Time Management Tips for FLL Teams

In FLL time is always short. This season we have 8 weeks to get ready for our regional tournament.  I’ve always been pretty good about having a loose schedule for the season to guide us in getting everything done.  If you are looking for an idea of what a team’s schedule might look like, see the FLL Coaches Handbook.  One thing I do is set the deadline for the robot work to be complete the week before the tournament.  We spend the last week getting our documentation and paperwork in order, packing up for the tournament, and practicing.  It is also a good time to review all you’ve done during the season.  We work so hard and so fast, that it is easy to forget all we’ve done.  Reviewing with the team will help them answer the judges questions at the tournament.

This year however I have realized that we need to budget our time in another manner as well.  There are roughly 18 tasks to this year’s challenge for the robot to complete in 150 seconds. Done individually, that is less than 10 seconds per task!  Often we divide the missions up among the team members only to find at the end that we don’t have enough time for all the missions. Someone’s work gets left out or we have to make a lot of changes at the last minute.  This year we are going to try to allocate time to each of the runs.  If someone needs more time they will have to get it from another run.  The understanding up front that time is tight, will hopefully cause us to look for ways we can be faster.  Some ideas might be to reuse attachments, use bigger wheels, or group and order the missions to be faster.  Our robot really needs to be efficient.

When the robot leaves base to score points, our team calls that a “run”.  We divide up all the missions into the scoring parts, which we call “tasks”.  We then analyze the tasks to determine the best order and grouping.  You might want to write the tasks on index cards, noting the point value.  We assign runs to pairs of team members, who design and build the attachment, and then program and test it.  This pair of team members could also be the robot drivers for their run at the tournament…or you could have designated drivers for all the runs.

Practicing “driving the robot” definitely helps save time. Driving the robot means practicing the robot match part of the tournament and timing it. I tell my team that we should learn from the firefighters, who need to go fast in an emergency.  What do they do?  They have everything orderly and in its place and they practice to get good at it.  To help us practice, sometimes we turn up the music really loud to simulate the noise and distractions at the tournament.

This year we are trying to spend more time planning up front.  Planning sometimes feels like a waste of time.  It feels like nothing is getting accomplished since we are just talking.  Planning, however, can be a time saver.  When working in a group, it is good that everyone has an idea of what is being done and their part. It allows more participation.  Hopefully we can also get to the best idea sooner by talking things over together.

Activating the models by hand.

We are also trying to spend more time understanding the missions.  Handling and activating the mission models by hand will hopefully help us design better attachments.  Ask yourself if there is more than one way to activate the model?  Where should the force be applied?  How much force is needed?  What happens if you hit it hard or if you hit it lightly? 

Prioritizing should help with time management as well.  There is plenty to do to stay busy.  Be sure you are spending your time on the important things. 

There are so many things that kids can learn in FLL besides robotics, like time management.  Don’t let the time pressure rob you of having fun.  We are all in the same boat. Manage your time well and enjoy the adventure!

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