Back-to-School: Planning Time and Tasks

You’re heading back to school. You’ve got your books. You’ve got your syllabus. You’ve got your pencils and notebooks. And you’re even feeling great about your class schedule. You’ve got this. Only one question remains. When are you going to do the work?

Turns out, that’s a pretty big question and one you are perfectly capable of answering! This week on the show we’re talking all about time and tasks; how do you organize not only the due dates of your assignments and test schedule, but how do you manage the time you have to put in to do the actual work, writing, and studying of being a successful student?


Episode Transcript

Brought to you by The ADHD Podcast Community on Patreon

Pete Wright:
Welcome to Taking Control, the ADHD podcast on True Story FM. I’m Pete Wright and I’m here with Nikki Kinzer. Hello, Nikki.

Nikki Kinzer:
Hello Pete Wright, how are you?

Pete Wright:
You look great, holding your mic.

Nikki Kinzer:
I know.

Pete Wright:
You’re a real field reporter.

Nikki Kinzer:
I really feel like a field reporter. Yes. I don’t know. I want to say something like thanks for being with us at the ADHD podcast, next is the weather.

Pete Wright:
As you can see, behind me, we’re just in a little bit of chaos. We appreciate everybody putting up with some of our live recording shenanigans. Nikki has been impacted by evacuations and because of the fires along the West Coast. And so we’re rolling with it as best we can. Adaptability, that’s what we strive for.

Nikki Kinzer:
Indeed.

Pete Wright:
But we persevere.

Nikki Kinzer:
We do.

Pete Wright:
We are in the middle of a back to school series that we’re doing for folks.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yeah, people are still going back to school. We got to be prepared.

Pete Wright:
As hard as that is to believe. Although at this point it feels like we’re the last to go back to school. There are so many stories of people who’ve been back to school for weeks and we still haven’t even started.

Nikki Kinzer:
No, and my kids actually got delayed another week because of the fires.

Pete Wright:
I’m sure.

Nikki Kinzer:
They’re not scheduled to start until September 21st.

Pete Wright:
Which is when my daughter’s going to college. When we talked about college students go to, it’s just crazy.

Nikki Kinzer:
Weird.

Pete Wright:
We’re going to talk today about planning, doing some planning, planning your week. How well are you at planning when you are a busy student? Before we do that, head over to takecontroladhd.com to get to know us a little bit better, you can listen to the show right there on the website or subscribe to the mailing list and we will send you an email each time a new episode is released. Connect with us on Twitter or Facebook @TakeControlADHD And if the show has ever touched you, if it has helped you change the way you live your life with ADHD, we invite you to consider joining our fantastic community of ADHDers over at patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. For just a few bucks a month, you can join our community, get early access to the show, show up for live streams of us recording and believe me, had you shown up this morning, you would have been in for a treat because we are nuts.

Nikki Kinzer:
Crazy. Especially when we are left to be alone. And no one is in the chat room.

Pete Wright:
We’re left on our own devices, it’s not good, but you would have been able to do that and we would love to have you in there. We love chatting, but it is what it is. Anyhow, it is the support of our community members that help keep this show growing and thriving over this 10 years that we’ve been doing the show. Thank you to everybody who has already chosen to support us and join our online community and join and help to grow the show and our deep thanks to those who are considering and maybe even heading over to patreon.com/theadhdpodcast to pledge your support today. Thank you everybody.

Pete Wright:
And now Nikki Kinzer, let’s talk about school.

Nikki Kinzer:
School, yes. Today we are going to be talking about organizing your time and tasks, when you’re a student. This is definitely something that I talk to my students about at the very beginning of our work together and then pretty much every day after that. Especially with students who are younger, who are not necessarily, who are 18, 19, 20 years old, who’ve never really had to use a calendar or really had maybe a little bit in in high school they did, but it’s not the same as when they’re in college. And so it can be a little bit overwhelming. And one of the things I want people to avoid, which I hear all too often is, well, how do you keep your tasks in order now? How do you know what to do? Oh, I keep it in my head. Okay. Yeah, no, don’t do this.

Pete Wright:
Well let me ask you something as, put on your mom hat, please. As if you’ve ever taken it off.

Nikki Kinzer:
I know, right? Do I ever take that off? I don’t know.

