Episode 5: More Free Time, WithOUT Sacrificing Grades
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How can your teen get their study tasks done more efficiently AND effectively,
so they have more free time,
but without sacrificing their grades,
and in a way that means they actually get to enjoy that free time guilt-free?
By tweaking the systems they’ve most likely already been using, like long to-do lists or wall planners with assessment deadlines and turning these into ‘Scheduled Outcomes’, they’ll:
- become a lot more strategic in their tasks and time,
- create more free time,
- produce high quality work.
- Why a to-do list and big wall planner can make your teen feel demoralised rather than organised.
- How ‘scheduling outcomes’ is the key to getting more done in less time AND guilt-free free time.
- How to chunk down big tasks to reduce overwhelm.
- What to take forward from the times when tasks go over time.
You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teen Podcast, episode number 5 - and if you’re wishing your teen could have more time for things outside of study, so they have a healthy life balance - without sacrificing their academic results - then stay tuned for specific steps and the one key concept to make that happen.
Hello my Very Important Parents! I’m so happy to be here with you today, because this topic is one that I know is so important to so many parents. Having a health life balance is such an important aspect of life and study for teenagers today, and in particular for the hardworking ones who really want to achieve to the best of their ability, who maybe have some perfectionist tendencies and who live by the myth that more knowledge, more slaving over text books is what increases results. Not that hard work is not required, but as you know from episode 1 of the podcast, there are more effective ways to achieve their grade goals than that.
And the concept that I’m going to share with you today has made a huge difference to so many students who I’ve trained and coached who’ve actioned this, and I’ve also had a lot of parents tell me that they’ve even used this this too for themselves.
This is all about optimising our time and tasks - and maximising our free time - and doing it in a way that means we can actually ENJOY that free time and not feel guilty that we should be working or studying, or doing chores, or whatever it might be.
That chores part is more for us as the adults. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the teenagers are quite so concerned with the chores.
Because you’ve maybe already noticed, that nowhere in the title or description of this podcast, nowhere have I said the words ‘time management’.
We can’t actually manage TIME.
We can’t speed it up when we’re doing things we dislike, when we’re sat in dull meetings, or when your teen’s sat in a boring assembly. (Don’t tell the school leaders I said that.)
And we can’t slow it down when we’re doing things we love,
or make more of it when we’re up against a deadline!
If you know differently, please share your secrets with me!
But we CAN control how we USE our time.
To keep this focused on your teen and their study, I’m talking about:
- how they organise and tackle their tasks
- how much time they spend on them
- what things they prioritise AND what those priorities are based on
- how much time they’re spending focused and on task, and how much time is spent drifting into other things.
(You can go check out episode 3 if your teen gets easily distracted, procrastinates, or just ends up spending time on things that aren’t so necessary).
Because here’s how I see a lot of students trying to manage their time and tasks AND the issues - sometimes ‘sneaky’ issues - with these methods:
They say things like, ‘I’m going to do 2 hours of Maths every Tuesday evening’.
Maybe even colour it in on their calendar. Perhaps with the latest fancy highlighter.
BUT… they don’t have a clear idea of exactly what they will have completed or produced in that time.
And they haven’t strategically decided ahead of time what the very best practise questions would be to do. They kind of just do some and see how they go.
Or - they write out to-do lists (which, if they’re anything like me, start with something at the top that they’ve already done, just so we can get that ticked off straight away and get those feel-good vibes happening.)
BUT… those to-do lists end up being a never-ending treadmill. I always remember one of my Next Level students, Josh saying how he’d get something done, tick it off, but already have another 2 things added to the bottom of the list and that he just ended up feeling demoralised by the massive list.
Or, maybe they have a wall planner with all their assessment deadlines written on, which FEELS like they’re being organised. It’s supposed to make things feel under control and in order.
BUT… so often this actually ends up creating overwhelm.
