As a busy parent, you may be thinking: Teach my child to manage his time? I can’t even manage my own! Then it’s decided. There’s no better time to start than the present. And while teaching your child how to best manage his time, you may just learn a trick or two about becoming more productive yourself.  

Time management is really just a fancy way of describing balancing more than one opportunity or responsibility at once. Like any other skill, it takes practice. But while most parents make it a point to teach their kids how to brush their teeth or show them dozens of times how to wash their hands properly, few drill them in organizing the hours in their day. By showing your child early on how to manage his time, you are instilling a skill he can use long after he’s donned his college cap and gown. This is a skill he can use for life.  

Didn’t get an early start? It’s never too late to teach kids how to organize their week and prioritize their ‘to-do’ list. Christi Youd, president of Organize Enterprise, LLC, has twenty years of experience helping companies and individuals increase productivity with the principles of organization. Youd says, “Time-management is essential for everyone. But if you can get your child to learn the main principles, that’s a tool they can use forever.” Time management is a principle that impacts children’s emotional, social, physical, mental, financial and spiritual lives, Youd says. It’s a skill every child needs to thrive. “If we don't train them in good habits while they are young, they will spend the rest of their lives trying to shake a bad habit.”

Here are her top five tips for teaching children the importance of time management:

  • Help your child make the distinction between what is important and what is urgent.  Important means it will help them obtain the quality of life that is most valuable to them.  Urgent just means it needs immediate attention.  Encourage them to work on the things that are important first.
  • Help your child make a hierarchy of priorities they can use as a master checklist to make better time management decisions. For example: prioritize the following values:  Family, Health & Fitness, School, Personal Development, Community, Friends. Add or eliminate values here depending on what’s important to you and your child.
  • Within each value, prioritize activities to perform.  For instance, under School, she may have 1) complete homework assignments, 2) study for tests 3) work on large projects, etc.  
  • Have your child practice using the hierarchy of priorities when making decisions about how to utilize his time.  Give him different scenarios and let him consider what should be done first, second, and third. For example, if he wants to go to a friend’s house, but also has to read the next 3 chapters of his science textbook, ask him to weigh his options. If he does the assignment now, he may be able to stay at his friend’s for dinner. If he chooses to do the assignment later, he has to be home before dinner so he’s not up late doing schoolwork. Work with him to figure out the best use of his time.
  • Each evening have your child list on paper everything she needs to do, and use her hierarchy of priorities checklist to help her choose the top five or six priorities for the following day.

Managing time well is a learned thing. And it only gets harder as life goes on. The fact is, there are more opportunities in life than there is time to do them. Start kids early at learning how to weigh their options. Not every task is equally important and not every task is equally urgent. Help your child determine what things can or cannot wait, and then, depending upon what they choose to tackle first, discuss how that will effect the rest of his time that day. He’ll start to learn how much time he needs to allocate to certain responsibilities and will improve his productivity too.

Don't forget to absorb some of these lessons yourself. Create some of your own checklists and priorities. Hopefully, teaching your child to do the same will make it to the top 5.