Before each new school year begins, Signet hears from many parents concerned that their incoming freshmen aren’t ready for the demands of high school.
Academic challenges aside, freshmen undergo significant changes to their personal and intellectual development. For perhaps the first time, they’re expected to work independently, juggle numerous tasks, and organize their lives.
In fact, their ability to practice good organization skills is critical to their efficiency and self-confidence in high school, so it’s important to hone those skills quickly.
3 Elements of Excellent Organization in High School
There are three basic elements of organization that incoming freshmen should attempt to master: managing tasks, managing time, and managing stuff.
Tasks are actionable items that must be completed, such as doing homework for a particular class or studying for an upcoming test. Good task management consists of four key elements:
- Identifying each task
- Capturing each task in a system and ensuring it is completed
- Prioritizing tasks by importance and due date
- Breaking down big assignments into smaller, more manageable parts
When to-dos and deadlines only exist in a student’s mind, they are more likely to be forgotten. Task-mastering aims to give students a reliable system that accurately captures everything they need to accomplish.
Tip: Store all tasks in one place, like a digital tasking app or a notebook.
There are a finite number of hours each day, so it’s important to use each one wisely. To help with time management, we advise students to fill in a calendar beginning with non-negotiable activities such as school hours, team practices, and club meetings.
Once they’ve filled in all the non-negotiables, they can use the calendar to set appointments with themselves, like doing their homework or—yes—taking some time to unwind.
Tip: Don’t overcrowd the calendar with details or clutter it up with “maybe” activities.
Good stuff management is how students keep track of their tangible things: laptops, notebooks, folders, and various papers that go back and forth between teachers and students.
We recommend students dedicate three resources to each class:
- A folder or binder to hold handouts, quizzes, exams, and papers
- A notebook that includes notes, homework problems, and any questions the student has
- A digital folder containing all relevant files for that class
The result is that everything they need for a class is always in one of three places.
Tip: Perform a daily clean-up of stuff to ensure materials are easy to find. If a folder or binder becomes too full, file away older assignments at home.
Signs of Poor Executive Functions
If your incoming freshman has incredible difficulty getting organized, it could signify that they’re experiencing executive functions challenges. A set of cognitive processes that help people get things done, executive functions comprise five key mental skills: inhibition, planning, organizing, working memory, and emotional regulation.
Students who struggle with or have poor executive functions may have trouble initiating tasks or feel so anxious before executing a task that their anxiety inhibits their ability to focus.
The good news is that services like academic coaching can significantly strengthen students’ executive functions skills. An academic coach helps students improve their time management and organization, giving them a restored sense of purpose, confidence, and self-esteem that carries them through high school, college, and beyond.