This is Part I of a Two Part Blog Essay
It seems so obvious, right? I’ve watched this ritual from my all of my passionate students at the beginning of every school year. It’s actually strikingly similar to when I watch everyone around me starting right about December 29… you know, those exaltations of change for the new year? Except now, it is for the academic year.
“You just wait! I’m going to get all A’s this term!”
“This class is sooo (yes, with a drawn out “o!”, perhaps even a snap of the fingers) easy!”
“I’m going to get ahead this year. Do something of everything every night, and not wait until the last minute!”
“Nah, you’ll see! I’ll do my work before I play Madden!”
“What, Quantum Mechanics?! I’ll own that class!”
Okay, maybe I was the only one who said that last quote. In seriousness, every year, I love hearing all of the proclamations and wishful thinking of a great school year ahead. It’s exciting, invigorating. It lifts up my soul. Hey, maybe this is going to be a great year after all! My students, their parents, my colleagues, and my own family still in school – we’ll be sharing stories of successes each time we meet.
And yet, all to often, by the end of the semester, the truth of the situation begins to settle in, and those proclamations of hope become lamentations of frustration, blame, and failure.
“This class gives way too much work!”
“When am I ever going to need this [EXPLETIVE] anyway?”
“My teacher is just a complete [ANOTHER EXPLETIVE].”
“Mom, stop calling! You don’t need to hear about every grade I get.”
“I’m so stressed out. I just want to hang out with my friends.”
High schoolers only: “It won’t be like this in college. You only have four classes, and so much more free time to study.”
College students only: “I have no time to even sleep! Where was that extra time?! [EXPLETIVE]!!”
I want to help my students, and those who interact with our group, avoid those lamentations. I want my students to experience the success that they are driving for, and not unnecessarily fail because of bad habits or poor study skills. With time, patience, and managed steps of implementation, I have seen students shine when their organization, time management, and discipline are retooled into a foundation that allows them to succeed.
In this essay, I outline a game plan of how to develop habits and skills that work to build a foundation, so that a person can focus on learning and completing projects to the best of their (current) abilities. The ideas are ubiquitous to everyone, regardless of age, where you are in education, or if you are in a professional career. It is the culmination of years of conversations with students and parents, and the fine-tuning of many study skills plans that I have implemented with students in high school and college.
I hope that this helps you as well. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me directly.
Planner. Many of the people who work with me often ask me how I stay so organized all of the time. Even last weekend, a parent quipped about how she couldn’t manage keeping the kind of schedule that I have. How do I do? Simple. I keep a planner! And so should every student. I prefer a paper one for students, to be frank, which is small or portable. If your high school or college provides you one, perfect. It should have the following:
- A month view, where a student can map out when large assignments are due, exams are going to happen, or other important events
- A day to day view, usually a week spread across two pages at a time, where a student can list not only what homework has been assigned, but also what will be worked on that day.
Here is a sample of a basic one, though feel free to get a cover that you like: https://www.staples.com/2020-2021-at-a-glance-9-x-11-academic-planner-black-700740521/product_24421287
It’s the second part of the “day to day” view that really is the utility of the planner, and makes it ubiquitous, regardless if you are in high school, college, or in your professional career, and thus bears repeating, “…but also what will be worked on that day.” If I did not have my to-do lists, set against my calendar, my productivity would be about 60% of what it is now. I’d end up spending my time trying to figure out what I am going to do during a day, in what order, what steps needs to be done to accomplish whatever I figured out, and then I’ll forget the first three things I said I was going to do, which will necessitate repeating the process again… you get the idea! And, naturally, I will need to pause from my tasks for the day because a student or family needs help (my favorite part of the job!), so having my planner keeps me focused when I return back to the desk!
By the by, just having a planner and scribbling into it from time to time will not cut it, as an eighth grade student that I taught learned the hard way. Here are a few simple rules to follow
- Every class’s assignments is written on its own, separate line.
- The top half of each day’s block in the planner is for homework assigned. The bottom half is for what you will be doing outside of daily homework in order to complete papers, projects, or study for an exam.
- Write on the monthly calendar page when major assignments and exams are due. Also write them at the top of the actual day in the day pages.
- You must write neatly, legibly, and large enough.
- I recommend writing in pen, since pencil tends to smudge.
- Never walk out of a class without recording the homework. Never put it off until later. You will forget. Not a matter of if, but when it happens.
