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FOCUS: A Tool for Prioritizing Academic To-Dos 

I do my best to not have an agenda for what your academic life should look like. I am not here to add pressure or expectations. Instead, I care about you feeling good! I care about the ways you tend to your learning and show up for yourself.

Many young people I work with have a hard time prioritizing their tasks, especially if they’re overwhelmed or feeling a lack of motivation. In this blog, I offer 5 clear steps to support you in creating a little more ease in your academic life.

My intention in sharing this list is not to give you more work, but to help you feel more focused, grounded, and intentional about how you spend your time. I want you to have time to chill and rest and have fun! 

Please note that this strategy is not a good fit for all learners. If these ideas do not resonate with you, let’s talk and figure out what does. We all have different ways of problem-solving and this one tool will not be a good fit for everyone.

Using FOCUS to Guide You

Fill out your planner. Write big due dates and exams on the day they are due/happening. Then, add work/study time to each day (or on selected days) before the due date. This strategy will help you prioritize working on bigger, longer-term assignments. Other assignments may be assigned one day and due the next, add these as they’re assigned. (I suppose it goes without saying, but if you don’t have a planner, pick one out ASAP. This is one that I really like, but please find that works for you!)

Order tasks by importance. Each day, use a post it note to rewrite the list of assignments you have to work on. This is where the prioritizing begins. See the next tips for ideas on how to do this!

Consider due dates, value of assignments, and where you need the most effort. Begin by prioritizing the assignments that are worth the most points at the top of this list. However, this may need to vary depending on what else you have due (or overdue). Another consideration is which classes require more effort to achieve or maintain your desired grades. 

  • Example 1: Let’s say today is Sunday. You have a big history project due Wednesday, so you’ll need to make time to work on it today, Monday, and Tuesday. However, tomorrow you also need to submit an overdue Spanish assignment and a math assignment. You may want to start with Spanish (it’s late already!), move on to math (it’s due tomorrow), and then plan to spend an hour or so on history (breaking the project down into pieces helps!).
  • Example: You have a huge math test tomorrow, as well as one-off assignments for English and Health. You may want to prioritize studying first, as you know this will take at least an hour. Then move on to English because your grade is a bit lower than you’d like, followed by Health, where your grade is feeling very solid. 

Use a timer. Many teens feel overwhelmed when they look at their to-do list. It could feel like hours or even days of work, and this can lead to shut down before you even get started. I suggest using a timer to give yourself smaller, more focused, periods of time to work on each assignment. You may be surprised at what you can get done in a 25 minute chunk of time! (I love pomodoro time, and often share this strategy with clients. Check out pomofocus or other pomodoro apps for support!) If timers create more stress for you, please feel free to ignore this option. However, I do suggest having a strategy for keeping track of time AND giving yourself breaks.

Start with strategy. Prioritizing by due dates and value is important, AND I also know that we have to start somewhere! Check in with your energy: Is it low or high or focused or distracted? Something else? With this information, decide which starting point makes the most sense for you! This check in may alter your list of priorities, and that’s okay. Ideas for getting started include:

  • Begin with the easiest assignment to build momentum– if energy is low, for example.
  • Begin with the most challenging or complex assignment– if you feel mentally clear and like you need to use your best energy first, for instance.

Asking for Support

During our sessions, we can review your planner each session, check your portals for assignments, and work on prioritizing together! Eventually, with practice, this is a task that you will take on with more and more independence. 

I also recommend sharing your your daily or weekly game plan with a parent, mentor, or friend. It’s so helpful if YOU, the teen, are the one approaching your parent or other support person. This way, you are the one leading the conversation and sharing your plan vs. parents nagging. 

Here to Support You

If you’re a teen or young adult who wants support in navigating this chapter of your life, reach out! I’m here to be a witness, accountability partner, and behind the scenes cheerleader. We can discuss academics, friendship, family, and everything in between!

*Photo Credit: Kyle Gregory Devaras on Unsplash

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