My wife home schools our children, and the one issue that we had with our eldest daughter was procrastination.
Masha’Allah, she’s very intelligent and does well in school, but one pain point we experienced was that she would really drag her feet in getting work done promptly.
As her father it was difficult to watch because that was exactly how I was growing up – from elementary school all the way through to college. It took some life missteps to decide to learn to manage my life effectively, and I certainly didn’t want my daughter falling into the same trap as I did.
Part of beating procrastination is having a plan ahead of you for the day. The act of making the plan brings clarity, not only to the work you have to do, but also to the time you will have to relax and have fun (which all kids want to do). Here’s what I did, and insha’Allah you can use it as a starting point with your own kids (or maybe even yourself).
Get out a sheet of paper and let’s get started.
Step 1: Write Down Your Appointments
Appointments are blocks of time that are set and absolutely cannot be moved. Attending prayers at the masjid is an appointment because the masjid sets a time that can’t be moved. Classes at specific times are appointments.
Step 2: Write Down Your Important Work To Do
Many time management articles as well as David Allen’s popular “Getting Things Done” (GTD) recommend brain dumping first. Kids have a fewer responsibilities, so this is actually a good time to train them to think about what takes priority. At this stage, most of it is some type of educational or developmental activity.
Step 3: Write Down Your Chores
This is for both boys and girls – everyone should have chores they’re doing consistently at home. Cleaning one’s room, taking care of their own laundry, helping clean up common areas should be part of the daily routine of all children in the home, not just the girls.
Step 4: Write Down the Activities / Fun You Want To Do Today
This is important for a number of reasons. For one, it gives the child something to look forward to when the work is completed. For another, it reminds parents that their children should not be working all the time. Their children need time to unwind and relax so they can refresh themselves and give their best again.
Step 5: Estimate the Time to Complete Each Item
After writing everything down, quickly ballpark estimate how long it will take to complete everything. It doesn’t have to be perfect, so use personal experience to estimate how long you think it will take and err on the side of over- rather than underestimating. Make sure the estimates are grounded in your child’s reality for task completion – if they need 10 minute breaks every hour, then put that in the estimate – don’t imagine, “In the ideal world, if my kid is really motivated, this thing that normally takes 2 hours can be done in 30 minutes!”
Step 6: Map it out on the Calendar
Start by placing all appointments in the calendar. Along with the appointments, increase the time to accommodate preparation for the appointment. For example, if an appointment requires taking time to drive and get ready, include this in the calendar.
Next, add the important work, then the chores, and then the fun activities. Make sure that they get some time for fun activities, and be willing to move some of their other work and chores to the next day if necessary.
Step 7: Adjust the Schedule Based on Task Completion
With a plan in hand, your child may find they complete work faster because they have motivation to get to the end of their task list – after all, they have a map of the day, and they can see the light at the end of the tunnel rather than feeling like they’re being bombarded with endless blah stuff to do. If they’re completing work faster than expected, you can show them how to adjust the schedule to get other work started. If they’re taking longer than expected, then you should take that into account next time you estimate and help them adjust the schedule to push out other work items, possibly to the next day. The only time you should really take out their fun time is if they’re being unnecessarily slow or if the work they have absolutely must be completed due to a deadline.
The first time you do something like this, it may seem somewhat daunting and challenging to teach your kids to think this way, but these are the soft skills that all people should know. We don’t learn this in school, and many of us unsystematically fumble our way through life’s responsibilities. As someone who wished he knew this when he was younger, I’ve realized that the best time to teach kids about managing their time and how to make the best use of it is now. As they get used to doing the activity with repeated practice and correction, you’ll be able to eventually walk away simply assured that they’ve planned their day, and you can then focus on making tweaks and corrections as needed.