Pete Wright:
No, right, yeah. How dutiful do you feel like the school system is in high school, teaching kids how to do these things? And I’m asking now, because I think there’s a direct connection to their level of preparedness in college.

Nikki Kinzer:
They’re not. They’re not prepared. And what’s so interesting is that when they went into middle school, they did have a planner. They had a yearly planner and they would start to use it at the very beginning. Teachers would kind of, oh, bring out your planner. But then it went away and it was never filled out. It was never, no one really taught them how to use it.

Pete Wright:
They would do for us, they would do planner checks and all they would consist of is we’re going to open your planner and see if you wrote assignments in the planner somewhere.

Nikki Kinzer:
Somewhere, right.

Pete Wright:
There was no rhyme or reason to it. There was no sense of effort connected to the planner, but did you write the words on the page somewhere? And that was the extent of that.

Nikki Kinzer:
And that was the extent of it. Well, and then they stopped making them. Now they don’t even have them. And in high school, I don’t know if they have planners, to be honest with you or not. My son is not one to share too much about his study plans. He’s a good student and so I’m very lucky.

Pete Wright:
Yeah, he’s doing okay so you don’t have to worry so much about that.

Nikki Kinzer:
I don’t have to worry about it because he’s a good student.

Pete Wright:
He’s got a system. But if you don’t have a system, there’s a real reason that you don’t have a system and you’re struggling, it’s because nobody’s teaching you how to do it.

Nikki Kinzer:
No one’s teaching you how to do it.

Pete Wright:
That’s okay.

Nikki Kinzer:
And this is especially true with ADHD. And I can’t emphasize that enough, how important this is when you have ADHD, to learn how to use your calendar and how to organize your tasks. My daughter has ADHD. She’s going into high school and she told me the other day, she’s like, well, all of their electives got cut, because they’re doing online school so they’re not doing electives right now. And she goes, “Well, it’s a good thing that we’re not doing electives.” And I said, “Why? And she goes, ”Well, I filled out what I wanted, all of my preferences and everything but I realized that I never turned it in."

Pete Wright:
Oh dear. Dear, dear.

Nikki Kinzer:
She’s probably going to end up with welding.

Pete Wright:
So sweet.

Nikki Kinzer:
Right, let’s be honest.

Pete Wright:
Which has been canceled anyway.

Nikki Kinzer:
It’s gone now anyway.

Pete Wright:
Unless they’re going to do some Zoom welding, good luck with your house.

Nikki Kinzer:
Zoom welding. Yeah. But it’s a great example of, especially with ADHD, you are not taught that, oh, I need to make sure this is turned in. Well, how do you make sure that something’s turned in that you filled out? You have to have it written somewhere. You have to have some kind of reminder because you will forget. And an in her mind and everybody here listening, I’m sure can understand, in her mind it was done. She already did it. She already filled it out. It wasn’t even…

Pete Wright:
The bulk of the effort was already put in.

Nikki Kinzer:
It was done, yeah. I think it really is important that we teach these things. And it is again, a lot of the work that I do with students, because it’s just not natural.

Nikki Kinzer:
The number two thing that I would say to avoid is not only looking at the school’s website, because that’s the other thing I hear. Well, how are you organizing your exams? How do you know what’s coming up next? Well, I just look at the school website and Canvas, Blackboard, all of those kinds. Every university has a different one. And they are looking at this. And so they feel confident that they know what to do. Well, this is good. I think you should look at the website every day, but it also needs to be written down somewhere.

Nikki Kinzer:
Again, it’s just, it’s the same thing as somebody telling you something and you not writing it down and forgetting, you can read something and still not remember to do it and you miss the assignment. What we really want to do is, again, kind of work with these things together. We want to have these planning tools. We want to look at the school websites. And right now I highly encourage students to look at their emails. You an IP, we look at our emails, it’s natural to us, but it is not natural to are 18, 19, 20, 21 year olds. They don’t care about email and they don’t see it the same way that we do.

Pete Wright:
And that is so fascinating. Where I’m watching that in real time, as my daughter is getting ready to go. And it’s anathema to her. She does, she looks at it and every time I ask her, “Have you checked your email?” She says, “Yeah, I’ve checked my email.” But every time we go through it, there are things in there that require action. Even if you look at it, if you’re just glancing at it and you’re not actually reading it, like the school administrators don’t care that you don’t like email. It is the primary way that they are sending you in information. We never accepted financial aid because of this. We never, we didn’t know that there was a box you had to check to accept financial aid. There are important things in there that will impact your life if you’re not doing this.

