Time Management 101

time management for foster kids

When someone brings up essential skills for independent living, time management might not be at the top of your list. It’s probably not one you would think of until your to do list has gotten out of control. But time management is an essential life skill that most young adults don’t “leave the nest” doing well.

This post is the 2nd in a multi-part series on helping your child to succeed at moving out on their own or how to “help your kid move out and stay out.

This post covers how to help (ahem) “your child” establish good time management skills. I’ll help you get the basics of good time management by sharing

  • The definition of time management
  • Why good time management skills are important
  • Where the crux of the problem lies
  • 5 Steps to get on top of your schedule
  • 5 Great time management strategies
  • 5 Tools to help you be more productive (including a FREE to-do list app)

Maybe you don’t feel like you have time to manage your time. Making time for time management is like using a wish to ask for more wishes. It pays off in spades.

“You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.” – Charles Buxton

​So what is time management exactly? 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines time management as “the practice of using the time that you have available in a useful and effective way, especially in your work: He’s intelligent, but poor time management is limiting his success.

Time management skills are most often addressed as productivity. You’ve probably heard of some of the top experts in this field, like Tim Ferriss, Craig Jarrow, or David Allen. These guys are next level, high performance advisers to the most successful people in the business world. Definitely worth investigating, but a little intense for the beginner.

​In this article we’ll hit the basics – effective, easy tasks and methods that even a kid can start doing now. For the purposes of this article I’ll articulate the definition of being good at time management as such:

Being good at time management means organizing your time intentionally and prioritizing activities that efficiently advance you towards your goals and honor your values.

Why are good time management skills important? 

Good time management is essential to success. And it’s not limited to success in the workplace. Success as a friend, parent, spouse, fitness, anything… requires good time management skills. Success in any endeavor requires giving it the proper amount of time at the right time.

Motivational public speaker and self-development author Brian Tracy says,
“Time management is not a peripheral activity or skill. It is the core skill upon which everything else in life depends.“ 

It’s easy to let the seemingly urgent tasks of life crowd out the more precious and lasting priorities such as faith and family.

Living out your priorities and achieving your goals require being intentional and disciplined.

Time management is a particular challenge for young adults just launching out on their own. According to this article about half of the college kids surveyed felt like they were under-performing due to poor organizational skills and 88 percent of the college students said they want to improve their ability to manage their time.

“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.” – Peter F. Drucker

For most kids, their schedules and priorities have been managed for them. Independence means unprecedented freedom and responsibility. Not knowing how to manage their time well can lead to missed deadlines, increased stress, and poorer performance at school or in the workplace.

It has been said that time is money, but the argument can be made that time is more valuable than money.
As founder and CEO of Life Hack, Leon Ho put it
“If you lose money, you might get a chance to make it back; but a wasted hour is irreplaceable.”

The crux of the problem

Being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive. You can be very busy, without living out your priorities or moving closer to your goals. It’s a frustrating and disappointing place to be.

As you probably know we are living in an age of unprecedented speed and volume of information. This has led many of us to feel like we are dealing with an information overload. But according to David Allen, creator of the “GTD” (get things done) method, when we get stuck, it’s not due to an issue of information overload, but a decision-making overload.

It’s the unplanned in-the-moment decision making that most often kills productivity.

5 Steps to Get on Top of Your Schedule

As with all things parenting, I recommend practicing what you preach. So you may want to try the following before or while helping a child do the same. 

Step 1. Define your goals and priorities

If you aren’t clear about your goals, values, and priorities, it’s hard to make a plan and hard to make a good decision on the fly. Get specific, write them down.

Good time management requires planning and conscious decision making. It requires defining your priorities and choosing to put them first. It requires being aware of how you spend your time.

​When your friends invite you out to a party the night before a big test, and you haven’t established that you want to get an A in chemistry, then you probably aren’t going to prioritize staying home and studying.

Since this isn’t a given, especially for teens, I’ll do a follow-up post on helping you define your goals.

Step 2. Make a list of everything you need to do, add everything you actually do to that list.

While this may sound burdensome, it’s more important than it appears because it:

  • Lightens your mental load
  • Reveals nonproductive activity
  • Helps you get a picture of your current workload
  • Helps you identify which tasks you may need to work into your schedule

​​There may be goals you are supporting that you don’t realize for better or worse. For instance, perhaps you may realize that you spend time doing the dishes, washing your laundry, and taking a shower. Individually, these may not end up on your goal list, but they reveal something you probably value – being clean. Those activities need to be accounted for if you don’t want to find yourself out of clean underwear.

Not only that, but it’s valuable to write everything down because

your brain can’t operate at its best when you try to keep your entire to-do’s in your head. 

