Columnist: How do you and your student think about time?

Ernest Fannings

Contributing columnist

Here’s a few common situations. See how many seem familiar to you.

Situation A: you have errands or housework to do that you haven’t scheduled in, and it becomes harder to get started.

Situation B: There’s a looming deadline at work but because of constant distractions, it seems impossible to finish it.

It’s easy for us — student, parent or other — to throw up our hands and wish we had more time. Overworked and still having trouble getting things done, we often waste time on mindless activities in order to recover. But although the problem seems to be that we don’t have enough time, the solution lies in how we think about it.

As adult professionals, most of us make many harmful assumptions about time on a daily basis that damage our effectiveness. We procrastinate, putting things that should be done today off until “later,” which is almost always a vaguely defined period of time in the future. We then assume that we’ll magically “find” time in our schedules “later” to do what should have been done much sooner.

With a habit of consistent self-reflection and awareness of our human nature, we’d realize that “later” will at one point become “now,” and that our “now” was at one time in the past “later.” We expect free time to magically appear in our schedules at this vague future time so that we can do what we should have done before. And lastly, we assume that we’ll have the energy, willpower and resources to accomplish what we put off for that time, when the free time comes.

Of course, that time we might find “later” could be after a long day at work when we’re least likely to do anything. The longer we procrastinate, the harder it is to get started with important tasks. Our intent to take action diminishes, and getting started is always the hardest part.

Just like us, our students face this same dilemma. When long-term school projects are assigned, they often finish them frantically at the last minute.

If a test is looming next month, many students end up cramming the night before. Both of these common scenarios stem from an incorrect perception of how time works, regarding the concepts of “doing things later” and “finding time,” as if either of these were actually possible.

More often than not, as time continues to pass between goals and actions, we don’t “find the time,” we just find or create excuses.

I’ve spent my younger years as a high-achieving, gifted, honors student, and my last three years expanding, running and directing my student success system, TMT. Of all the things those experiences have taught me, perhaps the biggest is learning that it really doesn’t take riches, burnout or luck to succeed academically.

What it does take is what many of us, student or parent, currently lack — the ability to consistently do what we should, even if we don’t feel like doing it. That alone, in my experience, is one of the greatest superpowers we can cultivate for success.

How do you and your student think about time?

Ernest Fannings is director of Total Math Tutoring.