How Setting Goals Can Cure Time Management Issues

Several years ago, I noticed my upper elementary students were struggling to complete their projects on time. They seemed more focused on talking and playing than on making their artwork and were getting distracted easily. Sound familiar?

This lack of focus was causing projects to take much longer than anticipated. I resolved to help my students learn to better manage their art-making time. I found a great solution in a simple strategy: Goal Setting.

Help students manage their time by setting goals in art.

soccer goal

We all know that creativity does not adhere to a schedule. Students need to have time to experiment and develop ideas as they work. Artists work in many different ways and use many different timetables. Yet, time management is a valuable skill; one students struggle with in multiple areas of life. The most successful artists have a healthy balance of freedom and discipline, creativity and focus.

Why use this strategy with your students?

  1. It helps students be consistently more focused.
  2. Students learn to manage their time more effectively.
  3. Students develop goal-setting skills.
  4. It provides students an opportunity for reflection.

The strategy looks something like this:

First, I ask each student to begin each class period with a moment of reflection.

I pose the question, “What are your art-making goals for this class period?” Students take some time to write their personal goal in their sketchbook. This only takes a moment. When they are finished, they immediately get to work on their project.

paper that says "my goal for today is"

At the end of class, we revisit these goals.

Students read their goal and answer the following questions:

  1. Did you meet your goal?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. If your goal wasn’t met, what will you change next week to help you meet your goal?

Sometimes students do not meet their goal because it was too ambitious. Sometimes, it is because they were not focused on their work. Other times it may be because they ran into an unforeseen challenge in their work that took extra time. Whatever the reason, students reflect and write down their answers.

The next week, students reflect on the goals from the previous week and set a new goal.

Over time, students learn to set appropriate goals for themselves. They also can see how much they can accomplish when they stay focused on their work.

This strategy begins and ends with the students.

I do not tell them what their goals should be for the day. Students learn not meeting a goal is not a failure. It is a chance to reflect on their art-making and see if they can find ways to manage their time more effectively.

Students appreciate that they are in control of the goals. They decide what they think they can accomplish, and do not feel pressured by external forces.

This has been a game changer for my students. As the year progressed, my students learned to manage their time much more effectively. The vast majority of students were able to complete their assignments on time. In addition, they developed valuable goal-setting skills that will help them in many areas of their lives.

If you’re also looking to make the most of every day in the classroom, be sure to register for the Summer 2016 Art Ed Now Conference. AOE Founder, Jessica Balsley, will be speaking about how to start each day in a successful way. Walk away with tips about what successful teachers do to burst through the demands of the profession and elevate their careers.

What do you do to help students manage their time?

 How do you help students reflect on their art making?

Anne-Marie Slinkman


Anne-Marie teaches elementary art in Virginia. She is a life-long learner who is passionate about providing relevant and meaningful art experiences for all students.


  • Melissa Gilbertsen

    Fantastic plan! I almost wish summer vacation was over so I could incorporate this asap – okay, maybe not, but implementing this process is going to be THE FIRST THING I TEACH!
    Btw, how do get everyone to have a sketchbook? Do you purchase them with your art budget or do you – or them make these? And how do you store them for easy access? I love this versus Bellwood in the past that ended up extendin to much into my limited classtime. Thanks so much for this tip, it’s as if you read my mind!

    • Melissa Gilbertsen

      *Bellwork and do you have them make them* geesh…spellcheck.?

    • Anne-Marie Slinkman

      I’m glad you like the idea, Melissa! I have to say that it has really helped my students stay on track. As far as the sketchbooks go, I buy them for my students. I get mine from “Sketch for Schools”, and they end up being pretty inexpensive because I buy them in bulk. They are perfect for younger students. I store them in my room in milk crates and choose students to hand them out in the beginning of each class period. It’s a simple system that works for me and my students.

    • Laurie Lenz

      In my classroom, I require that everyone buy a sketchbook. For other classes, they are required to have a notebook. I don’t see what the difference is. It’s a supply they need for class.