Rather than solving problems, it’s repeating your to-do list.
As a mom / house manager, this article really spoke to me on this point.

Let me give you another example.

Let’s say your brain is a smart phone. You’ve been taking pictures and your phone storage is full. It’s operating slow and refusing to take more photos. What do you do? Upload.

You get those photos off of your phone so that your phone can continue operating as a phone, not a photo warehouse.

An efficient mind works the same. At some point you can become overloaded with things to do. In order to clear some working space you need upload so that your brain has space to think and create, not just store repeated meaningless information “I gotta clean that closet.”

Dump everything from your brain that relates to anything you need to do over the course of several hours. Don’t worry about forgetting something important, you can always add or adjust as more comes to mind. And it will. Also, don’t be concerned about repeating yourself. This will help you see how you have thoughts cycling through because they are unresolved. Record every little “I need to / want to” that passes through your mind.

As I filled out my list I found I repeated myself – those to-do’s were indeed on repeat mode.

Step 3  Apply the Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower matrix is one of the most popular tools for helping set priorities.

And yes, it’s named after our 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower!
Advice from the two term President, 5 Star General, and the first Supreme Commander of NATO is worth listening to!

Oh, and did you know this guy squeezed in over 800 rounds of golf during his Presidency?

Productivity expert, James Clear goes in depth on the Eiesnhower Box or Matrix in his article,
“How to be More Productive and Eliminate Time Wasting Activities by Using the ‘Eisenhower Box.” 

According to Clear, the first step is to organize all of your tasks into one of four categories:
1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately – high deadline cost)
2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
3. Urgent, but not important (tasks to delegate to someone else or automate)
4. Neither urgent nor important – Do Last or Not at All

Honestly, I find this a little too overwhelming to figure out. As a beginner I recommend a little more specific path.

Like climbing a mountain – you can scale the steep part or take the longer, less steep trail.

Here’s the slightly longer, but less challenging path to figuring out your Eisenhower Matrix

Step 4. Make plan

You now should have all the information that you need to make a solid plan.

Set up a blank calendar. It can be a spreadsheet, paper, or calendar app.

  1. Schedule your time inflexible, high priority activities first
  2. Schedule your deep or hard work around your highest energy levels.
    1. Figure out when your brain is most engaged & schedule your hardest studying or most challenging and important tasks then, in 15 – 45 minute chunks of time
    2. Schedule 15 minute breaks around your deep work
  3. Fill in your schedule with your lower priority activities
  4. Remove the lowest priority items altogether or set them aside as “schedule treats” (more on that below).

As James Clear put it, “There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all.”

Step 5. Stick to the plan

Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but I want to underscore it because as I said earlier –

It’s the unplanned in-the-moment decision making that most often kills productivity.

The purpose of the plan is to have the decisions made so that you can confidently focus your energy towards actions that are worth your time at the right time.

This doesn’t mean your schedule won’t require some tweaking and flexibility, especially as you get started; but as a default, stick to the schedule.

​​​5 Great Time Management Strategies

1 – Set artificial deadlines to create space and structure.

Do you need to be there at 3?
Make it 2:45
Do you need to get through your emails?
Set a deadline to empty your in-box by Friday noon.
Blog post taking too long to write?
Set a timer to finish the first draft by.

2- Give yourself “schedule treats.”

Schedule treats are low value, but fun or relaxing indulgences
– this might be something like scrolling through social media, listening to music, meditating, reading, etc

Did you get there early?
Spend your waiting time catching up on instagram

Did you empty your email inbox early?
Spend your extra time reading a favorite book.

3 – Pick your top 3 activities for each day.

You can either choose the night before or the morning of.
Maybe you make the list the night before and re-evaluate in the morning. Whatever the case, start your day being clear on your priorities.

4 – Do similar little tasks together.

Batch task the little things 2-5 minute tasks
For example, do all your tasks that require driving together

Or tack them on to your routine for 2 minutes or less
Wipe your bathroom sink when you finish getting ready in the morning
Take out the trash as you head out the door

5 -Mulit-task judiciously.

Honestly, most experts recommend ditching multi-tasking all together.
They say multi-tasking often only feels more productive.
Some studies indicate it does more damage than good.
According to this article in Forbes, it “kills your performance and even damages your brain”
However, I find that combining low importance tasks works well for me.

