Tidy Up Your To Do List And Get More Done

For many students, school feels chaotic and overwhelming. This experience can be both stress inducing and anxiety provoking. As an executive function coach, you can be provide them with structure and order by helping them sort out their disparate responsibilities into tidy To Do list.

In my webinar for the Association of Educational Therapists (AET), I shared the process I utilize to give my clients an executive function makeover. This process begins and ends with To Do list that serves as a hub to track assignments and tasks, while also on-boarding other service providers who may be providing support for a student. While I use the Apple app, Notes, any tool can work as long as I can be shared with others and synched across your devices.

Step 1: Get Everything In One Place

Coming to terms with all of your responsibilities may feel daunting, but it is absolutely essential. Like the Buddhist saying, “awareness is the seed of enlightenment,” having all your To Do’s in one location is the seed of getting them done! Below, you will see an example of a student who had become so overwhelmed they had “given up” on trying to complete their assignments. By listing out all their To Do’s in one place, after about a week and half of daily and intensive supports, the student was able to complete and submit all the items with a yellow filling:

By keeping a To Do list in this fashion, the student also begins to build a deep confidence in what they are capable of. Can you imagine what it feel like when they scrolled through their To Do list and saw all those assignments checked off? Euphoria.

Step 2: Prioritize Assignments Based on Which Class Has The Lowest Grade

To keep things manageable and consistent for my clients, I tell them to look on their portal and identify the class with the lowest grade. Based on that information, I encourage them to start by completing any missing assignments for the class with the lowest grade. To be sure their time is used wisely and they can still earn credit for those assignments, I have them send an email using the following template:

Hi (Teacher Name),

I noticed that my grade in your class is currently a (grade).

I can also see that I am missing the following assignments:

assignment name

assignment name

Am I still able to makeup these assignments for full credit? My goal for this semester is to earn a (desired grade) in your class.

Could you advise me on what the best approach would be to work toward my goal?


(Your Name)

If there are multiple assignments missing for that class, I prompt them to start with the assignment that is worth the most points out of all the missing assignments. Rome was not built in a day and every missing assignment won’t disappear over night. But by engaging in this process, the client is communicating with their teachers, making a plan, and things are bound to improve.

Step 3: Bit By Bit, Inch By Inch

Now that they have a plan, your job is to scaffold and chunk things out so they feel manageable, while also collaborating with other tutors and school supports to help things get done. You want to get them to say “yes” to questions like, “can you work on this assignment today?” Additionally, you want to ensure any other tutors, teachers, or other supports that are available are leverage to ensure the success of the plan you have laid out.

Help your client identify and use any office hours that are available. If the family shared with you that your client has a math tutor, connect with their math tutor and share the list of assignments they can work on in their next session. Don’t feel like you need to do everything! Help the student become a resource based thinker and help will come from many directions.

To learn more about how I motivate between sessions, please read my blog post, "Motivational Interviewing For Students," in which I break down the step by step process for motivating students to act on their own best interest.

Questions you could asks between sessions are as follows:

When something is missing and they say they can’t turn it in:

Hey, do you think it would be a good idea to email your teacher and ask if you can make this up?

When they say they are going to finish something soon?

What time do you think you can finish it by?

When they give you the time they will finish it by?

Will you set an alarm on your phone to update me on the status of it then?

Step 4: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Sometimes, things don’t go perfectly. A student can only finish 2 out of 3 of their assignments for a specific class. When things like that happen, help them communicate. Provided them with templates or talk them through how to ask for more time. Remember, everything is negotiable! By negotiating and communicating deadlines, you are facilitating and strengthening those incredible soft skills that will pay off in the long run.

By providing clients with a repeatable process, you can help reduce the anxiety and frustration that often accompanies challenges related to executive function.

Want to learn more? Reach out for a consult or check out my Academic Management Services page.

Sean McCormick , MS Ed., E/T

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Sean McCormick | Certificated Education Specialist #190142979

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Marin County, California