So Much to Do, So Little Time: Developing Time-Management Strategies to Improve Homework

by Caroline Grinnell

Time flies(1).  Against the clock(2).  In the nick of time(3).  Are any of these English idioms about time familiar to you and the way you feel about your homework?

If you are like many students in secondary schools, you probably have had more than a few long nights when you didn’t get all of your homework done.  Or, perhaps you have felt so overwhelmed that you didn’t even try to finish your homework!  This is easy to understand when many teachers assign 45-50 minutes of homework a day, and you’re probably taking at least five courses.  How can you get it all done and still have time to spare(4)?

There is an answer to this dilemma!  Developing good time management strategies will help you complete your homework assignments and hand them in when they’re due.

What is time management and how can it help you?

Overall, time management is the ability to plan your time, so you are able to get everything done on time(5)!  Three important elements of time management are the ability to organize, prioritize, and estimate.

Organization: This means making sure you have everything you need before you start!

Whether you write all your class assignments in an agenda book or input them in an electronic device, you should record all homework assignments in the same place.  You will always save time(6) if you can see everything that needs to be done in one central place.

Another important part of being organized is to be sure you have all the materials you will need.  If your homework includes a math worksheet, a chapter to read in your American history book, and an essay draft to write, make sure you have the textbook, notebooks, and worksheets with you.  Don’t leave some of your materials in your locker!

Prioritizing:  This means deciding what is most important and starting with that!

After you have organized your materials, it’s time to prioritize.  This means deciding which homework to do first.  How should you decide what to do first?  There are several things to consider:

  • What type of homework is it?  In other words, is it reading, writing a paper, doing a worksheet, studying for a test, or working on a big project
  • When is it due?  Tomorrow, next week, at the end of the month?
  • Is it difficult or easy for you?

Basically, there are two different time-management strategies to use with homework depending on when it is due.  Let’s first look at the type of homework that is due soon, perhaps tomorrow or the next day!

Type 1: It’s due SOON!

Much of the homework you receive is due the next day or by the end of the week.  In this case, look over your assignments and decide which homework to do first based on your own personal work style.

  • For instance, do you prefer doing the most difficult homework done first? Then put that homework at the top of your list and do that first!
  • If you would rather do the easy work first, so you have more time left to focus on the tough stuff, put the easy homework at the top of your list and do that first.


Type 2: It’s due LATER!

Assigning big projects has become very popular in many American secondary schools.  Teachers like these projects because they give students plenty of time to study, research, and demonstrate learning.  However, many students wait until the last minute to start these types of projects.  Has this ever happened to you?  You need to use time-management skills to know how and what parts of a project to work on over three to four weeks.  Here are a few suggestions to get started:

  • Write the project due date in your agenda.
  • Make a list of all the things you need to do before the due date.  For example, you may need to find a topic, find some resources, write an outline, interview some experts, write a 1st draft, revise and edit the 1st draft, create a visual, practice an oral presentation, find more resources to support your topic, write a 2nd draft, print the final draft and present the project on the due date.  WOW – that’s a lot to do!
  • Now, go back to your agenda and count how many days you really have to do the project.
  • Use math skills and divide all the things you need to do for the project into how many days you have between now and the due date.
  • Based on the answer to the point above, you probably need to work on your project every two days in order to get it all done in time!
  • Write “project work” in your agenda on each day that you need to work.  After you have completed each part of the project, make a big “check mark” next to it!  Hooray – the end of the project is getting closer!

Big projects are an excellent way to learn outside the classroom and discover more about a topic that interests you.  Nonetheless, be careful to use planning and prioritizing strategies to manage your time.

Finally, the last element of time management, but perhaps the most important one, is time estimation!

Estimating:  How long will it take?

The answer to the above question depends on what the homework assignment is.  However, if you get good at estimating time, you should be able to complete more work on time.  Here is a suggestion for testing your current estimation skills and what to do next:

  • Choose any two places at school and estimate how long it will take you to walk from one place to another.  Then, set a timer, walk from one place to the other, and see how close you are to your estimate.  Once you see your results, try this again with another two locations.  How are our time estimation skills?  At first, most people’s estimates are not very accurate.
  • Next, estimate how long you think it will take you to complete a homework assignment.  Do the homework and check your time.  How close were you?

How much time will you actually need to complete your other real homework assignments and get to your classes on time?  Apply what you learned from your estimation exercises and your timing will become more accurate.

Even though time is short(7) for most students, knowing how to organize your materials, prioritize assignments, and estimate how long it will all take will certainly improve the way you spend your free time(8).

Good luck!

(1) Time goes really fast.
(2) Working right up until something is due.
(3) Finishing something just before it is due.
(4) Having extra time.
(5) When it is due.
(6) Using less time.
(7) There is not a lot of time.
(8) Time when you can do what you want.

Caroline Grinnell, M.Ed., CTEFL

Ms. Grinnell has over 15 years experience teaching French and ESL as well as literacy skills in primary and secondary school classrooms. Ms. Grinnell spent nine years teaching grades 9th through 12th at a New England boarding school and is currently a literacy specialist at the International School of Boston, an independent K-12 French-English bilingual school in Cambridge, MA.

Any views or opinions presented in this blog post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the International School of Boston, which is neither affiliated to nor endorses New England Boarding School Advantage.
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