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  • Writer's pictureHeather Davis

Time Management is Rooted in Childhood Self-Control & Practice

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

Children are infamous for their shameless distortion and unapologetic indifference to time.

Not yet ruled by the clock and calendar, any adherence to a schedule is regarded as a nonessential interference to their daily lives. They are the lucky ones: still naively and brilliantly living in the present.

Temporal awareness develops slowly during the childhood brain maturation process.

The ability to accurately judge time is part of a greater set of executive functioning skills, the evolution of which are key for academic achievement and also for success later in life.

Time management is life management.” – Robin Sharma

Self-directed executive functioning & time

Executive functioning skills are those fundamental building blocks required for learning.

These include goal-directed behavior; the ability to plan, problem solve and be organized; having self-control; and the ability to pay attention & focus.

Also critical is the ability to manage these variables within limited time resources, and to learn to value time: our own and that of others’.

Research has long connected these building blocks in childhood with later adult success.

Better three hours too soon than one minute too late.” – William Shakespeare

Teaching the value of time

Learning to value time begins early.

Teaching concepts of timeliness (doing things at the right time) and punctuality (the habit of being on time) impact success in all areas of life: in school, at work and in relationships.

Both are important and signal responsibility, dependability and a respect for one’s self and others. Chronic lateness impacts and shows a lack of regard for those around us.

Kids that struggle with punctuality also often wrestle with organizational skills. But before the nuggets of time management and organization, we have to address over-packed and over-structured schedules that can stand in the way.

Value of less-structured time for kids

Developing self-directed executive functioning works the same way as everything else – through practice.

Learning to manage one’s own time and schedule, requires kids first have available time and space to work with in order to exercise these budding skills.

Researchers Barker, et al. (2014) found that too much structured time works against children learning to manage and direct themselves. They found that self-directed, independent functioning was improved as less-structured time increased.

The opposite was also true: the more time spent in structured activities, the worse the self-directed functioning development.

Self-discipline is when your conscience tells you to do something and you don’t talk back.” – W.K. Hope

Time management skills are rooted in self-regulation

The ability to manage ourselves, our time and our goals are keys to self-efficacy.

At its core, time management is about the ability to be self-disciplined. It requires us to monitor our own behavior and pace to complete tasks efficiently and methodically.

Research has long-connected self-control in children with later academic, career, financial and even parenting success.

Duckworth and Seligman (2005) conducted two separate studies of eighth-graders and found that self-discipline predicted academic performance better than: intelligence (IQ), the school attended, study habits or time spent not watching TV.

In fact, the ability for adolescents to manage themselves and their time forecasted better grades, better attendance, higher test scores and even future acceptance into a preferred high school program.

If it’s the ability to self-manage and self-monitor that fuels progress, not only in school but in life. Procrastination has shown to do just the opposite.

It’s an existentially relevant problem, because it’s not getting on with life itself. You only get a certain number of years. What are you doing?” – Timothy Pychyl

Procrastination is lack of self-control

As many as one in 5 people may be habitual procrastinators, according to DePaul University professor and procrastination expert, Joseph Ferrari.

Procrastination is the voluntarily avoidance of doing what we know we should be doing. It’s the mighty gap between intention and action.

Timothy Pychyl of Ottawa’s Carleton University is clear: procrastination at its core is rooted in a breakdown of self-regulation, which is rooted in childhood. As such, the inability to address important, albeit less-fun tasks of life cannot be fixed with time management techniques alone.

Research also indicates that where self- discipline in students predicted good grades, a lack of self-control shows just the opposite:

Tice and Baumeister (1997) found that for college students, procrastination can be particularly detrimental. Their research showed that procrastinators had lower grades, more stress and were sick more often.

Procrastinators do not have the emotional self-control to do what needs to be done and stay on task. Pychyl found that procrastinators were aware of the pain they were inflicting upon themselves and yet negative consequences more often than not, yielded no corrective behavior change.

When this feedback loop of learning is broken, the lack of self-control means the future is consistently sacrificed for the current moment.

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” – Michael Altshuler

Time management starts with prioritization

Layered upon an evolving foundation of skillsets, kids can benefit from understanding a few basics of time management: skills arguably as important for success in life as other academic subjects and extracurriculars that get far more time and attention.

Learning to prioritize a list of tasks is a critical first step. Teaching children to clearly differentiate between essential have-to-dos vs. the all-too-many want-to-dos can serve them in efforts to be focused and productive.

Time management requires understanding what’s more important and next being able to prioritize and schedule efforts within limited time resources.

What we instill in our children will be the foundation upon which they build their future.” – Steve Maraboli

Once the most important tasks are clear, kids benefit from managing their own schedules, calendars and to-do lists.

It won’t be pretty at first but no one learns to do anything themselves without hands-on training. Over time, helping children develop the habit of planning ahead, keep things organized and manage their own responsibilities will pay off in spades.

Bite-size pieces

Big projects are scary and can seem unattainable. Anything and everything can be broken down into smaller chunks that kids can get their hands around. It’s the same way you would eat an elephant, if it weren’t frowned upon.

Introducing kids to the power of time blocking: limited periods of focused, uninterrupted time helps in developing self-discipline. The ability to concentrate 15, 30 or 60-minutes on one have-to-do helps demonstrate the control each of us has over both our daily schedule, as well as our future - one dedicated block of time, at a time.

This process also helps kids develop a realistic understanding of how long things take which can help in more accurate future planning. Dedicated time also means quiet, alone and distraction-free.

The gift that keeps on giving

Ultimately, our jobs as parents is to ready our children to leave us.

For the remainder of their lives, they will be responsible to slay – daily – the internal monster of complacency in order to get what they have to get done.

Over time and with practice, self-regulation and early habits of managing time will serve the next generation in school and for life (somewhere else).


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