Seeing all those deadlines and huge tasks all laid out on one sheet makes things more daunting for many students, not less - and I know that has been the case for me too. In fact it still is, when I’ve got certain weeks where I end up with loads of big things on, like consults and webinars and interviews. I immediately feel stressed just looking at it all on one sheet. So, I don’t do that anymore. I’ll share what I do instead - I really do practise what I preach :)
And to be clear - none of this is their fault. I don’t want this list to sound like criticism. They’re not wrong to be doing those things. These are all things we see given as advice or tips - like make sure you know all your deadlines and have them displayed where you can see them, write a to-do list and tick off each thing as you go.
In fact, the good news is - it’s actually a great sign if your teen’s doing any of these things, because it shows they’re at least trying to manage their time well. I did the inverted commas sign with my fingers then for ‘MANAGE’ their time.
Because stress does not come from having too much to do, it comes from not knowing HOW you’re going to get it all done.
It all comes down to the HOW.
You’ll hear me talk a lot about ‘HOW’ on this podcast.
Like with that good-old phrase - Work smarter not - harder.
Like, really, exactly, specifically, HOW.
Well, for a start, remember, we are not trying to figure out HOW to manage time.
They do need to get strategic and efficient with it.
And of the best ways on HOW to do that is by: Scheduling Outcomes.
Scheduling outcomes is the overarching strategy behind all of the specific systems I train students in to help them get organised, calm and super-effective in their study. It’s the core concept for the ‘throw out the to-do list system’ in Catapult 2 of the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program, and also for the Reverse-Engineered Revision Planning System in Catapult 5 - although I actually created that system before I formalised the concept of scheduling outcomes.
So here’s what I mean by scheduling outcomes.
For each and every task, your teen needs to know what they actually need to or plan to produce, and in what time frame, and when.
Instead of tonight I’m going to work on my Maths homework.
It’s: I’m going to get 5 Maths questions done in 1 hour at 7-8pm.
Or instead of, I’m going to work on my research for my Legal Studies report this weekend, it’s: I’m going to have 5 high quality, usable sources. It’s going to take me two hours, and I will do that on Saturday morning from 9.30 til 11.30 am. Plus I’m going to have definitions for all key terminology, which I predict will take 45 mins and I’ll do that after lunch, say 1-1.45pm.
And then when that time comes, they actually set a timer, and they get to work.
It’s amazing how having a timer helps keep focus and motivation high. And the temptation to get distracted, well, it doesn’t necessarily disappear, but we become a lot more aware of it.
We might still start to drift, but instead of just letting it happen, we’re onto ourselves more quickly. We’re doing this thing and we’ve only got 45 mins to get it done.
Now, this is not just in itself going to fix everything.
But DOES really shine a spotlight on where time is being wasted or where your teen might be under or over-estimating the time things will take.
So the two parts are:
The outcome: what exactly is going to be produced.
The Schedule: how much time it’s going to take and when it’s getting done.
And we want each task or outcome to be taking around 20 mins to an hour. Which means your teen needs to chunk down big tasks.
They definitely don’t want to say, okay, I’ve got this English essay to write and it’s going to take me 6 hours - or sometimes more like 6 days!
They need to break big assignments into sub-tasks.
So they need to ask themselves - what are the steps or sections required?
And of course, this is where you can offer help - by asking them those question to help guide them and structure things, but without doing things for them.
We want them to get thinking… “Okay what is the first thing I need to do to write this essay?”
And bonus tip! - The first thing should NOT be writing the introduction - for any extended task - a feature article, a persuasive speech, a movie review.
Because how can you write an introduction, if you haven’t written anything else yet? They don’t know what it is they’re actually introducing!
So, the beauty of this is that it forces your teen to plan more and be a lot more methodical.
Something that if they are busy, they’ll likely tall you they don’t have time for.
But I promise - any time spent planning, they will get back at least DOUBLE that time in the writing and editing phases - AND the result will be a higher quality piece.
They’re gonna have to put it to the test to prove it true, but it IS always true.
So, what DO they need to start with?
Well, firstly they need to dissect the Q - then they need to consider what their response will be, plan out the key points they’ll cover and what evidence or quotes that will require. And that might mean that they need to go do some preliminary research first too.
