Summer Blog Series Post #4: The Role of Attention and Temporal-Sequential Ordering in Time Management

When in school, students are expected to follow routines and complete assignments within certain time frames. Children must follow these same guidelines when continuing the learning process at home, managing their time and effort to complete homework assignments and projects on time.  

Time management is critical to many of the expectations placed on students, including initiating assignments, taking the appropriate amount of time to complete tasks, meeting deadlines, and maintaining a busy schedule. 

Neurodevelopmental factors: 

Time management involves several neurodevelopmental functions, including attention and temporal-sequential ordering.  

Getting started on assignments requires students to engage their attention. Students must be alert to the task at hand, possibly shifting focus to a new activity, and have the mental effort necessary to initiate the task.  The ability to preview, or think about the outcomes of a task before beginning, can help students conceptualize what a report will be like once a topic is selected, what materials will be necessary to do an assignment, etc.  Previewing is an aspect of attention. 

Taking the appropriate amount of time for a task involves both temporal-sequential ordering and attention.  Temporal-sequential abilities help us understand the order of steps, events, or other sequences; generate products in a meaningful order; and organize work, time, and schedules.  These skills are related to a student’s ability to appreciate time in general and estimate time appropriately. 

Tempo control, a facet of attention, helps students allocate the appropriate amount of time to the task at hand and predict the time required for an upcoming task. Tempo control also instills a sense of “step-wisdom,” the knowledge that it is more effective to undertake activities in a series of steps, rather than all at once. Tempo control allows a student to match his/her pace to the demands of a given task, e.g., to take the right amount of time to finish an essay test, to do a homework assignment thoroughly yet efficiently, etc. 

Here are some possible signs that a student is competent in time management:

 The student …

  • Is able to get started on homework assignments, reports, or projects on his own
  • Takes an appropriate amount of time to complete the task at hand, such as doing a homework assignment or studying for a test
  • Is able to meet deadlines related to schoolwork and follow established schedules
  • Comprehends time-related vocabulary (e.g., first, last, when, before, after, next)

Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling with time management: 

The student …

  • Either rushes through work, not taking the time necessary for a thorough job, or takes an excessive amount of time to complete a task/assignment
  • Has difficulty meeting deadlines and/or following an established schedule
  • Is often tardy, frequently not realizing when he or she is running behind
  • Has trouble with long-term assignments

Strategies to help students struggling with time management: 

  • To help students get started on an assignment, encourage them to start a homework session or study period by planning what will be accomplished during the session. If necessary, help students develop objectives that are clear, specific, and measurable (e.g., how long they will work, how long the report will be, how many problems they will do, etc.).
  • To help students understand the appropriate amount of time to allot to tasks, require students to plan for a designated number of minutes, work for a designated number of minutes, review for a designated number of minutes, etc.
  • Have students practice estimating and managing their time. For example, have students keep track of activities in a log, first recording the estimated time they think the activity will take, and then documenting the actual time it took to complete the activity.
  • Create a large classroom wall calendar that shows an outline of the stages and time frame for completing long-term projects. Note important steps and dates with color cues. Review the calendar regularly.
  • Allow students to practice managing time by being a “project manager” when working in cooperative groups, making sure activities lead to products on schedule.

We’d love to hear what strategies or activities you’ve used to help promote effective time management in your classroom or at home.  Leave a comment below with your ideas! 

Related links:

Learn more about our summer series

  1. More strategies on getting started on assignments
  2. More strategies on taking the appropriate amount of time for tasks
  3. More strategies on meeting deadlines and keeping schedules
  4. Related research on temporal organization


3 thoughts on “Summer Blog Series Post #4: The Role of Attention and Temporal-Sequential Ordering in Time Management

  1. I help my son break an assignment into smaller pieces and start with 5 or 10 min increments and see what he can get done in that time. Most of the time, he surprises himself and what seemed at first, like an insurmountable task is easily completed. Once he feels he can get it done then, he is committed to getting it done. He does his homework at our kitchen table and we use the oven’s timer to have a visual of the time assigned.

  2. Time management seems like a very dry, business-oriented topic, however there’s an emotional aspect to it as well.

    Part of time-management is prioritization, and this is influenced not only by logic, but also by one’s emotional attachement to or feeling towards the task.

    I think that students with ADHD and/or LD have very intense emotional feelings regarding learning specifically and prioritization of tasks in general. If a student doesn’t have an emotional attachment to the task or assignment, then time management tips and advice will be less effective.

    I recommend coaching, counseling, or support as an important aspect of any time management program.

  3. In working with students with attentional issues and LD, I have found that by using both a step-wise approach to coaching the student and teaching them to use a visual scaffolding tool, it is much easier to complete tasks and measure productivity, while reducing the feelings of anxiety that often accompanies the seemingly insurmountable tasks or assignments ahead. A colleague of mine has come up with an even more detailed way to track other aspects of the process, including how long the student “believes” it is going to take to complete a segment of an assignment, or the whole task, and then the actual time it took. For students struggling with executive function breakdowns, these strategies help to develop awareness, goal setting, prioritizing, initiation, and completion in a very step-wise manner-not to mention the metacognitive benefits of involving the student in the entire process, including thinking about their thinking.

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