Two Tips to Help Students Get Organized

By Chief Technology Officer, Jamie Lewsadder

At a recent PTA meeting, I learned some important tips that went on to transform how my daily tasks are planned and completed. I also learned how students can gain valuable skills to increase productivity and efficiency.


PCR parent Debbie Ourfalian, and JPL efficiency guru Marc Montgomery presented to PCR’s  PTA and most recently LCE’s PTA. Marc opened with his journey of studying his own productivity through experiments and significant gains in time spent on tasks. I was hooked after hearing him describe his first Franklin planner and accompanying directions on cassette. But the gems in the talk included these concepts: We all need finish lines to motivate us; Little changes in behavior can have a big impact; Find ways to create a sense of accomplishment.

Through a hands on experiment about multitasking, Marc proved to all of us what we suspected, and what our students need to understand: multitasking kills productivity. It does not need to take seven hours to complete homework each night. If, as an example, a student has four assignments due for homework and worked on each of them a little bit over the course of an afternoon, Marc showed us how that might take twice as long as focusing on just one task at a time. We might also define multitasking for our students as moving between homework, YouTube, and texts. That too can lead to an increase in time spent on homework.

List of things to-do, things being done, and tasks done.

List of things to-do, things being done, and tasks done.

I want to share two techniques that can really make a difference in producing higher quality work more efficiently. Inspired by our PTA presenters, I began to conduct my own research to find strategies. These apply to students and adults. The first technique is called the Pomodoro. The basic concept is to set a timer for 25 minutes and work. Once the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break. Then repeat until the overall task is done. After four Pomodoros, take a longer break. The premise is the breaks will recharge and refocus you. And there is something magical about a timer. For me, I like the race against time. I’ve been called competitive. During my initial experiments with this technique, I found my mind would wander until I remembered the timer, and I would then snap back to focus.
The second technique I learned at the PTA meeting was from Debbie. It is called Kan-Ban. She outlined how it works for her middle school daughter and involves breaking homework or tasks up into a few logical pieces that will take a few minutes to a couple of hours to complete. First, brainstorm on sticky notes with one step per sticky note. For example, if a student has a debate on Friday, step one is research, step two is to write down evidence and ideas, and step three is to rehearse with classmates. On a whiteboard, large notebook, or open wall space, place the post it notes in order. They will be grouped according to the categories of To Do, Work in Progress, and Done. Use a calendar and decide what date you will complete each step and record that on the sticky note. Prioritize the the tasks. Place no more than three tasks at a time in the doing area, the rest go in a to do area. Anything beyond three goes into a spot called the parking lot. 

Image of Trello software diagram.

There are some amazing pieces of software for this technique. One I love is called Trello. My task list is available on all of my devices and is with me at all times. I also added a column for to-do list items that I move to a team member. The paper version may be a way to keep distractions at a minimum while learning the strategy for some. Debbie reported that she coached her daughter on this for awhile and replaced her dining room painting with a giant whiteboard and the results have been great. The initial coaching included teaching her daughter how to break the homework down into smaller parts to spread them out over the week.
Experimenting and then adopting one of these two techniques, with commitment, will make a difference in your life and our students’ lives. You can read more about the Pomodoro here (check out the online timer) and Kan-Ban here. Remember, We all need finish lines to motivate us; Little changes in behavior can have a big impact; Find ways to create a sense of accomplishment.