5 Tools To Help You Be More Productive.

  • Evernote is great to-do list app! It’s a mobile app designed for note taking, organizing, task lists, and archiving. It’s also great for tracking goals and has a free option.
  • Instapaper is like an online file cabinet for saving and organizing anything you want to read later. You can pull it up across devices and it will pick up any article where you left it off. If you are like me, and leave up to 50 windows at a time open so you don’t forget a link, you need Instapaper.  There are other options, but the latest reviews seem to agree this is the favorite and it has a free option
  • Air Tasker connects people who need to outsource tasks with people who are looking to earn money and ready to work. You can get just about anything done from local tasks like deliveries, cleaning, and gardening to remote tasks like writing, web development, and design. Delegate!
  • Google Calendar might seem obvious, but I’m surprised how few people I know use it. You can use google calendar to sync across your devices, so appointment reminders pop up. It’s also very helpful for family scheduling. You can create a calendar for each person in the family and sync them together. Instead of asking mom if we have anything planned, the whole family can look at the shared calendar to see what’s on the schedule.
  • Fiverr is the best tasks that require a human touch. You can hire freelancers from all over the world to do tasks that you’ve determined are best to delegate. I’ve used fiverr for graphic design, SEO optimization, and copywriting, just to name a few.

What other apps, tips, or tricks have you found most useful for helping you manage your time well? 

One purpose of this blog is to help parents of teens navigate the challenges of preparing their children to be successful independent adults. The mission of Finally Family Homes is to provide the same kind of support for those teens who don’t have a family or home to help them transition into adulthood.

You can make a difference by sharing this post.

You can make a difference by sharing this post!


  1. I love being organised and time management skills certainly helps – these tips are really useful and I think the apps would appeal to my teenagers!

    1. Thanks Danielle! I sure hope so 🙂 It’s a lot of work up front but worth it in the end.

  2. I think time management is one of the most important things people can learn to live a successful adult life. Great post!

    1. Right?
      Get to work late too many times? Fired.
      Can’t get that assignment in before the due date? Fail.
      We are a fast moving culture full of hard deadlines.

  3. My oldest son had ADHD and Aspergers Syndrome and time management is the one thing that worries me the most about when he gets older. Will he be able to prioritize on his own, make plans and stick to them? I’m thankful for this article. It’s got some great tips that I think I can put into practice now to build those habits for the future.

    1. I bet with very specific structures he could do really well! Hope this is helpful 🙂

  4. I am a huge fan of organization and I’m thankful to have taught time management skills to my kids. As an amputee, I struggle with having a place to write things down but my phones Notepad app takes care of that. I write everything down so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. I am also a fan of time blocking to make sure everything gets done.

    1. That’s amazing! I’m _still_ working on time management.
      I guess we all have to make adjustments because life changes! But how great that you taught that to your kids.
      I love how organized you are Wendy!

  5. Such a comprehensive post, pinning this for later. I like the idea of schedule treats. I thing I would be way more productive if I stuck to one task instead of switching from task to task.

    1. Right? I used to be chronically late.. then when I finally started being early I realized I could make it more fun for myself – instead of just staring straight ahead & waiting lol.
      Of course there’s the added benefit of not being stressed because you aren’t late!
      It’s worked for me!

  6. Goodness, I wish I had known these great ideas when my kids were at home! I’ve taken a few of them to heart for myself, however! Great thoughts!

    1. I hope it’s helpful AnnMarie!

  7. What a great article! I love “Living out your priorities and achieving your goals require being intentional and disciplined.” Discipline is not a popular world but it is necessary. Thank you for pulling all this info together and I love Evernote also. 🙂

    1. Thanks Michelle!
      I feel like there’s so many things trying to get our attention in our culture – it’s an uphill battle to take control of your time and environment sometimes!

  8. I love being organized, but sometimes I fall off of the wagon. These are some awesome tips. I love Google Calendar; it makes things a lot easier for my 12 year old and I to coordinate. I also use OneNote for to-do lists and other similar things. Thanks for the tips! ?

    1. OH I’ll have to look into OneNote! Thanks 🙂

  9. This is a great article for someone like me who gets easily distracted! Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

    1. Thanks Elizabeth!

  10. Great advice! I need to use some of these

    1. Hope they work out for you!

  11. I have always run screaming in the other direction when it came to time management. Haha! But I am realizing that just following a few sinple steps will free me from bumbling through daily life. My two kids will be teens in a few years so this is an article I will be pinning!

    1. OH funny.. well – when you really need it is the hardest time to sit down and do it.
      I’m still trying to get a handle on it!

  12. These are so good. I don’t know if I could do all of them at once for a disorganized mama…especially when I just spend 20 minutes trying to let my son arrange the words “a bird was on his hat” with a matching photo. But introducing this little by little could definitely work for me and for them.

    1. Haha!
      Yep – this is kind of a reference – take what you need- what serves you best at the time and come back late if you’re ready to take on more!

  13. Great article! I would love to share this with my friends. As a working student, it really helps me a lot in managing my time at work and school. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Mikko – so glad to hear it’s helpful!

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