Many adults look back on their school years and remember the extracurricular activities they took part in as being just as important as their schoolwork. Being involved in a wide range of activities is great for your social life and overall wellbeing, but it can also be a drain on your time if you don’t manage it right. Make no mistake: managing your extracurricular timetable amongst everything else you’ve got going on at school is a difficult task.
Before we begin, it’s important to ask: what do we define as an extracurricular activity? Well, the standard definition is any activity that occurs outside of the core school curriculum. This might be organised by your school (e.g. a school sports team) or externally (e.g. martial arts classes).
For the sake of this piece, though, we’re only going to refer to activities that are centred around some sort of lasting purpose. That means that going round to your friend’s house to play video games wouldn’t count as an extracurricular activity, but joining the e-sports club at school would. Of course, it’s important to see your friends and do things you enjoy, but we’re going to focus on activities that develop a skill in a particular area.
With that in mind, how do you manage your extracurricular timetable? Here’s a guide to selecting activities that work for you, and planning your time:
Always ask yourself why you’re signing up for something.
Every extracurricular activity you sign up for will require a certain time commitment. For many activities, this is once a week, or even multiple times a week – particularly for sports which involve both training and games. There are only so many hours in a day, which means there are only so many activities you can take part in at once. As a result, it pays to be selective about what you sign up for rather than putting your hand up for everything.
A good approach to ask yourself when signing up for a new activity is: why am I doing this? Perhaps the answer is to develop your craft in a skill, or musical instrument, or sport, which is great. Perhaps the answer is simply because you enjoy it – which is also great. Finding the right balance of things you want to work on and things you enjoy is important, but taking the time to ask why you’re doing each activity will give you a clearer picture in your mind of how you’re spending your time.
Get in the habit of using a calendar.
The more activities that you do, the more you’ll need to organise your life. Having a calendar which includes all of your main activities and appointments is a bit of work to maintain, but is almost always worth it in the long run. If you’re able to review your calendar every night to understand what you’ve got coming up the following day, you’re likely to notice a substantial decrease in stress, and you’ll find that you can plan activities such as homework around everything else you’ve got going on.
Remember, you can use many different things for your calendar: Google Calendar, Apple’s iCloud Calendar, your school diary, a wall planner, or anything you choose. The important thing is that you’ve got everything in one place, so you can always find out what you’ve got going on in a day.
Plan around the fixed times.
Once you’ve got your calendar set up, you’ll quickly start to understand which times are fixed (such as a group tutoring session) and which are flexible (such as practising a musical instrument, or reading up on techniques). A good approach to managing your time is to start by filling up your calendar with the activities you can’t move, and then planning everything else around these.
If you know there’s a certain amount of time you need to dedicate to a particular activity, it can be helpful to schedule this into your weekly calendar, even if it’s not fixed like a group activity. For example, you might decide that on Monday afternoons, you earmark a couple of hours after school for your own personal debating research. Doing this helps to ‘fix’ these times, and – even though you’ll still have the flexibility to adapt your schedule when needed – enables you to build a habit out of doing this.
Consider a ‘T-shaped’ approach.
Getting the right balance between breadth and depth of extracurricular activities can be tough. For example, if you’ve joined the robotics club and have found that you’re pretty good at it, you might be tempted to drop everything and focus on robotics for the next few years. Is this a good idea?
One way to attack this problem is a ‘T-shaped approach’. A capital ‘T’ has both breadth (the top of the ‘T’) and depth (the ‘stick’ of the ‘T’). In the same way, you can try and organise your extracurricular timetable around both a breadth of activities you enjoy, as well as a depth of activities in one specific area.
How do you do this? Here’s a good rule of thumb: during your earlier school years (primary, intermediate, and early high school) you should try for as broad a range of activities as possible (a ‘wide T’). Then, as you start to reach the later high school years and you start to develop your strengths in certain areas, you can start to focus more on the activities that play to these strengths (a ‘long T’). This gives you the chance to enjoy a wide range of activities as a younger student, but still develop your ability in specific areas as you begin to understand where your talents lie.
Don’t forget to enjoy what you do!
With all of the talk about optimising your schedule, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to push yourself to do as many extracurriculars as you can, and to do them as well as you can. That’s great, but you should never push yourself so hard that you forget to enjoy the ride!
A good, balanced extracurricular schedule should energise you with activities that you enjoy doing, rather than drain you with activities you’d rather avoid. A gap in your calendar is an opportunity to recharge or to do other things you enjoy, rather than being something that you need to fill up with extracurricular activities. Don’t overcommit yourself, and keep tabs on your stress and energy levels. Above all, have lots of fun!
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