By: Trisha Iyer
We are in the very midst of our summer vacation, in the throes of the stuffy heat and the clouds of buzzing mosquitoes. Exam rooms are a distant memory right now and school seems terribly far-off—especially because most kids, from toddler to teenager, have not set foot on an actual school campus in almost half a year.
But let’s face it: school during the pandemic has been—and will continue to be—stressful. Online classes demand an unprecedented level of responsibility and maturity from students: instead of having bells and in-person teachers to dismiss you from classes, the onus is on you, the student, to manage your schedule, keep track of all the requisite Zoom links, and make the most of your obsolescent passing periods to stretch.
One of the largest stressors for most teenagers is school, a three-way balancing act of academics, athletics, and hobbies. A normal high school career makes teenage life rigorous even without the presence of extra stressors, namely, the ones wrought by the pandemic and its online events. Staying focused during this emotionally trying time is of tantamount importance, so with three simple tricks I’ll discuss here, you will be able to manage your time like a pro and lead a more efficient life.
Gathering data from more than 3,000 participants to determine the most effective stress management technique, psychologist Robert Epstein discovered that planning was the standout way to tackle time management. Planning, says Dr. Epstein, is “fighting stress before it even starts” .
Therefore, my first recommendation is to buy a planner. Before you roll your eyes and switch to the funny cat video you have on the other tab, let me make my case for this obvious yet underappreciated tool. A planner is a neat, compact little system that provides a space for your daily schedule (with things such as your virtual class times) and any short or long-term goals.. Mapping out these goals and to-do lists on paper not only focuses you but also helps you alleviate stress; after all, lists look a whole lot more manageable written or typed instead of in your head.
Investing in a planner has helped me keep track of my daily homework; in addition, making a plan of attack has helped me finish the whole stack of assignments faster, so that I have more time to pursue other projects or just relax. A planner can even be a place for you to keep track of all of your Zoom meeting times. For a modest price, you can gain a valuable tool to organize your life.
So, now that you’ve planned out your life (or at least your day), a new problem arises: procrastination. As your fellow teen in quarantine, I know that resisting the urge to procrastinate is hard. Your computer or phone—now your only means of communication with friends and loved ones— is constantly pulling you into a world of Insta feeds and puppy memes.
The Pomodoro Technique, invented in the 80s by Francesco Cirillo, is the solution; it helps you accomplish tasks in short, intensely focused bursts of time. Cirillo writes that one should divide a task into twenty-five-minute chunks of time, which he labels “Pomodoros”. After each period, take a five-minute break to stretch, read, or otherwise refresh your brain. Repeat this cycle four times (or four Pomodoros) and then take a longer break to pat yourself on the back .
This two-hour period of work is scientifically proven to optimize efficiency, quality, and results. But why? On a fundamental level, our bodies are being regulated by precise rhythms, one famous example being the circadian rhythm. A similar rhythm, the BRAC (Basic-Rest-Activity Cycle), is a type of ultradian rhythm, meaning that it lasts less than a day. The Pomodoro Technique capitalizes on the BRAC’s patterns to increase our overall productivity. Brad Buzzard in Medium explains that to perform at peak capacity, one must follow the BRAC, which puts the body through a cycle of 90 minutes of work followed by about 20 minutes of rest . In other words, the two-hour period of work prescribed by the Pomodoro Technique is the Goldilocks amount of time you can put into a project before your body protests.
However, Pomodoro isn’t enough on its own.
If you want every day to be as productive and relaxing as the one I have laid out in the last few paragraphs, you’ll need to realize that building a routine takes time—and I’m no different. No matter how many scoldings I receive, I persist in forgetting to do my laundry every weekend. So, seeing that we’re in the same boat, I have one last gift for you: a technique called habit stacking, pioneered by author S. J. Scott .
We all have certain habits we already follow religiously, be it brushing your teeth every morning or logging into Instagram every day at exactly 6:07 pm. According to Scott, your pre-existing habits can act as an anchor for new habits you’d like to form . For example, let’s say you put on your glasses every morning when you wake up. If you have trouble committing to creating to-do lists, you can keep a planner and pen next to your glasses. Reaching for your glasses—an old habit—can act as a trigger for a new habit which, in this case, would be planning out your day. Another example: I usually do my homework every Saturday. If I keep my laundry hamper in plain view of my textbooks, doing my homework can act as my anchor habit for doing the laundry. Falling into a settled routine will allow you to add more habits to your stack in the future.
And there you have it—three simple yet powerful ways to master time management. With a planner, you’ll be able to organize your goals and ensure that you seize the day (instead of the day seizing you). By using the science-backed Pomodoro Technique, you can hijack your urge to procrastinate and finish tasks through short, focused periods of work. And finally, habit stacking will help you create a more efficient and fulfilling daily routine based on your pre-existing habits, rather than from scratch. I am confident you will leave this article ready to conquer your to-do list and breeze through your school assignments. Most of all, I wish you luck with these hacks as you minimize your stress in the uncertain, online era of the pandemic.
 Peláez, Marina Watson. “Plan Your Way to Less Stress, More Happiness.” Time, Time, 31 May 2011, healthland.time.com/2011/05/31/study-25-of-happiness-depends-on-stress-management/.
 The Pomodoro Technique® - Proudly Developed by Francesco Cirillo: Cirillo Consulting GmbH.” Cirillo Company, francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique.
 Buzzard, Brad. “Avoid Burnout and Increase Awareness Using Ultradian Rhythms.” Medium, Better Humans, 7 Nov. 2017, medium.com/better-humans/avoid-burnout-and-increase-awareness-using-ultradian-rhythms-5e64158e7e19.
 “13 Steps for Building a Habit Stacking Routine.” Develop Good Habits, 8 July 2020, www.developgoodhabits.com/building-habit-stacking-routine/.
 “Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 July 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html.