If there was ever a time to use a paper planner to support executive functioning, this is it.
I am specifically referring to the executive functions of planning and prioritization, which I often describe as future thinking. You may say that it’s pointless to focus on future planning when our futures are so full of unknowns. Many of us watched wonderful plans for vacations, family gatherings, weddings, graduations and community events disappear due to the pandemic. I am still grieving the loss of my planned events. Sigh…
But it is time to rethink the purpose and scope of future planning in our daily lives. My inspiration for this process is coming from the adults and students who have been taking my Seeing My Time program these past few months.
Under the demands of this time-warped existence of social distancing, these folks, from retirees to 5th graders, have embraced their planning tools, especially their paper tools to take control of their executive functions. Here’s how they did it:
They started using the day planning sheet from my planner system, listing tasks and crossing them off as they are completed. This activity grounded the homebound retirees as well as the students and adults working from home. It helped them to stay centered and be productive.
I LOVED it when an 8th grader told me he wanted to get better at consistently making a plan for the day. “If I don’t write down a plan, yes, I do things. I have fun. But at the end of the day I don’t feel very satisfied. I feel like I wasted the day.” When I heard that I gave that guy a virtual high-five, and did a happy dance!
They used my Weekly Commitments time form to block out their online meetings or classes. Doing this helped them to concretely see the open spaces available for work tasks or homework assignments. Students reported an increased feeling of calm when they could see time divided into spaces for class meetings, homework and FUN. Adults became more efficient and productive using this view of open space.
My heart sang as I witnessed adolescents talking about the value of the month view of time. They came to realize they could plan their own fun summer events. One young man planned a family kayak trip. These young people also got virtual high-fives and happy dances. They gave me beaming smiles in return.
My intensive artisan bread baking class with with King Arthur Flour that was canceled for June? I’m signed up to take it in September. My bucket-list trip to Greek archaeological sites has been rescheduled for Sept 2021. I admit I’m writing these events in pencil, but writing them down connects to hope and the joy of anticipation. I’ll take that for now.
I have also watched my ADHD adult clients go from negative self-talk and doubts to smiles of satisfaction as they jumped in to pull all of the future aspects of time together by using my Seeing My Time Adult planner system.
One woman with a high-stress managerial position found herself working from home with a challenged first-grader who needs lots of attention and support to learn anything from an online schooling situation. She cried through most of our first session together, feeling utterly hopeless and defeated.
Five weeks later she was smiling and proclaiming that the planner pages were amazing. For the first time ever she felt in control. She was no longer swimming in the anxiety of tasks sloshing back and forth in her overwhelmed brain. Her planner now supports her brain. At her last session, she even reported success at finding time for self-care! I did a happy dance for her too!
Who knows what the future will bring? I anticipate that many of us, adults and students, will continue to spend the coming months in this odd mix of new-normal, of being “sort of” out in the world and yet tied to home. Life will continue to be stressful. Our poor brains are going to need support to get through it.
To support your brain, check out our new academic year calendars that are shipping on July 6th. We have student versions for middle/high school students and a separate planner for college students. I designed these planners to be more adapted to at-home learning. And I completely redid the videos that go with these planners. These videos are in reality a curriculum to teach students to develop essential future thinking skills. There is also an adult academic year planner system that is ready to ship too!
Which view of the future do you need to give your brain the support it needs to move more comfortably into our unknown future?
Stay well. Little by little…change happens.
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.