Over the coming weeks, teenagers and their parents will rapidly adapt to the whirlwind of schedules, deadlines and for some, upcoming major examinations. The beginning of every school term is a time of goal-setting and planning. Unfortunately, teenagers with organisational challenges often have a tough time making realistic goals and more so, being able to stick to them. Thankfully, there are several solutions and tools that can be used to help keep school, extra-curricular and home lives organised.
Use a planner or diary consistently
A planner is an essential tool for keeping everything that needs to be done in order and to schedule. While there are many beautifully decorated options for purchase, an effective planner can be simply made using a hardcover notebook. By keeping track of things-to-do each day, together with a visual reminder of upcoming things-to-be-done, planners ensure that nothing gets forgotten or slips through the cracks. The act of ticking off completed tasks has a psychological effect of confirming achievement. This, in turn, has positive effects on reaching for the next item on the list.
If you choose to create your own planner, use one-page-a-week to list all that must be done for that week, and then follow with smaller tick-boxes for daily tasks and upcoming deadlines. Some people find it useful to have a larger calendar in a key location at home so that everything is visible for the month. Others prefer more bite-sized planners with highlights of major events to come. The key is to find a system that you can maintain and use consistently towards achieving your goals.
Develop a system of filing
Colour-coding is an example of a filing system that can help teens stay organised. Assigning a colour to each class or subject is a quick, inexpensive way to organise things visually. Start by choosing a different colour for each subject and using folders of that colour to keep past-papers, notes, exam results and other important documents.
Keeping your backpack organised is another important but often overlooked tool. Multi-compartment backpacks with two to three large pockets should ideally be used in a predictable way to store textbooks, notebooks and smaller items according to size so that bits of paper do not get crushed, lost or torn.
Keep track of time
Although more and more we tend to rely on cellular phones to check the time, the long-tested organisational tool which is rapidly being forgotten is the watch. Watches have the added advantage of not being completely connected to social media and other sources of distraction while doing the job they are intended to do – telling the time! While cellular phones most certainly have the ability to show the time, set alarms and display stopwatches, we simply cannot ignore the many other functions which tend to lead away from focus and diligent work.
All teenagers can improve their time management and organisational skills with the support and encouragement of their family. Without erupting into an argument, young people will need gentle reminders when they fall off track. Scheduling and all such skills should ideally be incorporated into whole-family activities so that the support and encouragement exist throughout the home. Praise your teen when you note consistent improvements in their organisational skills; and when they require assistance, do so with positive and encouraging words.
An essential part of adolescent development is learning that we simply cannot have everything we want, all the time. We are required to make priorities and complete the necessities of life before engaging in leisure. This indeed is difficult for teenagers to appreciate unless they are so guided by the adults in their lives. Display this behaviour in your homes by completing chores before settling down in front of the television. Insist that homework and household duties are completed before your teens have the opportunity to interact on social media. By demonstrating the healthy time management behaviour you seek in your teens, you create an environment of productivity from which they can achieve their fullest potential.
Dr Asha Pemberton
Consultant Paediatrician and
Adolescent Medicine Specialist