All that has to happen before any sort of actual writing begins. And all those things need to be scheduled. How much time each thing will take and when it’s going to happen.
Plus, they need to consider any pre-tasks. Like, are there any items they need to collect or get ready - like equipment or library books or worksheets. What needs to happen before they can actually get started?
These sorts of things can really hold tasks up if they’re after-thoughts or not done in the most efficient order.
Another bonus is that it removes a lot of the overwhelm of big tasks.
Saying, I’m going to write one body paragraph and I’m going to aim to do it within the next 30 minutes feels very different to saying’ okay I’m going to sit down and write an essay’.
Or, I’m going to spend an hour researching to find 3 art pieces that represent a particular theme or feels much more manageable AND is a whole lot more focused than just ‘do research for Art project’.
So, tasks get done faster and more efficiently AND to a higher standard. Because they’re not just rushing things.
They’re planning them more carefully, doing things in a structured order and in a timely fashion, so they end up with with less distractions - PLUS it’s less likely that things will build up to the last minute
And another benefit - a third positive of all this - is that it builds awareness of how long tasks do actually take.
Because I know you’re probably thinking: “Well okay, they planned 30 mins to answer the 4 History homework questions, but actually it took them an hour. Or they got to the end of the 30 mins and they then had to go to soccer training so didn’t finish it.
What do we do here?”
Well, number one, this can give them useful information.
Why did it take twice as long? Were they getting distracted on their phone? Were they missing something they needed and so getting that took up time?
Were they writing more than they needed to in their answers?
Was it just more difficult or did they not know the content as well as they thought they did?
This is all really useful information that can be carried forward. These are all things that can be addressed, rather than just flying under the radar. This process shines a spotlight on them.
And number two, they have to make strategic decisions.
For example, one of the things that happens all the time when students use the Reverse-Engineered Revision Planning system for exam blocks, is they realise there isn’t enough time to cover everything they want to, in the detail they want.
Students initially see as a problem. But actually, this gives them chance to make strategic decisions BEFORE things get to the last minute and they end up in melt-down mode.
Decisions like: do I need to do a shift swap at work to give more time to the revision? Which topics are more important to spend more time on? Which ones will I have to decide right now to give less time to?
And best we know this NOW, because the other option is to plough on regardless and end up panicking the day before because we’ve realised we’re running out of time, and the most important topic hasn’t even been touched yet.
And if it’s homework…
Will they have to work into their free time?
Do they need to now move some other tasks around so they can finish it tomorrow?
Do they choose to skip or reduce some parts?!
Yes, I did just say that. Now, I’m not suggesting they start handing in their homework half-finished…
But I know there are a lot of you with teens who are perfectionists and when it comes to things like finding more and more (and more!) research, or making stacks of notes, or spending tons of time making a pretty front cover, or feeling like however many practise Qs they do, its never enough…
So, having a time deadline can be really helpful. If only to make them realise, hey, I’ve spent an hour just choosing 3 photos for that powerpoint.
And finally, here’s the most important part of all of this in relation to the title of this podcast - giving your teen more time off from their study and having a better life balance.
Not only does scheduling outcomes mean that tasks are often getting done faster and more efficiently, but when students have given themselves specific timings for specific tasks AND SCHEDULED them onto specific days and times, they’re not working with a never-ending to-do list anymore. When that day’s tasks are done, if the other tasks that would still be on that to-do list are scheduled for future days and times, then they can actually relax, knowing that the other items are accounted for. They know when they’re happening and how and that right now, they don’t need to be doing them.
And notice that this concept actually just means making some small but SUUUPER-important tweaks to some of the strategies they might’ve already been using.
So like I said, they’re on the right track if they’re using those big wall planners, or to-do lists. But they need to change those to-do’s or deadlines into chunked down, SCHEDULED OUTCOMES.
I’d love to hear how you go with this concept. In fact any feedback you have on the podcast please write it into a review on Apple podcasts, or drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- the good the bad, the ugly and the awesome - I’m ready for it all.
Have a brilliant, productive and organised day and I’ll meet you back here next week :)