- If you are absent, make it your first priority while you are absent to find out what you have missed, and record it in the planner either as homework you can do, or as one of the tasks to be done as make up work, so that everything is balanced.
- When you finish a particular homework assignment or task, place a checkmark to the left (yes, the left – it’s neater as it is near the margin). Use your favorite color. I guarantee you that you will feel satisfaction when you see all of those check marks because you can actually see what you accomplished, and your parents and teachers are going to feel the same way.
Simple enough, yes? And if you never used one, and are reading this, saying that you can remember everything, always have, and always will, I hear you. I was the same way. Until I started running a company, have four department heads reporting to me, and they have people reporting to them, and I had to keep everything in my head, on top of my traveling schedule, and realized that if I did not have a planner on my own, I’d go on autopilot one day, drop a task or, heaven forbid, a class, and then where would I be? The habit is priceless – you will need it one day. Dare I say, you will benefit from it today.
Dedicated Time. Having a planner is one thing, but when are you actually going to get the things done that you listed out so elegantly in that planner?
I used to be a notorious violator of this habit. And with the advent of more and more technology, social media, and devices that constantly beep, chirp, or just plain scream at you, it is easier than ever to sin!
I was very kindly invited one year to Thanksgiving by a family with whom I was teaching both daughters, one of whom was the aforementioned eighth grader, coincidentally. Both parents are highly successful individuals in the finance industry, rising to very prestigious ranks by their own merits in their respective companies. Sitting in the living room after dinner, our conversation turned to a baneful item for me – time and scheduling. Listening to how she ran her days, and her division in the company, it reinforced for me what I already was doing, and should have each of my students do. It felt great to be validated by such a successful person!
Here’s what I’m talking about. Make a schedule for each of the days of the week that blocks off dedicated time for specific academic, extracurricular, and personal activities.
A sample “schedule” for a college student is:
9:00 A – 9:30 A – Breakfast
9:40 A – 10:50 A – Class
11:00 A – 11:55 A – Class
12:00 P – 12:30 P – Lunch
12:30 P – 2:00 P – Homework (based on planner)
2:00 P – 2:30 P – Break
2:40 P – 3:50 P – Class
4:00 P – 6:00 P – Sports Practice
6:05 P – 6:45 P – Dinner
7:00 P – 11:00 P – Homework (based on planner)
11:00 P – 11:30 P – Wind Down
You use your planner to see what you will do during the assigned “homework” blocks. Also, notice – nothing is planned back to back! There is something to be said about buffer time (and overtime, which we will get to). And, we even schedule breaks, so that students have the opportunity to take care of themselves during the day.
High school students could do something similar:
8:00 A – 2:30 P – School
2:45 P – 5:00 P – Sports Practice/Band Practice/Theatre Rehearsal, etc.
5:15 P – 6:00 P – Dinner/Break
6:15 P – 7:10 P – Homework (based on planner)
7:10 P – 7:15 P – Break
7:15 P – 8:20 P – Homework (based on planner)
8:20 P – 8:25 P – Break
8:25 P – 9:20 P – Homework (based on planner)
9:20 P – 9:25 P – Break
9:25 P – 10:30 P – Homework (based on planner)
10:30 P – 11:00 P – Wind Down
What is critical in scheduling is to prioritize what is important for the student, academics, taking care of oneself, family time, mealtime, down time, sports practice, exercise, etc. – in other words, balance (to be discussed). The planner will have already taken care of the priorities for long-term assignments and studying, as everything is at the bottom of each day.
Once you have a schedule, treat it as sacred, and only make changes that are necessary. If you do not create for yourself a consistent routine, your productivity will decrease as your stress and anxiety increases. You will find your rhythm when you see that you need more or less time for a particular activity. And don’t skip your breaks!
A final thought that every student will appreciate. In high school, I had a schedule. And Friday nights had a huge X through it. Same as Saturday night, albeit I made sure that I had everything done before nighttime. I felt guilt-free going out with friends or attending family events because I made sure I had everything done (my checkmarks came in handy then if I ever were questions), and I was not stressed about things I needed to get done, because my planner had everything decided in it, and I already scheduled the time. So, enjoy that party safely!
Make sure to come back soon and check out Part II so that you’re “Starting the Academic Year Right!”
If you have questions, or if you think we can be of help to you and your family, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org