Nikki Kinzer:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Those are two things to avoid. We don’t want to keep things in our head and we don’t just want to look at the website. What I want to do today is go through two important planning tools and you an IP, if you were to go under our category, time management or productivity or whatever, we’ve talked about these things.

Pete Wright:
We sure have.

Nikki Kinzer:
In different ways and various forms and we’ve probably even talked about it about students. But this is what I’ve learned. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear something, it doesn’t always click. Or it triggers something that, oh, I remember when that worked really well I’d like to get back to that. Us being repetitive, I have decided is a good thing.

Pete Wright:
Okay, good.

Nikki Kinzer:
It’s very positive. All right. First important planning tool is you have to have some kind of calendar. Most people really do use their iCalendar or whatever calendar, Google Calendar, whatever calendar is on their phone. That is typically what most people use, but that’s not the only thing that you have to use or the only choice. You can use a wall calendar, you can use a planner, whatever you prefer, but what you need is you need to have one place where you’re putting all of your important dates. You need to go through your syllabus for each class and you need to write down in this calendar when homework due dates are, especially for those ones that are reoccurring, because there are so many classes that will say, “Every Monday morning, this assignment will be due.” This is especially true for math, statistics, those types of classes.

Nikki Kinzer:
And so you want to have a reoccurring event on your calendar to know that, Psych 101 homework is always going to be due on Fridays. Put that in there. Any kind of group project milestones needs to be into this calendar. Groups can get messy and really complicated quickly because you’re working with a group of people, which means things change. And so you want to have those milestones on the calendar, but you also want to be looking at that calendar and updating those things as they do change. When are your midterms? When are your finals? When are your personal appointments? Those kinds of things need to be in your calendar. And if you like color coding, I highly recommend it.

Pete Wright:
Yeah, love color.

Nikki Kinzer:
I think it’s really important to decide what class you want to be, what color, what color is a personal appointment? So you can tell the difference between the personal appointments and the classes. That’s what you do with your calendar.

Pete Wright:
I have two things to add to this that are related, I think. The first one is you talk about repeating events and appointments and those kinds of things. I run into this all the time, where you run into people who put, and I get burned by this all the time, they put this course meets every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:00 AM for 70 minutes. But you do have to make sure you go back into the schedule and remove or change specific dates where class is a different time or there’s a holiday and you don’t have class. That will impact you and could bite you if you’re not prepared for a change in schedule that is six weeks down the road that you didn’t actually update when you put that, I’m going to repeat science every week, but never give it an end date. Now you have science that goes in perpetuity. You’ve got to be aware of that.

Pete Wright:
The other thing that we’re going to talk about it, and I think this might be a good segue between calendar and task manager is that your task manager tied to your calendar should be an indicator of two things. First is due dates, which is what we’re already talking about. And the second is when you are doing the work and both kinds of tasks should be represented clearly in your calendar if you’re going to be able to get your work done on time. This is what I was reflecting on when I asked that question about how well the sort of middle and high schools are doing at teaching kids this stuff, because they’re really only working on due dates. They’re not teaching about using time effectively to do the work.

Nikki Kinzer:
Absolutely.

Pete Wright:
And it makes me nuts.

Nikki Kinzer:
It does. And it’s interesting because around midterms and finals, one of the things that I do with my students is that we do, we do a study plan. And that’s exactly what we do, Pete, is we look at the schedule and some people do this regardless. Whether they’re planning for a midterm or not, they know that Fridays they don’t have class so they are going to do the bulk of their homework on Friday from 12:00 to 4:00. They have that blocked out and some students do that and they’re very dedicated to that. But when you’re being realistic, a lot of the students I work with are not as proactive and so when we are looking at midterms and especially finals, when we’re doing a study plan, we do work backwards. Okay, so here’s the exam date. We are a week out from that exam date. We are going to block out certain sections of time of when you’re going to do your studying.

