As students transition from middle school to high school, they will have to manage a large load of assigned work with competing deadlines. At this point, the “what’s in front of me is what’s most important” approach falls apart; while some assignments can be completed overnight, an English essay can’t be written well in just one day!

Many students (like many adults!) conflate the processes of planning and working. This means that they are simultaneously making decisions about what needs to happen next and trying to execute that plan. This presents students with significant challenges:

Students don’t have a good sense of how to use their time. We often see students spend too much time on a less-important assignment, and run out of time for a project that significantly impacts their grade.

Students must constantly decide what to do next. As students get deeper into a work session, they become more fatigued by this constant decision-making, and will get hung up on the choices themselves rather than being able to swiftly move from one assignment to the next.

Students may not have all the resources necessary to complete the appropriate assignments. Failure to plan ahead may mean being without the right textbook or study notes, which makes study or homework time less productive.

Students may finish a work session and realize they’ve missed something really big. Without an overview of everything that needs to be accomplished, students may get lost in the moment and forget a crucial assignment or project that needs to be worked on.

As you can see, “diving right in” is not the best way to keep your head above water!

The antidote to this problem is to manage your effort and time in a way that addresses everything from small assignments to large semester-long projects. Enter the methodology of “plan your work, work your plan.” This method can successfully break any project down into logical pieces which can then be executed in a clear sequential order. This can apply to something as small as a set of math problems to something as big as a term paper.

Plan Your Work

Students tend to work on either assignments that are the easiest/most fun, or the assignments that are weighing on them the most. Instead, ask yourself the following questions to determine priorities.

    • What assignment is due first?
    • How long will it take to finish each assignment?
    • What makes sense given the time and resources I have available right now?
    • What is the most effective outcome that meets the requirements and that I’ll be happy with?

As you plan your work, you’ll want to scheduling out your evening in order to minimize distractions and avoid spending too much time on items that are not high-priority. We suggest pacing your homework sessions up into manageable chunks of time and allowing for adequate breaks. This will prevent you from going down a rabbit hole on just one assignment and ensures that even those long-term projects get addressed over a period of days, weeks, or months.

As you go through this process, write out a thorough, deliberate plan for that particular work session. What this plan looks like is highly variable; you may need to experiment to find what works best for you. Some students will find success with this method right away, while others may find it challenging or unnatural. This is a skill that gets easier with practice, but if you find you need additional assistance, please reach out to us and we’ll connect you with one of our coaches who can walk you through the process.

Work Your Plan

Once you’ve gone through your priorities and sequenced assignments, all that’s left is to do the work according to the predetermined order you set out! In general, we encourage sticking with the plan, even if you feel uncomfortable or challenged. Seeing the work session through to the end and noting how it went provides concrete feedback that will help you adjust your plans in the future. If you give up the first time the plan feels hard, it will be difficult for this process to ever become second nature, which is the ultimate goal.

However, there are times when adjusting your plan might be appropriate. You might realize that a particular assignment is taking a lot longer than you anticipated, that a particular project doesn’t suit your current mental state, or that long-term projects keep getting neglected. In these cases, it’s better to alter the plan for the sake of productivity, but this information should also be considered feedback to help you adjust your planning for the future. With practice, you’ll get better at estimating how long assignments will take and at recognizing which resources you’ll need on hand to complete a particular task.

The Bigger Picture

Once you’re working effectively, you’ll have fewer last-minute cram sessions. This will provide the space to start planning a week at a time instead of one day at a time, which will ultimately increase productivity and reduce stress.

Another great benefit: the “Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan” approach applies to extracurriculars and even the college process. We know you have many more responsibilities than just academic ones: you’ll be balancing extracurricular activities (practices, games, meetings, conferences, competitions) along with your schoolwork. Fortunately, this approach works equally well for non-academic pursuits.

If you learn and implement this technique now, you’ll have a much easier time once the college application process kicks into high gear. Standardized testing, college visits, filling out applications, and writing essays all take time and effort and need to be planned out. By adopting this technique, you’re preparing yourself not merely for success in high school, but for a long-term increase in efficiency and corresponding decrease in stress.

Do you want more help with organizational skills?

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