There are two major reasons that we don’t get things done even when we have every intention of doing them. The first is that we are not specific enough about exactly what needs to be accomplished. We need to consider what specific actions need to be taken to meet larger goals? It may help to have your child think about and name the larger goals they are trying to accomplish before sitting down to create a to do list. Working backwards from the goal, they can list what steps need to be taken for that goal to be accomplished. The steps should be specific actionable tasks. Knowing the steps that it will take to reach a goal should guide you in creating daily to-do list items.
We can all remember asking, “Why am I doing this?” as a child or teenager. Focusing on personal and academic goals will help to provide the necessary motivation to get difficult tasks done. For example, if your high school student wants to go to a particular college, then they know that they will need to take the SAT. The SAT contains challenging problems on Algebra II content. So, even though they are not currently receiving a grade in Algebra II for completed assignments, they have a reason to learn the material. In addition, math is cumulative so they will need to completely understand math from this year to succeed in their math class next year. Parents can assist students by helping them to see the connections between their big goals and their day-to-day tasks. I personally think that your to do list should contain steps or daily actions towards both personal and school-related goals. For example, if a student wants to make the track team, their to do list might contain a task related to that such as a certain time spent running or exercising. Many students benefit from having their larger goals within daily view or on the same sheet as their to-do list.
Routines are what helps us to actually complete the necessary day-to-day tasks that move us toward accomplishing our goals. Routines can look like if/then statements. For example, “If it is Monday at 1:00, then I will work on science.” “If it is 7:00 a.m., then I will exercise for 20 minutes.” Next week when we talk about creating a schedule, routines will be what help us to stick to the plan we have in place.
Be Clear and Specific
If a student is working on a big project or doing extended reading or studying it is very important that they are specific in their to-do list about what will be accomplished today. Before creating a to-do list, projects should be broken down into steps, each with a deadline. Reading can be broken down so that several chapters or a certain amount of pages are read at one time. Studying can be categorized by what action the student will take to study that day. For example, today I will study for my chapter 2 test in World History by doing each of the crossword puzzles that my teacher provided on Blackboard. Make sure that the task that you are including on your list is clearly defined and manageable so that it will be possible to complete.
The second reason that we don’t always accomplish what we want to accomplish is distractions. Sit with your child and consider what usually prevents them from getting things done. Brainstorm how they can eliminate or avoid distractions while they are working. Do they need to put their phone on silent and out of view? Do they need to do schoolwork first thing in the morning when they are feeling alert and motivated? Do they need to set a timer so that they do not get so caught up in making an assignment perfect that they can’t get it completed?
Often there are certain tasks that are nonnegotiables. Things that must be completed that day. These one or two tasks should be at the top of your list and completed first. When you are prioritizing tasks, complete first those tasks that are both urgent and important. It is also helpful to not have too many items on your to do list. Ideally, there should be no more than 5 school related tasks per day. In addition to this, students can have several personal tasks. Often personal tasks, like keeping in contact with relatives or exercising are enjoyable and can be used to break up more tedious school-related tasks.
Look at the items on your list and see if it will be possible to complete them in a day. If not, add any extra items to an ongoing to do list for the week. Consider estimating the time it should take to complete each task.Then stick to that time when you are completing the task so that one task will not take over your day.
Different Lists for Different Ages
As you may have noticed, I think that kids should make their own to-do list. This is not something that parents should do for children. When kids make the list themselves and have a voice in choosing the items on the list they learn the process for thinking through goals and coming up with actionable steps. When they are making the choices, kids tend to be more motivated to follow through. For younger elementary, pre-kindergarten students, or students with special learning needs, parents will need to sit with the child to help create a visual list. Students who can write may be able to type their own brief list. Items on the list should focus on things that kids can do independently or with limited assistance. Kids who are unable to write or who have difficulty with writing can use voice typing on Google Drive (under tools) to speak their list items aloud. Then parents and kids can work together to find pictures to go with each item as a reminder of what needs to be done. Older children in upper elementary and beyond can often create a list on their own. If they are struggling, parents can help them to look at their assignments for the week, narrow down what they will do each day, and consider other personal tasks that they may want to complete.
Once kids have practiced and mastered creating a to-do list, they can begin thinking about when they will complete each task within their day. Next week, we will talk about using your tasks to create a schedule. We will discuss selecting a specific task to complete and scheduling a time to complete that task. We will also go through strategies to stay focused while working. I hope that you will join us for our weekly live webinar on Wednesdays at 1:30.
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Nina Parrish, M. Ed.
Co-Owner and Director of Education
Proud mom of two adorable girls. Teacher who has developed an education business that started at a kitchen table and has grown into a thriving small business... Click here to Learn more about Nina.
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