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One Secret of Successful Students

Everyone has that student in their class who is involved in absolutely everything. She is the student body president, the starting point guard, an honor roll student, an admissions ambassador, and everything in between. Involvement is not the defining trait, though. This student participates in just about everything without sacrificing her academics. More than that, she seems calm and happy during the most turbulent times of the school year. How is this possible? How do some students pack their calendars to the gills without suffering a bi-weekly meltdown?

Well, that’s a complicated question. As you may know, we firmly believe that the best students set themselves apart through Executive Function. This fictitious student probably has an iron-clad binder system to stay organized. She makes a concerted effort to network with her classmates and teachers. She has developed an arsenal of study techniques to tackle the toughest subjects. And I guarantee you she loves planners, calendars, and checklists. Out of desire or necessity, this student has developed the core four skills that we teach as part of our Executive Function curriculum.

But there has to be more than that. After all, this rock star student has the same twenty-four hours per day as the rest of us mere mortals, right? Between all those AP Courses and extracurricular activities, where does she find the time to do her homework and prepare for exams? The answer is in the question. She finds the time.

Flex Time Is the Key

As students matriculate through the grade levels, they get more freedom. This is particularly true in high school. Students often have free periods, study halls, and advisory periods throughout the week. They also have unsupervised time before school. But high school represents a midpoint in this trend. Even in middle school, students start to have more time to themselves, time when no one is telling them what to do. And by their freshman year of college, these students will spend 95% of their time undirected. Outside of lectures—many of which don’t take attendance—college students control their days. We call these periods of undirected freedom flex time.

The best students, like the busy high schooler profiled in the opening paragraph, master the art of flex time. This often happens subconsciously. The student becomes increasingly involved in a variety of activities but receives no respite from school assignments. The traditional model of doing homework at home becomes obsolete after a few weeks of this packed schedule. Again, if she won’t get home from her basketball tournament until 10 p.m., the odds of her completing her homework at home are slim. So, our example student starts to look for extra pockets of time throughout the day.

What Does Flex Time Look Like?

Students have a lot more time during the school day than they think. Let’s say homeroom starts at 8:00 a.m. Students have a lot more time during the school day than they think. Let’s say homeroom starts at 8:00 a.m. If a student gets dropped off at school by 7:30 a.m., that’s a solid thirty minutes they could use. Now, what can one do in thirty minutes? You’d be surprised! These thirty minutes could be used to revise notes, finish up an assignment, or even read a few pages from a textbook. This doesn’t include the time between classes, which might be five to ten minutes, but when aggregated, could give you another half-hour or so by day’s end.

Lunch breaks are another goldmine. While it’s essential to eat and socialize, if a student manages their time well, they could easily free up twenty minutes to tackle academic tasks. The period after school, before extracurricular activities begin, is another window. Say the last class ends at 3:00 p.m., and basketball practice doesn’t start until 4:00 p.m.; that’s an hour of potentially productive time.

But flex time isn’t just about identifying these pockets of time; it’s also about the environment. Consider this – does the school have a quiet library or study area where students can sit during their free periods? What about cozy corners where groups can collaborate on projects? The surroundings can significantly influence the productivity of flex time. And let’s not forget about the value of mental breaks. Sometimes, the best use of flex time is to decompress, take a short walk, or just close one’s eyes for a few minutes to refresh.

Additionally, technology plays a pivotal role in flex time. With smartphones and laptops, students can access digital assignments, e-books, and educational platforms, allowing them to work virtually anywhere. So, while waiting for the bus or before an after-school meeting starts, they can quickly check assignments or participate in online discussions. In essence, flex time can appear in various forms and places throughout the school day, and recognizing it is the first step towards harnessing its potential.

How Students Can Utilize Flex Time

Discipline always needs a backup plan. When it comes to flex time, having a plan of what to tackle during these small windows is crucial. Students can make a daily list of tasks that can be completed during these breaks. These tasks can be small, like reading a chapter or revising notes from a particular class.

It’s hard to hit an invisible target. Thus, setting clear goals for each flex period can make the time more productive. For instance, instead of vaguely thinking, “I’ll study math,” a student can set a specific goal, such as “I’ll complete five algebra problems.” In fact, make the target really easy to see (and hit). Breaking down assignments into smaller tasks makes them less daunting. If a student has to write an essay, they can use flex time to brainstorm topics, write the introduction, or research one source rather than attempting the entire paper at once.

Celebrate accomplishments and take time to rest. But do it intentionally. After achieving a flex time goal, students should reward themselves. Maybe it’s a five-minute break, a treat from the school cafeteria, or listening to a favorite song. Recognizing accomplishments, no matter how small, boosts motivation. Lastly, students should share their strategies and learn from peers. Maybe a classmate has discovered a quiet spot perfect for reading or has a time-management app to recommend. Sharing insights and learning from each other can further enhance the value of flex time.

In essence, by having a strategic approach, setting clear goals, breaking tasks into manageable bits, and integrating rewards, students can make the most of their flex time, ensuring they stay ahead of their game.

Closing Thoughts

Becoming an effective student does not require radical changes. The top-performing students don’t have access to an extra three hours per day. They just find the opportunities to get work done, and they create systems to help them capitalize on those opportunities. In short, they employ and expand their EF skills as they matriculate through school.

At Staying Ahead of the Game, we understand that these skills transcend the boundaries of the classroom. They’re life skills, tools that our students can carry with them through every phase of their lives. Learn more about our unique EF curriculum by reading our other posts. Or, better yet, sign your child up for one-on-one academic coaching today!

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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