When you’re curious and love learning, there’s so much to do! Here’s how to squeeze out extra time for exploring topics you love while still doing a good job of managing the time you need for school and family.
How do you spend your time?
Ever wonder how the way you spend your time stacks up with other gifted students around the world? Duke TIP has you covered. In 2015, our researchers asked talented students from the United States and India how they spent their time every week. The study asked seventh graders in the U.S. and India to self-report how they allocate their time each week in terms of four primary categories: academics, electronics use, extracurricular activities, and sleep/family time. Researchers found that students in India spend a lot more time on academics over the weekend, compared to their U.S. peers, while U.S. students spend significantly more time using electronics than Indian students both during the week and on the weekend. Both groups spent about the same amount of time on extracurricular activities each week, and students from both countries reported sleeping over eight hours a night (which is great, since enough sleep is crucial for you and your brain).
Track Your Own Time
Why not conduct your own time study at home? Try tracking your activities for a week or a month, making note of how much time you spend on each of these categories:
- Academics (in class, doing homework, being tutored),
- Electronics use (TV, internet, video games, phone, listening to music)
- Extracurricular activities (academic clubs, arts, sports, service clubs)
- Sleep/family time (eating dinner with your family, family events, hanging out as a family, etc.)
At the end of tracking, analyze your results. Ask yourself: am I making the best use of my time? Are there things I should be doing instead? Do any of these categories seem out of balance? You might be surprised at what you find. There is no exact right way to allocate your time, but just knowing how you currently spend your time can make you more thoughtful about your schedule going forward—and teach you a lot about what your personal interests and habits are.
Don’t try to do too much
Too much of anything can become overwhelming, even when it’s something great. Not convinced? Imagine your house with a golden retriever around. If you’re a dog-lover and not allergic, it could be pretty cool, but does that mean that having 15 golden retrievers would be 15 times as cool? Probably not. It could be chaos or very smelly. And definitely noisy whenever someone knocks on the door!
It’s a silly example, but you get the idea: too much of anything can become a negative.
How does this pertain to your life? Because you have special talents and skills, people expect a lot out of you, and you expect a lot out of you. That’s a good thing. It shows you believe in yourself, and it means your teachers and parents understand your potential. It’s important that your expectations for yourself are reasonable. If you bite off more than you can chew academically or socially, things can get stressful. The moral: don’t try to do too much and leave time for down time. While all of your activities may be generally helpful and productive, they weren’t meant to be done all at once.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek out new experiences. If you hear about an activity that interests you, go for it. Just make sure your schedule isn’t overloaded. If you need to, cut something out to make room for a new activity. Your parents can help you choose what needs to go. Cutting back your schedule because of stress in no way means you’re lazy. It just means the things that are important to you will get the attention they deserve, and you’ll feel happier and more comfortable doing them.
Make time to unplug!
Computers… televisions… smart phones…. iPads…. It’s hard to get away from electronics when you live in today’s world! But did you know that going off the grid is good for you and your brain? That’s why parents set guidelines on how much their children can watch television, or use their computers and smart phones. They know that dependence on electronics can make you feel anxious and impair your ability to concentrate on any one task for long periods of time—an essential trait for learning!
Plus science shows that your brain is like a muscle: it needs time to recover in order to develop, grow and make new memories. One study found that students were more likely to retain knowledge if they walked in the woods after learning something new—suggesting that quiet time is essential to brain function and keeps the brain at its cognitive best.
Taking a break from electronics is also good for you socially. Spending too much time online with social media can make it harder for you to develop strong communication skills, and can lead to anxiety. Plus, if you’re always on your cell phone, you aren’t paying attention to who you are with or what you are doing—and giving someone your undivided attention is a crucial part of connecting to other people.
Have we convinced you to take regular breaks from electronics yet? We hope so. If you find yourself feeling bored, disconnected, uncomfortable, or anxious without your phone or computer—you may need to unplug. Here are some things you can do instead when you feel the urge to spend an entire free afternoon with your electronics.
