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Organizing — Time Management

Teen Time Management Struggles

Teen boy holding a large clock and has his hand over one eye.

Marcy Willard


Last modified 19 Oct 2023

Published 23 Mar 2023

This article was written in collaboration with guest authors Katie Zak and Brandon Slade.

What is Time Management in Adolescence?

Time management in adolescence is the ability to manage or divide time among activities. It’s a crucial skill for kids to develop as they balance school and extracurriculars.

As kids get older, their academic workload becomes more demanding. This is often accompanied by a parallel increase in other activities. Your teen may participate in sports, music, or school clubs. You may find that your teen becomes stretched thin, seeming to have a packed schedule every night. 

Being over-scheduled can lead to anxiety and burnout. It’s important that kids learn how to manage their time as early as possible. Further, if your teenager easily gets overbooked and stressed, you will want to teach them about boundaries. Learning to say no is a skill that your teen can grow into.

Better time management results in improved academic performance and increased free time. Helping your teenager to manage their time can also improve their mental health and wellness.

This short video covers the perception of time. Find out how the timing of a baseball swing is related to knowing when to wake up for an early class.

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Symptoms of Poor Time Management in Adolescence

  • Incomplete or late assignments: your child may often turn assignments in unfinished or assignments past their due dates
  • Chronic tardiness: your child may struggle to get out the door on time, making them late for events 
  • Lack of task initiation: your child may find it difficult to start chores, projects, or assignments
  • Inability to multitask: your child may not be able to focus on more than one task at a time
  • Time blindness: your child may not be able to estimate how long an activity or assignment will take

Main Cause of Time Management Struggles for Adolescents

The root of many time management struggles is a deficit in executive functioning. Executive function skills are in the prefrontal cortex, in the frontal lobe, of our brains. These skills include time management, planning, organization, and more.

Your child may naturally be organized. However, many kids take a long time to learn planning and organization. When facing executive dysfunction, like ADHD, dyslexia, or anxiety, these skills don’t come naturally—they must be learned.

However, there’s good news! Executive function skills are teachable. Through repetition and establishing routines, kids can develop these skills and thrive. The more kids can hone these skills and apply them to their weekly schedules and task management, the better.

Why Schedules Are So Important for Teen Mental Health 

Kids who learn to follow a consistent schedule are building a foundation for long-term mental health. Especially with a teenager, there are important biological rhythms that get disrupted when the schedule starts to slip.

For example, your child’s sleep-wake cycle is extremely important. If your teenager starts going to bed later and later, they will become increasingly tired in the morning. It is harder for them to rally for school and other activities throughout the day. This problem can get even worse if your child stops eating at regular intervals or subsists on grazing on junk food throughout the day.

Yes, it is very common for teenagers to want to stay up late and eat unhealthy food. Some level of this behavior is completely normal. However, if your teen is also struggling with anxiety, depression, or poor academic performance, the schedule is the first place to look. Often, your child has no idea how much stress and strain they are putting on their energy reserves by losing sleep and eating irregular meals.

One child we worked with in 8th grade had said, “I don’t know why. I just wake up feeling like garbage.” We came to find out that he had poor sleep habits and irregular eating patterns. He didn’t realize the toll it was taking on his mental health.

If your teenager is struggling to maintain a consistent schedule, take note. As a parent, you can really help here. Kids with ADHD or other executive function challenges are not able to create these structures and schedules on their own. As a parent, you may have to establish these structures for them. Over time, as your teenager’s body adjusts, they become more comfortable and reliant on these daily routines. As they mature, they can begin to internalize and maintain the structure on their own. They may resist you now, but they will be grateful later (even if they don’t admit it!).

Top 5 Things Parents Can Do to Help Adolescents with Time Management

The good news is that parents can do a lot to improve their child’s executive function skills in terms of time management. Often, teens need parents to take the lead on this. In time, your teen can learn to manage more and more of this on their own. 

  1. Routines: create regular routines for homework, extracurricular activities, and other commitments. Help your teen stick to those routines
  2. Priorities: discuss and set clear priorities, asking for your child’s input. Help your child stay on track and complete those tasks before their leisure time
  3. Deadlines: set early, or “false,” deadlines to create a sense of urgency and leave room for error. Hitting these deadlines reinforces the idea that finishing assignments early results in less stress
  4. Schedules: help your child figure out a plan for each day of the week. This should include a regular sleep time and wake time each day as well as regular meals. Even better, post the schedule on the wall in your house so everyone can know it and follow it
  5. Check-ins: spend some time each week checking on how the routine went for the family. Did the work get done? Did the regular meals happen? Did your teenager do well on some assignments? Take time each week to acknowledge their progress

Although some of these strategies seem obvious, these structures are hard to create. It will not be easy at first to get your teen to work out a schedule with you, choose priorities, and set deadlines.

To increase their motivation and interest in these activities, you may want to think about what’s in it for them. For example, your teen may have a certain event that they really want to attend, but you are a little hesitant. Maybe your teen wants to go to a rowdy concert or go on a road trip. You might consider making your permission contingent on these activities.

If your teen earns an allowance each week, think about making that allowance only payable when these routines have been followed. One way to do this is to have a checklist posted for the week. If your teen completes the schedule with 80% consistency, they get the full allowance for that week. If not, maybe they can still earn an allowance, just a lower amount.

