Time Management Tools to Help Teens Manage Their College Applications

Let’s face it: the college search and application process can be daunting, and it is easy for students to fall into the “I’ll do it later” trap when feeling overwhelmed by all the to-dos, the unknowns, and internal and external pressures they may be feeling.

Here are nine time and task management techniques to empower your high school student to navigate the college application process effectively.

1. Try The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, boosts focus, reduces stress, and enhances productivity. The steps are simple:

  1. Choose a project.
  2. Eliminate distractions.
  3. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  4. Work until the timer rings, then take a 5-minute break.
  5. After four cycles, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).

Remember to set reasonable goals for each session. With practice, you’ll better estimate how long tasks take. Remember to reward yourself for each accomplishment!

2. Use Time Blocking

Time blocking is a time management strategy where you schedule out every part—and we mean every part—of your day. With time blocking, you’re effectively breaking the work week into bite-sized time slots 

The key to effective time blocking is to understand not only what you need to accomplish certain tasks, but at what time you will be most effective at that particular task. For example, if you are a morning person and have the most energy before noon time, schedule tasks that require creativity or critical thinking in the morning, saving more administrative or rote tasks for later in the afternoon.  

3. Create Habits and Routines

Create a Morning Routine Implementing a morning routine, even a simple one, can boost productivity, especially during unstructured times. This could range from checking emails every morning before eating breakfast to a structured routine like 20 minutes of exercise followed by 15 minutes of writing.

Apply Habit Stacking James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, suggests habit stacking: pairing a new habit with an existing one. The formula is: “After I do [current habit], I will [new habit].” Examples include:

  • After grabbing an after-school snack, I will check my email.
  • After brushing my teeth, I will write for 15 minutes.
  • After dinner, I will create an Eisenhower Matrix for tomorrow.

Build in “Emergency Reserves” (Cheat Days) Marissa A. Sharif and Suzanne B. Shu of UCLA Anderson School of Management recommend “emergency reserves” for flexibility. Schedule buffer days or allow some slack in your timeline. For instance, if you hope to write your college essay in a month, plan a few off days or write daily with the option to skip if something unexpected arises.

4. Build in Rituals and Rewards

Rituals are different from habits in that habits are something you do that do, a ritual is a behavior that you apply meaning to.  For example, writing for 15 minutes every morning is a habit, sitting in the same spot and using the same pen each time is a ritual. 

There are many reasons why rituals are important but for getting through our to do list rituals are important because they enhance focus and confidence, which can improve performance and productivity.

However, just having rituals is only part of the equation. Implementing a reward system for accomplishing even the smallest of tasks on your college to-do list will keep you motivated and be a reminder that no matter the outcome of your admissions decisions you accomplished a lot. So when making your to do list, record how you will treat yourself when you cross off a task.

Not sure where to start?

1. Know your Big Three

Any project can become manageable when grouping to-dos in threes. Smaller, micro goals offer a sense of control of what can be accomplished in a day, week or month which helps to reduce stress around meeting deadlines. Achieving goals is as simple as 1, 2, 3 if you ask three questions:

  1. What are three things you want to achieve this month?

  2. What are three things you want to accomplish this week?

  3. What are three things you can do each day to reach these goals?

By focusing on three key actions daily, students can steadily progress toward completing their applications before deadlines.

Download our CBA Big Three Planning Guide and start planning your Big Three now.

2. Create an Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix, attributed to President Dwight Eisenhower, is a task management tool for organizing and prioritizing tasks by urgency and importance. To use it:

  1. Draw a box divided into four quadrants and label them:
    • Do First: High urgency and important
    • Schedule for Later: Important but not urgent (be specific on timing of what later means)
    • Delegate: Tasks to ask for help with (note who will help)
    • Eliminate: Low importance and urgency (or things to do only if there is time)
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes to fill in the boxes. 
  3. Do this daily to stay on top of priorities.
  4. Before starting the “Do First” tasks, estimate how long each will take.

You can read more about the Eisenhower Matrix and download a sample here.

3. Use the Eat That Frog Theory

The “Eat That Frog” theory, made popular by Brian Tracy in his book Eat That Frog!, focuses on tackling the most challenging and important task (the “frog”) first thing in the day. The concept is based on a quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

4. Apply the Two-Minute Rule

If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, do it immediately. Even if it is hard. Remember, eating that frog helps improve productivity by encouraging you to address the most significant and challenging tasks head-on.

5. Declutter your Workspace

Keep your workspace tidy to reduce distractions Not only does a clutter-free environment reduces distractions, allowing you to focus better on your tasks and work more efficiently a clutter free work space can help lower stress levels by creating a more organized and calm atmosphere.

Implementing time management strategies are essential for getting through the college admissions process. Using tools like the Pomodoro Technique, the Eisenhower Matrix, and the “Eat That Frog” strategy, students can prioritize tasks, maintain focus, and boost productivity and apply to college on time – or perhaps even before their deadlines.Her

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