- Call a friend and talk on the phone instead of texting. Even better: get together in person and put the electronics away! No video games.
- Read a book! It’s calming, engages your imagination, and gives your brain time to reboot.
- Daydream. Imagine what your life will be like when you grow up… or what you’d invent if you had a super deluxe laboratory… Firing up the parts of your brain involved in daydreaming are essential to your ability to be creative and innovate.
- Play a board game with your family and friends. It’s a great way to learn to win—or lose— graciously, and have lots of fun, too! Besides, you never really know a person until you’ve played a board game with them. Trust us on this one…
- Start a journal or diary. Writing about your life helps you put things in perspective, is a great way to work out solutions to problems you may be having, and it has a calming effect on the brain.
- Play, exercise, stretch, or just get moving. Better yet, shock your parents and clean your room: it’s great exercise and it leaves you super-organized and ready for anything that comes your way!
- Get outside. Visit a park or playground, walk in the woods, jump off a diving board, swim a few laps, ride your bike, or even go puddle-jumping in the rain. Time outside helps your body produce Vitamin D, which helps improve your mood and boosts your brain!
- Check out the ideas for volunteer work and extracurricular activities in the next section—there’s so much to explore and do!
What else can you do that has absolutely nothing to do with electronics? Write down a few suggestions of things you love doing and be sure to make time for them in your schedule!
Seven ways to better manage your time
- Prioritize. Know what things need to get done first and what can wait.
- Plan ahead. Map out your day, week, or even month so that you know what’s coming up.
- Get rid of distractions. Work in a quiet space—you’ll get your work done faster.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t try to take on too many things at once—give each activity your full attention.
- Stay organized. Keep things in familiar places—you’ll spend less time looking for lost stuff.
- Get into a regular routine. A routine lets your mind get used to doing things in an order, meaning you won’t forget anything.
- Take breaks to avoid burn-out. Periodic breaks can keep you refreshed and working at a good pace. When you get burned out, you can’t work to your full potential.
To hear from some former TIPsters on how they manage time, watch “TIPsters of the Roundtable.”
Taking a School Break? Own It!
Whether you’re in a traditional or year-round school, breaks from the classroom are probably the times of year that you look forward to the most. Even if you love school, having the freedom for family vacations, road trips, and other adventures is always fun.
Unfortunately, when school is out, learning is all too often out as well—sometimes for months. This makes it challenging to stay focused on the learning process, especially when the weather is nice and many of your responsibilities are put on hold. Enjoying these breaks is nothing to feel guilty about: you’ve earned a break by working hard at your studies. But you should be careful to make sure you don’t lose the academic progress you’ve made in school over your breaks. This article outlines a few ways to do just that.
One way to keep your brain engaged during a school break is to read good books. They could be stories of adventure, mystery, love, or history—anything that interests you will work. Once you’ve selected a book that you (and your parents) approve of, dive in! Find a comfy spot in your house or get cozy under a nice shady tree outside. As you read, you’ll be transported to another place and time, watching the story unfold before you. With a good book, who knows where your school break will take you!
Embrace Local History
Another fun way to exercise your mind during break is to learn the history of your hometown. Many cities, and even small towns, have museums that house interesting artifacts, pictures, and stories about what life was like there throughout history. Try making a visit to your town’s museum and learning as much as you can during your visit. If your town doesn’t have a museum, try talking to an older relative or doing some research online or at your local library.
Serve Your Community
Become a part-time humanitarian. Every community has areas of needs. Maybe your town has hungry people in need of a meal. Or maybe the park is littered with trash. Whatever your hometown’s specific needs, you can get involved and make a difference. Start by talking to your parents about your desire to help. Together, you can search the web for organizations in your area that provide opportunities to serve your community. Not only will you help those in need, it will allow you to try something new and explore your future interests.
These ideas are just a start. The list of productive and mentally engaging things you could do during a school break summer is practically endless. And there’s no right or wrong choice, so long as you feel challenged and, most importantly, enjoy yourself. After all, though it’s important to exercise your brain, you’re still supposed to be on a break from full-time academic responsibilities!