Nikki Kinzer:
And that’s exactly what you’re saying. From 4:00 to 8:00, study and put that on your calendar. And I also really like putting when you’re in class. And this is true for online classes or in class, because as a visual, it’s really important for you to be able to look at your calendar and see where do you need to be and when and how much time do I have left?

Pete Wright:
The whole process of visualizing, it goes back to the old ADHD trick. Why? And for executive functioning purposes, why is it better to wear a watch that has analog hands moving? So that you can visualize your place in time? You can see time. And that is a huge benefit for ADHD.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yes. Because think about when you were a student, next week is the exam. Well, next week seems really far away.

Pete Wright:
So far away.

Nikki Kinzer:
But today’s Friday and next week is Tuesday and you’ve got plans and you’re supposed to go home for the weekend and your mom and dad want to see you and they want to hang out with you. And so now all of a sudden it’s Sunday. Okay. I’m tired. I can just see it. I don’t want to work on this. I’m just got home from being at home. And now it’s later this week. We just don’t have a good sense of time and then all of a sudden it’s Monday and they’re like, crap, I got to study for this.

Pete Wright:
Right. Right. That’s why, and this is again, you talk about how important it is to be repetitive. That’s why I’m such a huge, huge fan of time blocking. Of putting everything on my calendar for which my body is expected to be present. And so if it’s if I’m in class Tuesday, Thursday for 70 minutes starting at 9:00 AM, you bet your sweet bippy, I’m putting that on my calendar. I am also putting on the calendar, you know what? I have a homework assignment and there are specific things I have to do. Those specific things are going when I’m going to do them. If it’s write introduction for science paper, when am I going to do that? Because just showing when it’s due is ineffective.

Nikki Kinzer:
It’s not enough.

Pete Wright:
It’s incomplete.

Nikki Kinzer:
It’s not enough. Yeah, absolutely. All right. The task manager, this is really basically how you’re keeping track of what needs to be done. And there are so many different ways to do this. There are lots of options, different apps specifically for students, that are task managers and I’m not going to necessarily recommend any. Not that I don’t recommend them because I think they’re great. I just think there’s a lot of them. And I think you have to kind of look at them and see what resonates with you. But I will also say that a whiteboard is a great tool to have. It is a great old school tool to have for school, especially if you need something that’s just really simple. And I would say that most of my college students need something that’s really simple because they do get lost in the planner.

Nikki Kinzer:
Now I think that a lot of people, I do teach them how to use it and we work on it and they bring it to the sessions every week. But the nice thing about the whiteboard is you’re just looking at things on a daily or weekly basis. What I want people to take away from today is that, look at your calendar and look at it from a weekly viewpoint, what do I need to get done? What’s due this week? Check, double check with the website to make sure and email, have there been any changes? Is there anything I need to adjust for? And then, you’re looking at exactly what we just talked about. When are you going to do the work? On the whiteboard, you might say, math homework due on Friday, start math homework on Tuesday and it’s in front of you.

Nikki Kinzer:
It’s a simple, easy visual thing in front of you that here’s your week and you know that this is what you have to do for math. Psych 101, I need to read two chapters before Thursday. I’m going to read those chapters starting on Monday. Whatever. And then you can break that down even daily if you’d like. There’s a lot of different ways you can do this. And that’s the fun thing. This is where I want people to think, go into it with kind of being curious about what works best for you. There is no right or wrong way to do this and you may find that doing it by a week is too much and you just want to do it by the day. That’s fine. Adjust these are the three things I need to do today.

Pete Wright:
I think there’s a certain intentionality to it that that comes when you decide, okay, I’m going to break down this process to just as small enough a dose that it’s easy.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Wright:
As soon as it becomes hard, I’ll stop doing it but if it only takes me 10 minutes before I’m on my way out the door to dinner and I do it every day and it becomes, I allow it to become a habit and I’m enthusiastic about the process of, it’s the same thing we talked about with, you need a budget. You change your mentality when you do it every day and you’re on top of it. And you get joy out of knowing your stated truth about money or time or work, whatever. It becomes easier to do you when you break it down into pieces that are no longer hard.

Nikki Kinzer:
Absolutely. And the bottom line too, is that if you’re tired of procrastinating, waiting to the last minute, if that’s too stressful, if you’re not getting the grades that you want to get, there’s a tie here between getting an A and getting a C if you’re waiting till the last minute to study, versus if you’re doing a little bit every day throughout the whole term and we’ll talk about more of that next week. But, if you want better grades, if you want to feel more in control of your schedule, if you don’t want to be blindsided by an exam or a test, then these two tools are the most important things in your life that will keep you on track.

