Sophomore year is one of the more overlooked periods of high school. It’s sandwiched between freshman year, when everything is new and you’re on a huge learning curve, and junior year, when the college application process really gets rolling. It’s easy to think of sophomore year as just maintaining the status quo.

Instead, we think 10th grade is a great time to hone softer academic skills like organization and time management. With a year of high school behind you, you will likely have a good sense of how well you manage classes, homework, extracurriculars, and social life. Many students will be learning to drive during the year or over the summer, and by junior year, you should be taking charge of your own scheduling, rather than leaving it all to your parents.

Below, we’ve offered five time management tips to help sophomores stay focused, reduce stress, and be more efficient as you go about your day.

TIP #1: GET A CALENDAR, AGENDA BOOK, OR BOTH.

By the time junior year rolls around, it will be nearly impossible for you to keep track of your daily schedule in your head. Yes, going to the same classes every day (if that’s the system your school works under!) is easy to remember. But what about the homework for each, the exams, papers, and special projects? Start creating an agenda now, and you’ll make things easier for yourself later on.

You can use a paper calendar or a digital one; you can write notes in your phone, or use a physical notebook. But make sure you have some kind of system for organizing your schedule. The system should include a calendar feature (for tracking club meetings, test dates, and athletic events) as well as a task feature (for tracking daily homework and other personal to-dos).

TIP #2: STICK TO YOUR SYSTEM!

The best organizational system in the world is useless if it’s not used well or consistently. Part of the process of making an agenda can be a daily or weekly review of items. You should get in the habit of adding items or events to your calendar as soon as they come up. This will prevent things from falling through the cracks, and will allow you to get a comprehensive picture of what you need to accomplish over the next day, week, and month.

TIP #3: WHEN POSSIBLE, SCHEDULE ACCORDING TO YOUR ENERGY LEVELS.

This tip can be tough, because there are a lot of non-negotiables in your schedule: you can’t take chemistry class whenever it suits you, or choose whether swim practice is in the morning or at night. However, you can choose to allocate your time for homework, studying, and project research in ways that make sense for your own energy levels.

For example, if you have a hard time staying awake after a long day, it might be best to go to bed early and study for a quiz first thing in the morning. Or maybe the time between the end of the school day and a club meeting is a great time for tackling math problems, but not so good for creative writing. You will need to undertake some self-reflection to understand when and where you work best for different kinds of work, and then schedule your time accordingly.

TIP #4: MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS.

Have you ever prepared yourself to sit down and start studying, only to find yourself on Facebook 45 minutes later, with only the first sentence of your reading actually read? Of course you have! Most students study better without smartphones nearby, as they present a huge temptation for texting, games, and social media. Some students will even find that they need to work on the computer without wifi access to avoid getting derailed.

Other distractions can be environmental, such as a too-loud (or too-quiet in some cases) workspace or visual clutter. Do some thinking and exploring to identify your own biggest distractions, and then adjust your work environment as much as possible to emphasize productivity and effectiveness.

TIP #5: TAKE A BREAK.

Culturally, we often adopt the mindset “you can’t have too much of a good thing.” Unfortunately, the science simply does not bear this out, and this is certainly true with studying. Taking breaks, even as short as five minutes, is a critical part of an effective time management plan. Walking around the block, or just standing up and stretching, helps wake up the body, refresh the mind, and sharpen your focus. You will get more done in less time by wandering away from work every now and then. Breaks should be taken at least once an hour, but can be taken every 30 minutes if needed; again, do some experimenting to find your own rhythm.

We hope these tips will help you hone your time management skills as a sophomore, in preparation for the busy two years of high school that lie ahead!

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