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Planner Palooza: Planner recommendations for imperfect students.

Planner-palooza plus a special, custom free planner for the wonderfully imperfect, off the beaten path types at the end! 

At some point over the first few sessions with a client, we’ll devise a planning system. It’ll be something we monitor and tweak throughout the semester, but I always make sure they have some kind of syste to get started with. 

Because I know the frustration that parents and educators go through when they have provided the planner (either hard copy or digital version) just to see it barely get used, I want to reassure you that it’s not you and it’s not the planner.

There is no perfect planner because there is no perfect student. 

And yet, we also know that having some kind of system does cut down on the stress caused by trying to carry the increasing amount of tasks and details around in their head as they get older.

Not to mention the inevitable “hair on fire” nights when they realize that 3 major assignments are due the next day. 

Teenagers with executive function weaknesses – which describes just about every teenager because of how their brains develop, but doubly so if they have a learning difference like ADHD, dyslexia, or processing disorder, are not so great at time estimation.

The teenage relationship with the future is very abstract. It seems pretty far away.

On top of that, executive functioning weakness can make it even harder to judge how long a task will take them. So, planners can definitely help provide a structure on the outside for what isn’t fully developed internally. That’s the literal definition of a scaffold in construction and the same is true for learning as well. 

To that end, I am going to recommend my top digital and paper planners and how I coach most students to use them. Please understand that it takes lots of guided practice and repetition with me before I usually see students using a planner independently.

Why do they need so much hand holding with planners?

For one, it’s about how their brain is developing so we’re kind of fighting against some biology/neurology here. But the factor that I think most people sleep on that really needs to be accounted for is about how they feel about it. When I really dig deep with clients about what is stopping them from using a planner, I usually uncover something along these lines: I can put all that stuff in there, but I am not actually going to be able to follow through on it. It’s almost like they feel like they’re committing to their inevitable failure. Better to just not write anything down so they don’t have to look at the way they failed to live up to expectations. A feeling students with EF weaknesses and learning differences are VERY accustomed to. To make matters worse, the monthly view, the daily view, the boxes, and lines look like a lot of steps and rules. And the more steps there are, the more chances of making a mistake.

As you can tell, that’s a heavy emotional load we’re introducing when we thought we were just handing them a helpful tool. So, it makes sense that students need to do this alongside a trusted co-pilot so they can borrow a little from our confidence and calm for a while. 

OK, on to the planners. And make sure you read to the end for my freebie that I made especially for those students who, like me, feel a little too free spirited for traditional planners. 

Digital Planners:

Google Keep 

There are lots of methods for google keep. The most simple is to keep a note for each class and keep a running list of assignments and tasks under each one to check off as you complete them. But, if you want to see more of a system, here’s another suggestion: 

  1. Title a note for each day of the week and pin it so it stays on the top. And one that is titled “for later.” 
  2. As you get assignments for the week, add those under the day that it’s due in a checklist. 
  3. Add “task” notes underneath of the steps you want to take to complete the assignments. One step for each note. 
  4. Use the schedule feature on those “task” notes to ping you at the day and time you want to do that task. As an added bonus, these “tasks” show up on your google calendar if you want to see them in a calendar view. More on GC next! 
  5. Delete task notes as you get things done and check the boxes for completed assignments. 


Google Calendar

  1. Create an “event” for each due date. 
  2. Create an “event” for appointments, meetings, practices and special events. Remember you can use the repeat feature so you don’t have to enter each one in if it happens on a recurring basis. 
  3. Use the “to do” list feature on the side to break those due dates into steps. Assign each step a date and time when you are going to do it so it also shows up on your calendar and you get a notification reminder pop-up on your devices. 

I know there are a lot of other features with Google Calendar, but I like to keep it simple and reduce the number of steps necessary to make this work.

Paper Planners

Order out of Chaos planner is my favorite of paper planners. It highlights the two most important elements of any planning system: 

  1. Make your due dates stand out to you in a way you can see them together so you can see if you have a lot due all on one day.
  2. Break those due dates into steps throughout the week. 

I like that she has the days in the weekly view separated out into blocks with a little space between the school day blocks of time and the afternoon blocks of time. That way, kids can list the due dates in the school day blocks so they can see them clearly and plan out how to get them done into smaller steps in the afternoon blocks. Seeing your “due’s” and your “to do’s” separately really helps. 

The only thing that doesn’t work about this planner is that many of my students think it’s too big. It’s a battle I don’t bother getting into with them, but I think you can apply those basic two elements above and apply them to a smaller planner as well. 

Alternatives to hard copy planners:

Keep a white board to-do list at home or a monthly calendar on your wall with a running list of to-do’s on the side. This one is 60% off right now!

Use a printable planning graphic organizer (or just draw one out for yourself) like this one and keep it some place where you see it multiple times a day. Most of my students will make this once a week and keep it in the front of their binder sleeve. Or, take a picture of it and make it their screen saver. 

For Free Spirited, Off the Beaten Path Types – Special FREEBIE for my kindreds! 

I remember when the Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown came out  and thinking: Hey! I’m finally gifted at something!

This planner is for students like me who get a bit intimated by the perfect lines and feel like they are committing to a plan they’ll never actually be able to achieve when they plot it all out so carefully. I call it a plournal = planner plus a journal. It’s based on a few simple principles that I know from personal and professional experience about how to make life work with more ease and happiness when you have EF weaknesses:

  • All those thoughts cluttering up working memory can make things feel heavy. Lighten it up in there. 
  • Accept the Perfection Paradox (totally trademarking that alliteration if it’s not already out there, BTW): Because we make a lot of mistakes, we are super aware of being imperfect which then drives us to overcompensate by being super perfect, only to fail at that and then get super aware of being imperfect. 
  • The small things are the big things. Students like me tend to have big, big ideas and dreams and then get overwhelmed by the details. Add to that a poor sense of time estimation and it can be really hard to get started. Dream big, but focus on small actions in that direction. 

Based on these principles, I introduce to you The Plournal! What is that? It’s a journal plus a planner. It’s also the result of my procrasti-production. That’s when I create something entirely new and great while procrastinating on finishing another project that is just steps away from being done. See? Imperfect, but great too.  This plournal keeps students focused on small actions, simple priorities,  but with lots of space to dream, declutter that working memory, and be imperfect. 

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