The ability to manage time is essential for success in adult life. People who can manage time effectively can arrive for work on time, estimate travel time requirements, pay their bills by assigned due dates, and meet with friends and family members at specified times. Conversely, those who cannot manage time adequately could require lifelong support and face far more restrictions on their daily activities. For this reason, it is essential that teachers, family members, and others who care make a specific effort to teach time management skills as early as possible.
Time management is not a single skill; rather, it is a cluster of six distinct and interrelated skills or components (DiPipi-Hoy & Steere, 2016). These include:
- Time telling
- Budgeting time
- Efficient use of time
- Prioritizing, and
- Awareness of the passage of time
Each of these areas is important for the development of effective time-management abilities. Consider, for example, someone who can tell time to the hour and minute but cannot follow or develop a daily schedule of activities. Or consider someone who can follow a list of required activities but cannot estimate how long each will take and is therefore inefficient in the completion of those activities. Clearly, each of these skill components must be addressed and, although not everyone can master every area, we should do our utmost to help students develop time-management skills to their fullest capacities.
Instruction in time management should start as early as possible and continue longitudinally from early childhood into adulthood (2016). At the early childhood level, teach children to follow a daily routine and how to keep a simple daily calendar of events, such as a daily schedule. They should also begin to follow a weekly calendar of events so that they can predict what will happen on different days of the week. At the middle childhood level, extend these skills and expect children to follow calendars and daily schedules with greater independence. At this level, emphasize monthly calendars along with daily and weekly schedules. Students should receive direct instruction in estimating how long it will take to complete a task or to get from one place to another. Elaborate upon all of these skills at the secondary transition level, with a greater expectation of more independent time-management skills so that individuals are as independent as possible in their early adulthood.
These skills must be taught directly, and we should not expect children to develop them on their own. Like any other skill area, it takes repetition and systematic instruction to help students learn time-management skills. Fortunately, the advent and rapid development of technologies like smartphones have opened the door to the possibility of more independent time-management abilities. Smartphones allow the use of calendars, alerts and alarms, research on when community businesses are opened, and even the estimated travel time on different routes from one place to another. However, in addition to higher-tech time management tools, tried-and-true low-tech tools such as to-do lists, calendars, and written sticky notes are also effective. With either low or high-tech options, pictorial or photographic representations of events can allow the development of increased time-management skills for even those with more severe disabilities.
Time-management skills are important, and we should make it a priority to teach these skills to those who we support. The stakes are high, as increased time-management skills lead to more options and choices which, in turn, lead to a more fulfilled quality of life. This is not an easy challenge for family members and teachers, but success can yield numerous benefits for our students and children.
Caroline DiPipi-Hoy and Daniel Steere are faculty members at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania and are the authors of Teaching Time Management to Learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder, published by AAPC Publishing, 2016.