip #2: Write down a list of tasks for the week and rank them
Most times, students will tell themselves what needs to be done, and make a mental note of it in their head. This may work sometimes, but when stressed or when your focus is strained on multiple items, it is easier to have a hard copy of things to do. It will also give you a tangible idea of how much or how little there actually is to do.
The student should be able to put all the tasks of a single week on one page, and place that in the front of his binder or pin it to the wall, and review it everyday.
I often advise my students to rank their work in order of importance and priority. For example, a “5” is very important, and “1” is not as important, along with the estimated time needed to complete them. The student will have a clear view of what is most important of his or her tasks, and will also serve to remind the student not to drain time on unnecessary tasks, and focus on things that matter.
Tip #3: Develop goals for work tasks
When there is something to aim towards, your child can narrow their focus and prevent their minds from worrying or getting sidetracked by other events or work.
The goal needs to aim towards the outcome of what you want to get done, rather than stating something general. The more specific, the better. For example, rather than stating a goal to be “complete research for project”, the task should be, “generate 5 pages of research for project on scientific discovery of the atom and related experiments.”
When dealing with tests, the same rule applies. Have the task listed as, “study note in chapter 5 and complete all exercise with 85% correctness.” This way, your child will stick to chapter 5, instead of bouncing from chapter to chapter in the textbook, trying to find out what he or she needs.
Don’t let the urgent tasks crowd out important ones
Student often have trouble discerning urgent tasks from important ones. Urgent tasks are one that demand immediate attention, but don’t let that take away from the important ones.
For example, important tasks would be things such as daily math work, research on a major project, preparing exam study notes, or practicing programming languages for Computer science. Urgent tasks, on the other hand, include items like photocopying a test for a friend, answering text messages, or checking email.
Your child will learn, overtime, to identify what is important and what is not. The important items will matter to the student in the long run and his or her academic well-being. Urgent tasks on the other hand, are short term accomplishments that seem important at the time, but in hindsight, are usually of small importance. They can be more of a distraction than anything else.
Tip #4: Don’t let the urgent tasks crowd out the important ones
As a habit, it is critical to do the important tasks first, and leave the urgent tasks to tackle later. This will first reduce the stress level, since the student will feel that he has “done a lot of work”. And secondly, the student doesn’t have to face the important tasks all at once in a tight time schedule.
Tip #5: Get focused and avoid distractions
Staying focused these days is harder and harder with all the potential distractions surrounding students. It is important to maintain a certain state of focus in order to successfully find academic success. Things like Facebook, messaging, and cell phones are designed to grab their attention, so it is imperative that the student learn self control, or develop a strategy to shut off these distractions.
There really isn’t any point in forcing the student to turn off the device themselves. Rather, have your child see the sense that turning off the distraction really does help them do better in school. Tell them why they will be more effective in school with the device turned off. Basically, it will just take longer to complete for the student to complete his or her work – why not stay focused, finish the work quickly, and then use the time left over for leisure?
One tactic is to have the student placed in an isolated and focused environment with only the textbook, pencils, and paper – no internet. The library is a good option, or a room in the house without any distractions.
Sometimes it is more difficult, especially when the assignment requires the student to do research on the internet. This requires strict discipline, and while it may seem overbearing to constantly watch over your child, it might be necessary in the early stages of building habits. I have even had some students remove their Facebook accounts during exam season. It may seem drastic, but it is necessary for some.
Try to remind students that there is always time for play after their studies. Contacting friends, surfing the net, and whatever other activities they have planned that are for relaxing can come after the work has been completed. The saying is work hard, play hard – note that work comes first!
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