How to Get Your Students to Stop Wasting Time

Students Who Waste TimeDo you feel like your students never get anything done? Here’s how you can help them stop wasting time.

Have you ever wondered how a student can work for 3 weeks on a project and have nothing at all to show for it? Or even 3 hours. Heck, what about 3 minutes? Shouldn’t there be SOMETHING?

Some students seem to have a knack for wasting time. And this can be very frustrating when we have so little time to teach them so much. Another frustration is the activities students pursue when wasting time (like talking to their neighbors or re-purposing paperclips) can be disruptive to those in the class who ARE trying to work.

Students who waste time because of poor time management skills may underestimate how much time an assignment will take and decide they have time to go to the bathroom and talk to seven friends before getting started.

Why Students Waste Time

Students waste time for many reasons, including inability to do the work, lack of  motivation, or poor time management skills. As teachers we are familiar with strategies for differentiating instruction (shorten the assignment, work with partners, accept shorter answers) and motivating students (give rewards, offer choices.) But many of us assume our students know how to manage time – and many of them don’t.

Students who waste time because of poor time management skills may underestimate how much time an assignment will take and decide they have time to go to the bathroom and talk to seven friends before getting started.

Or they might take way too much time drawing a chart, choosing the perfect font, or coloring an illustration. It’s not that they don’t want to do the work – they just don’t know how to use their time effectively.

Practical Ways to Teach Time Management

If your students struggle with wasting time, here are a few practical ways to teach them time management.

  1. keep-it-snappyUse a timer for short daily activities, such as warm-up assignments, and allow the same amount of time (such as 3 minutes) every day. Afterward, talk about how much they were able to finish. This practice will help students learn how long 3 minutes is, and how much they can expect to finish in that time. (Bonus: Timers are also motivating for many students, because beating the clock becomes a game.)

  2. Before starting on independent or group work, have the students estimate how much time each part of the assignment will take. For example, if the exit ticket is 10 math problems and we have 20 minutes to do it, you have about 2 minutes to spend on each problem. Use your timer again to let the students know when 2 minutes have passed. Let them know it’s okay if they haven’t finished, but it’s time to move on and try the next one.

  3. When students are working independently, have them mark how much they got done in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and so on. This will help them become aware of their own ability so they can make a better estimate.

  4. Help them figure out the most important part of the assignment. Talk about it before giving them the assignment, and encourage them to complete that part first.

  5. If your class (or a few students) really struggle with time, you can break down the assignment into parts for them and move from part to part at the same time, done or not. Then provide a “catch-up period” at the end for them to finish up anything they didn’t complete.

Kids (and many adults) waste time because of poor time management skills. Making the effort to teach our students effective time management skills will serve them well their whole lives.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres,

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources


  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

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