Pete Wright:
That’s right.

Nikki Kinzer:
One thing that I also highly recommend for people, this is the last note that I have is to have a kind of an ideal weekly calendar. All you have to do is just go to Google Calendars or actually just Google blank weekly calendar and you can print something off. But basically what you’re doing is you’re just doing sort of this would be an ideal week. I have class Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:00 to 11:00. Okay, that’s blocked out. I’m going to study from 11:00 to 1:00, that’s blocked out. I have a meeting every Wednesday, that’s blocked out.

Nikki Kinzer:
Basically what it’s doing is it’s just giving you a vision of what your week is going to look like for the most part. It’s not necessarily something that’s going to always stand true, but it is something that, especially at the beginning of the semester, when you’re really getting kind of used to your schedule and trying to figure out where your time is going, it can be very helpful to have just a quick little weekly calendar set up that you can kind of see, hang it up on your wall, bulletin board, whatever.

Pete Wright:
I feel like this is the thing we need to go back to the archives on too, because we did a whole episode on the ideal weekly calendar some years ago now. And I think all of that still holds.

Nikki Kinzer:
I do too.

Pete Wright:
If I can track down which episode number that is, we’ll drop it in the show notes. I still have mine as a separate calendar in my set of Google Calendars that is mostly hidden and every couple of times a year, I’ll show it in my calendar and see how does my actual day to day time calendar overlay on my ideal weekly calendar? Am I living up to those goals and objectives that I set for those ideals? And it’s a great sanity check on time.

Nikki Kinzer:
It is. And for people that work on their own, or like you and I who have client work.

Pete Wright:
Or students.

Nikki Kinzer:
It is so important because that’s the only way I know when I can take clients and when I’m full, is by working at that ideal calendar, because it has, client, client, client, meeting, client, whatever. It has everything that I would want it to be. Yeah, it’s an important thing to do.

Pete Wright:
It is, it’s an important thing. And it seems frivolous when you first start doing it. It seems like, well, ideal. Well, yeah, ideal I would have a three hour breakfast every morning with mimosas, but that’s not the point.

Nikki Kinzer:
Not right now.

Pete Wright:
That’s not the point. How well are you living up to the objectives that you’re setting for your life? Where are you going to fit in your work study schedule if your classes are taking place in the evenings? When are you going to fit in the actual work to be done? And this is one of the things I live by is projects and sub tasks in my task management system. If you aren’t making use of this, being able to group sub tasks, you might have a project that’s due December 7th but within that, if you just put that in your to do system, it’s not going to get done.

Nikki Kinzer:
It means nothing.

Pete Wright:
You have to know that there’s a revolving, yeah, revolving set of tasks that need to be assigned time and space in your head and in your body to do the work between now and December 7th. And it’s, you don’t get to check it off until it’s turned in.

Nikki Kinzer:
Right. Oh, yes. You can talk to my daughter about that.

Pete Wright:
All the livelong day. This is great. And I love that we’re still doing these back to school series episodes, Nikki, because I still am learning more every single time we do them every year.

Nikki Kinzer:
I do too and it’s so fun for me because, as a coach, I work with college students and every Sunday or every Sunday, every summer I have time off because they all have time off from student work. I still work, but not with students. And I always take that time to learn new things and to learn more about ADHD and the student. And so it’s really fun for me because in September, when we do these shows, I can share with you guys what I’ve learned. And again, I think the repetitiveness is a good thing because it just doesn’t always click the first time you hear something and especially read something. I hope this is helpful and good luck everyone for this new school year, many people have already started, you’re right. Because Midwest and Eastern or East Coast schools, they all started in August so they’re halfway through already.

Pete Wright:
Crazy. I know, they’re already done. They’re practically graduated.

Nikki Kinzer:
They’re looking at Christmas now.

Pete Wright:
Well, thank you everybody for your time and your attention. We sure appreciate you hanging out with us this week and we’ll catch you next week. We’re going to talk even more about more back to school stuff. I can’t wait. On behalf of Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright, see you next week on Taking Control, the ADHD podcast.