The idea is to really focus on what your teen is doing well and reward that behavior. This may be as simple as an acknowledgement each time you see it. You may simply say, “I noticed you got out the door on time, got to practice, and got all your homework done. Nice job!” For many kids, just this recognition is enough. If your teen needs a reward to be motivated, that’s okay too. Remember, even motivated adults are still paid to go to work each day. Extrinsic rewards often lead to improved behavior. Over time, those good habits can become their own reward.

Top 3 Things Teachers Can Do to Help Students with Time Management

If your child or teen is having trouble getting organized, teachers can be a big help. The best-case scenario here is that the parents and teachers are collaborating to support the student. This type of relationship is called a family-school partnership and has a great deal of evidence for efficacy [1]. It is important to involve your teen in all decision-making as much as possible. The more your teen asks for your help in this process the better. However, it is okay if your teen is not quite ready to do all these time management activities on their own. The best outcomes are produced when all the adults in their life are working together.

Here are 3 great strategies your child’s teachers can use to help with time management.

  1. Break up big projects into smaller parts: set small deadlines within projects. This helps to hold students accountable and avoid last-minute stress. This may not stop students from procrastinating, but it prevents them from trying to complete an entire project in one night
  2. Early and often: give students assignment information as early as possible. Remind them often (out loud and on the board) about due dates
  3. Predictability: keep consistent classroom and homework schedules. For example, discussion posts will always be due Wednesdays at 11:59 pm, all big essays will be due on Fridays, etc.

When to Seek Help for Improving Time Management

As a parent, you know you have the tools and the knowledge to help your child succeed. We see valuable advice ignored all the time simply because it’s coming from parents. Adding external resources to your child’s academic life can be incredibly beneficial. Executive function coaching programs like Untapped Learning help kids develop those skills. Untapped’s mentors hold students accountable from a non-parent, non-teacher perspective.

If your teen is struggling with mental health as a result of their time management challenges, there are resources for that too. Parents may want to consider a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help adolescents become aware of helpful and unhelpful thinking patterns that may be interfering with their progress.

It may be that several resources are needed to get your teen’s skills on track in terms of time management and keeping a consistent daily schedule. This is okay. It is completely normal and expected that some teens will need help with their executive function skills for a while. Best-case scenario is that your child works with an executive function coach regularly and has support for a consistent schedule at home. Together, these powerful techniques can make a huge difference in your teen’s academic success and happiness.

Resources for Time Management

Executive functioning coaching

Untapped Learning is an evidence-based and accessible program that helps students learn how to manage their time effectively.

Executive function coaching helps students develop the skills they need to succeed. However, these skills aren’t necessarily taught in school. Untapped’s mentoring program helps to alleviate tension in families. Mentors monitor grade portals and teacher websites so parents can take a step back. More importantly, mentors work one-on-one with students to form strong, trusting relationships. With that trust present, mentors can hold students accountable from a place between peer and authority figure.

Phone timer and alarm features

Using timers when doing homework gives a realistic idea of how long assignments take. Understanding this can prevent kids from spending too much time on one thing. Setting alarms can also help kids get out the door on time! Use these alarms as you would “false” deadlines—this leaves more room for error when leaving the house.

Whiteboard strategy

See video from Dr. Willard on using whiteboards for time management.

One way to help your teen organize their time is to write all upcoming assignments on a big whiteboard. Have your child think about how long each assignment will take. Then, decide how many hours they will work on homework each night. Make sure there is enough time in the week to accommodate all the important tasks. Then, each night, make sure they get to stop after their work for that night is done. This is very important. It can help to draw a red line after the list of tasks that your teen plans to finish that night.

Once those are done, your kid gets the night off. In this way, the tasks feel less overwhelming. Your teen is not as likely to assume that “this is going to take forever” and avoid starting. Instead, often a teen will look at the list in front of them and say, “Well, that’s actually not that bad. I can do this.” Sometimes just this recognition is enough to help them get unstuck and get started.

Daily schedule

See video from Dr. Willard on using a schedule for time management

An old-fashioned paper schedule can be a great way to help your teen stay organized. Parents can help by simply sitting down and listing out all the days of the week and the typical plans for each day. What time do we wake up? When does school start? When does school end? Are you going to tutoring after school? When are the sports or music practice times? Upon closer look, if the schedule feels way too tight, take a moment to think about that with your teenager. It might be time to consider stepping back on some commitments for a while. If your teen wants time to do all their activities and rest and socialize, it might not be possible to be in 3 sports and hold down a job. It might not be possible to do any sports or work a job during the school year. Your teen may consider cutting back in favor of having more free time while still keeping up with their academics.

Although these strategies may feel impossible in the beginning, decades of experience teach us otherwise. When parents and teens take a positive and proactive approach to time management, things start to get better. As each task gets completed, your teen is accumulating ‘wins’ emotionally. Over time, your teen can find a higher degree of success, mental health, and overall well-being.

Further Resources About Time Management

[1] Gloria Miller & Kathy Lines (2010) The Power of Family School Partnering (FSP).

Time management is a vast topic! Check out some of our trusted resources below to learn more.

Time Management for Students: a Psychological Explanation of Why We Struggle | Colorado State University

Time Management Is About More Than Life Hacks | Harvard Business Review

Principles of Effective Time Management | Princeton University: The McGraw Center for Teaching & Learning

How to Improve Your Time Management Skills | The Wall Street Journal