Eight Tips to Use Your Time Efficiently and Stay Organized in High School
If you’re a high school student who is preparing to apply to college, there’s no doubt that you are busy. You are probably thinking about important standardized tests to take, worrying about your GPA, juggling a slew of extracurriculars, and of course, anticipating the college applications to come. It can be a lot to maneuver, especially when you throw in all of the normal high school social events and milestones on top of everything else.
Luckily, you don’t have to feel like you’re being buried beneath all your responsibilities. There are some simple ways to stay organized and schedule your time effectively. In fact, by employing basic time management skills and organization systems, you’ll be better prepared to prioritize your work and visualize the bigger picture ahead of you.
To learn eight tips for organizing your schedule and managing your time, read on.
Get a Planner and Keep It Updated
There are many formats for assignment books, calendars, and day planners out there. You should have a look through what is out there to help decide which will work best for you. Take a field trip to the office supply store and browse through some examples. Keep in mind that most students find it helpful to have at least a weekly view on the page spread so that you can see an extended visual of your responsibilities.
If you can’t find a planner format that works well for you, you can go ahead and create your own template or search for one online. Templates exist for just about any format, so they aren’t difficult to find through a basic online query. Once you find one that you like, print out enough pages to cover the school year and put them in a narrow binder.
As soon as you have your planner, go through the entire school year and write in days of the week and dates, if this isn’t already completed. Then, go through and add important dates. These might include SAT or ACT deadlines, competitions or special events, or family commitments. Usually, these are non-negotiable priorities, so having them in your planner first will help you to shape the remainder of your schedule around them.
Also go ahead and copy these important dates onto your family’s calendar. It’s important that everyone in the family is aware of such significant deadlines and events. This way, there will be no surprise double-bookings or confusion later on.
Add a couple sentences about digital options too i.e. Google Calendar, which can be convenient for students who keep their entire life on their phone/computer.
Finally, be sure to keep up with your planner. Make sure you have all of your commitments in it, regularly updated. While it can be hard to commit to writing everything in a planner rather than rely on memory, especially if that’s what you’re used to, keeping track of your schedule in one place is absolutely necessary to staying organized. You should use it to track assignments, sporting events, club meetings, study groups, and important social events. Being able to see all of your important commitments will make prioritizing easier and more straightforward.
Make a To-Do List Every Night
In addition to your planner, keep lists of what needs to get accomplished on a daily basis. Each night, before you go to sleep, write a list of things that need to happen the next day. Cross them off as you complete them during the day. If anything on the list does not get completed, it should become an immediate priority for the next day.
Sometimes it can be helpful to include smaller tasks that you know you’ll accomplish on this list. It is satisfying to see your accomplishments get crossed off and your list of remaining tasks dwindle. Including things like making your bed or filling up the gas tank on the way to school ensures that you’ll get a few things crossed off right away and might help to incentivize your further productivity.
As you chip away at longer assignments or tasks, be sure to set small rewards for yourself at certain points in your progress. For example, if you are writing a lengthy English paper, tell yourself that after you finish three pages, you can watch one episode of your favorite show or take a break to make a cup of tea.
It’s important that as you do this, you set finite rewards. If you tell yourself you can play video games, make a time limit in advance. Do the same if you’re going to take a break to call a friend or have a snack. Without firm time limits set in your mind in advance, it’s tempting to get carried away with “just five more minutes” again and again. Avoid falling victim to this time suck by setting firm limits in advance and sticking with them.
Schedule Specific Times for High Priority Tasks
There are always some commitments you’ll need to take care of on your own that are very important but not very exciting. If you know that you need to tackle a big task, and you’re not looking forward to it, schedule time specifically devoted to it into your day.
For example, if you’ve created an SAT study schedule that includes 9 hours of SAT study time each week, create a weekly overview of specifically when you’ll tackle this study time. Don’t let it stack up until the weekend when you realize that you haven’t met your goals. Instead, schedule a certain time each day that you’ll study for an hour during the week, and then a two-hour block for each day on the weekend.
