EDF: Time Management

EDF: Time Management
— Leslie E. Packer, PhD


Students with executive dysfunction may have “issues” related to time. As just a few examples: some never get work done on time, some never start on time, some always seem to lose track of time and may forget to take their medication, some underestimate how long projects will take, some overestimate time intervals, and some don’t even seem to know what day of the week it is!

Helping a student deal with time-related problems begins by assessing them to see if they have a particular skill or ability and are not using it, or if they are skill-deficient.

The following chart was part of a comprehensive intervention plan the author developed for a student with executive dysfunction. It is important to note that prior to this stage, other supports and interventions had occurred to help the student establish reliable habits in recording assignments and packing up necessary materials to do his homework. As a result of previous interventions, the student was beginning to actually complete some of his homework (something he hadn’t accomplished in over two years), but he did not seem to be allowing himself enough time each day to complete his assigned work. The purpose of the following chart , then, was to help the student and team assess whether he was accurately estimating how much time his homework would take him and allowing himself enough time:

Time Estimation Worksheet

Date: _________________________

As your record your homework assignments and at the end of each school day, estimate how much time you think it
will take you to do the assignment (Column 2). Then allow yourself a little extra time and re-estimate (Column 3).

Remember to include any work you have to do on long-term assignments or studying for tests in Column 1 when you list all your assignments/work for that day. Two worked examples are provided to help you understand what to do for this sheet.

Add up the estimates in Column 3. How much time have you estimated it will take you to do all your work today if you allow a little extra time? Now figure out what time you need to start your homework today so that you can get it all done. Do you really have time to hang out after school or should you go home and start your work immediately?

When you do your homework, look at the clock before and after you do each activity so that you can record how long it actually took you (Column 4).

Example: Read Chapter 5 in
Social Studies book.
20 Minutes 25 Minutes 18 Minutes
Example: Do three math
20 Minutes 30 Minutes 40 Minutes






Note that the preceding chart is not just a recording/assessment tool. It also serves to engage the student actively in self-monitoring and planning.

By the end of a few weeks, it was clear to the student and the team that he was a pretty accurate estimator of how long his homework would take him to complete and that he could allow himself enough time if he looked at his planner and mentally added up the time needed each day. For this student, then, the “key” seemed to be getting him to actually write everything down — including pieces of long-term projects.

If you have several students in your class who seem to have time issues, you can incorporate modeling and active time estimation into your daily routine. Certainly when you plan your lessons at home, you estimate how much time they will take. As you begin each lesson in class, you can say, “OK, I think the next activity will take us ______ minutes to do. Let’s note the time and see if I estimated accurately.” As students begin their worksheets or assignments, ask them to look at the sheet and estimate how long it will take them to do. Then have them note their start and end times on the sheet so they can determine if they were accurate estimators.


Here are some other strategies or tips that may be helpful for you to incorporate in your classroom:

1. Some students will do a better job of working quickly and staying on-task if they have a count-down timer on their desk that shows them how much time they have left. This strategy may be a bit too stressful, however, for students with tic disorders as time pressures or perceived time pressures may make their tics worse, slowing them down even more.
2. If you have a student who always forgets to go to the nurse for medication and you’re always having to remind that student, consider asking the parents to provide a watch with an alarm that can be set to remind the student to go to the nurse. From experience, I always advise parents NOT to invest in expensive watches, as students with EDF are likely to lose their first watch or even their first few watches until they get in the habit of wearing it and hanging on to it.
3. Teach all students how to create and use “To Do” lists. At first, you will provide the list and their job is to consult it and check it off as they complete each item on the list. Later on, you will teach them how to create their own “To Do” list and then (and this is important) how to prioritize items on the list.
4. When teaching a child how to prioritize a “to do” list for homework, for example, you might cue the student by asking, “Which assignment is due first? And which assignment is worth more towards your final grade?”
5. Teach your students to allow more time than they think they will need for any project. You can do this by both modelling the desired behavior (e.g., “I estimated that this next activity should take us 15 minutes, but I left 22 minutes for it, just to be on the safe side”) and by using the kind of time estimation sheet provided in the previous section of this page.
6. Teach students the mantra of “Do it now, not later.” For many students, there is no “later.” They live in the immediate moment, and despite their best intentions, will forget or never get around to the task if they put it off until “later.” This is especially applicable to writing down assignments or important reminders.
7. Work with the students a consultative fashion to break longer or bigger jobs down into smaller chunks. Teaching then how to “chunk” their work into meaningful units and time frames is preferable to just “chunking” the assignment for them.
8. Praise progress rather than reprimand disorganization. Using attribution, such as “You got a lot done in a short amount of time” is more effective than saying “you should work faster.”
9. Make sure that the student has recorded any deadlines or due dates intermediate steps on big projects. For example, use direct instruction to teach them that if if the bibliography for a project is due on September 1, then they should “back up” from there and enter earlier deadlines to go to the library and find books or resources. And they should enter in their calendar which day they’re going to compose or write the bibliography.