The Montessori Method of Time Management


Many years ago, when my children were just yea high, the all-consuming question in the little bubble-town we lived in was “What school are you going to send your kids to?” Actually, it was more like, “What preschool are you going to send your kids to?” (C’mon! We have to give our special snowflakes every edge, every leg-up, every advanced experience our credit cards can buy,right?)

Hmm, good question.

There were many choices, as you can imagine, but after much research and many referrals (and black-belt-level angsting), we settled on the local Montessori school. It turned out to be a good decision. For us.

For one, I had been to Montessori school when I was a kid, myself (yeah, it’s THAT old), so it was familiar and comfortable and hit many of the criteria that I was looking for at the time (safety, proximity, reputation, price–no scratch that last part. NOBODY sends their kids to Montessori because it’s a “good deal.”)

But what I didn’t know then is that Montessori has a really unique methodology based on a unique set of values that worked really well with my own ideas about how kids (should) learn. I won’t bore you with all the details, but what is salient (at least for this post) is that the whole program is student-directed. And I don’t mean student-centered; I mean student-directed. Each day, the children were free to select whatever activity they wanted to work on and were allowed to work on it for as long as they liked–no questions asked. There was just one rule: During the day, each child had to select at least one literacy activity, at least one numeracy activity, and at least one life skills activity to work on. That’s it.

Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with Montessori schools, the classrooms are arranged with shelves filled with manipulatives and activities and tools placed neatly on trays. Each morning, children would come in and select a tray containing an activity they wanted to work on and then went and found a place in the classroom to work on it. Some of these manipulatives/activities/tools were literacy oriented (for example, a tray of sand in which children would trace the letters of the alphabet), some were numeracy-oriented (putting shaped blocks into their respectively sized and shaped holes), and some were life-skills-oriented (pouring water from a pitcher into a cup).


Okay, so I’ve gone on too long about the Montessori method, what this post is really about is time management.

Say what?

Yes, time management. You see there are as many ways to slice the time management apple as there are apples (and time managers), but many of these can be laborious (too much) or fiddly (too many details) or require high tech or three hours of planning time and five different apps and integration and . . . whew! You get the point–we spend most of our time managing our time management with little room for anything else!

But what if we stripped it waaay down? What if we just told ourselves, “Today, I will just do one thing.” I know, this is not revolutionary. I know there is even an app called “One BigThing.” But the truth is that the One Big Thing is really many little things under one big umbrella. And what’s more, most of us have many different umbrellas–a work umbrella, a home umbrella, a workout umbrella . . .

. . . Now before this metaphor gets out of control, let me explain.

We all have multiple responsibilities, multiple projects around which we need to manage our time. This can be overwhelming, especially since we also have to get our day to day done whilst we are trying to work on these responsibilities.

Enter the Montessori Method of Time Management.

How about we reduce all that noise? How about we take away all the details? How about we zoom back out of the trees, and just look at the forest–the big picture? When those kids came to school each morning, the only decision they had to make was “What looks like fun to me right now?” They were only bound by one rule: One literacy, one numeracy, one life skill. And they didn’t even have to do it in that order. They could start wherever they liked and they could spend however long they wanted.
How about we do something similar? How about we tell ourselves, “Today, I’m going to work on one Blog-related activity, one Business-related activity, and one Teaching-related activity”? Of course blogs, business, and teaching are what I do–you might do something else. The idea is that we bring it waay down to basics.

What are three areas in your life around which you need to manage your time (they can be five areas or two)? Once you have nailed that down, then all you have to do is plug in a task or an activity (or a manipulative) and voila! You have an agenda for the day…

I know, you’re thinking, but Tina, this is a post about time management; I can’t possibly take all the time I want to work on just one thing. And to that I would say, Yes, you can. Provided the activity is an actual task with a beginning and end such, “write one blogpost” or “balance July’s books”, or “create a lesson plan for the sub.” Each of those activities has a natural time limit, and you, being the expert of your life, know how long it’s going to take you to accomplish each one. Now it’s just a matter of plugging it into a calendar or planner if you like. Or not.

Of course, you could set yourself the Ninja Montessori agenda of two tasks per area of your life per day. That’s entirely up to you. I have had many days when I doubled up in certain areas when time permitted. But when you start with just one, and allow yourself the luxury of taking as much time as you want to complete it, you have the double upside of getting something done and getting it done well!

I say give it whirl. Here’s how to set it up.

  1. Start small. Just do it for one day–tomorrow.
  2. Pick 2 areas in your life
  3. Select one task that needs to be completed in each area. (Make sure you define the task clearly–put brackets around it in such a way that it can be completed in one sitting.
  4. Schedule one task to be completed before lunch and one task to be completed after lunch.
  5. Do not set a time limit. Immerse yourself until either the task is completed or you have fatigued, whichever comes first.

Reflect on your day–was it any better or any worse than your usual work days? How so?

Let me know in the comments how you make out.















Categories: Reflections

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3 replies

  1. Nice. At the very least, this seems like a manageable way of resetting oneself after getting caught up in the chaos of massive project management. Have you been using this method since your wee ones have been wee?

    • Oh hell no! When my wee ones were wee, I was mostly utilizing the fight-the-fire-that’s-right-in-front-of-you method. This is something I have come to after a long time of experimentation.

      • I know these are old comments, but LOL! Homeschooling mom of a 14, 11, 3, 2, and 8 month old…Reading this thinking ‘there’s no way everything that had to get done would’. Then I read your comment… Definitely in the fight-the-fire-that’s-right-in-front-of-you season! Thanks for making me feel like I’m not alone.

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