Similarly, if you have a prolonged assignment and you tend to procrastinate, break it down into smaller pieces and schedule time for each piece. Write your schedule in your planner to make sure that it doesn’t conflict with anything else.
Finally, be sure to schedule time for yourself and your friends too. If you have an especially busy week, try to schedule a lunch date or evening movie with some friends. You will be more productive if you feel refreshed and fulfilled.
Bring Work With You
There is tons of time during the day that is wasted through no fault of your own. Think of all the small instances in which you’re left waiting for something. Maybe you’re at an appointment and the doctor is running late. Maybe you’re waiting for your teacher to start class. Maybe it’s taking longer for your peers to finish their study questions during your study group.
Whatever the case may be, there are often times throughout the day when you have a few minutes to spare and no way to spend the time productively. Get in the habit of bringing work with you so that you can maximize this time. You could keep required course readings in your backpack, download an SAT study app, or keep flashcards in your jacket pocket.
Whenever you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, use them productively. Get out your readings or study materials and give them a quick review. Even if you don’t have time to get fully involved in them, at least you are staying focused and immersed in the things that need doing. These small periods of time can add up significantly over the course of just a few days.
Remove Social Media Apps From Your Phone
There is nothing wrong with social media, and many teens use it as a way of staying connected with their friends and socializing during times when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Social media can be a great tool for connecting with friends.
But social media can also be a gigantic time suck. It’s so easy to get carried away while scrolling through a newsfeed or browsing pictures. Even if you only intend to quickly check your messages, it’s really not uncommon to find yourself still completely immersed in it half an hour later.
Do yourself a favor and delete these apps from your phone. You can still check social media on a computer or tablet, but you’ll be able to better limit the urge to do so mindlessly, and you’ll be more likely to use spare minutes actually getting work done.
Get Enough Rest
One of the biggest obstacles to productivity is the inability to work efficiently. If you can’t focus, take too much time to settle in to a task, or find yourself continually losing yourself in other thoughts, you might be overly tired.
This isn’t an unusual occurrence for high school students. Most high schools start early in the morning and it’s common for students to be up late into the night getting work done. Combine this with the fact that many teens have a biological clock that actually keeps them alert at night and makes it difficult to rise early, and you can have a formula for exhaustion.
You need to take care of yourself to perform at maximum efficiency. If you aren’t well-rested, you won’t be able to use your time well when you’re awake. Staying up late or getting up early to get ahead will actually have no impact if you’re exhausted, and instead you’ll find that it takes you longer to accomplish things you could do quickly if you were well-rested.
Unless there is an imperative deadline, like college applications that are due the next day or the science fair looming at the end of the week, it’s always better to go to sleep and get back to work the next day with a fresh mind.
Keep Your Priorities Straight
Recognize when your commitments are adversely affecting other parts of your life. If your French club meetings keep infringing on the time you set aside to study for SATs or continually make you late for soccer practice, it might be time to step back and reassess your commitments.
Sometimes, you might decide that these sacrifices are worth it, particularly if they will only persist for a finite period of time. For example, in the week leading up to the science fair, you might have to skip a meeting or miss out on time with friends, but this will only be an issue until the science fair is over. On the other hand, if there is no end in sight, you should ask yourself if this commitment aligns with your personal priorities.
Staying on top of your organization and time management is an integral skill to develop while you’re still in high school. When you get to college, there will probably be no one else around to hold you accountable and keep you on track. High school is the time to build these skills.
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders, and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
For more information about planning your activities and schedule, check out these CollegeVine posts:
- Handling Senior Year: Making A Schedule
- Balancing Family Responsibilities With Applying For College
- Managing Extracurriculars: A Guide to Strategic Quitting
- How to Pick Your High School Courses Freshman and Sophomore Year
- Should I Drop an AP, IB, or Honors Class?
- A Guide to Choosing Electives in High School
- Decisions, Decisions: Choosing Classes as a High School Senior
- Is It Better to Get a B In An AP/IB/Honors Course Or an A in a Regular Course?
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.