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I Forgot To Remember

When the mental calendar system fails

· Executive Function

One of our primary areas of focus is helping teenagers develop executive functioning skills, especially calendaring and time management. Let's discuss some ideas to make this process a bit easier for everyone.

For many (okay, almost all) the sight of a paper calendar during our initial training session is their first encounter. The world of desk calendars and day planners is long gone and almost everyone uses software instead. However, electronic systems, while convenient and often less cumbersome than pen and pencil methods, are not magic. They still must be used with discipline and rigor.

Teenagers operate on a “if I see it, it exists,” mode of task execution.

While only a click or so away, an electronic calendar is only in sight if one does just that - click. So here's a question for you. When is your teenager supposed to "click" and check their calendar? When they do click, what do they see? If they are looking at a calendar event where would they go to find the materials they need to complete the related task?

We've all struggled with these questions, sometimes glancing at our phone and realizing we're already late for a meeting and we can't remember the address or phone number. Remember, your teenager will have the same challenges and less problem solving ability.

Children between the ages of 12 and 22 have an "out of sight, out of mind" mental framework and they need direct instruction and reinforcement of organizational systems, and this must be done by the adults supporting them in their quest for success. This type of support, however, is typically not welcomed, often resisted, and almost always met with the phrase: “I’ll just remember.”

They won’t remember to remember.

If they do, once they hit college (goodbye the Mom and Dad safety net) they most definitely will not as tasks pile up, social life gets more chaotic, and teachers provide less support.

As parents we may still recognize the value of old school pen and paper, or perhaps even a planner, but we're unlikely to win that argument with a modern teenager. So instead of trying to convince your 14 year old to use the Franklin Planner system read on for a modern system they may actually buy into.

Thomas Frank, known as College Info Geek, has developed a well tested system based on the separation of a calendar from recorded tasks or to do’s. I personally use this system by recording events on my Google Calendar, (with needed information for the event recorded directly in the calendar and reminders emailed to me), while I separate my to do list on another system called Trello.

As Mr. Frank states, “Your brain is for generating ideas, not trying to store them. So you want to put the tasks, events, and other pieces of information your brain generates into systems that will either notify you later, or that you trust you’ll check later.”

His system is highly dependent on routines because in order for the calendar and to do list systems to work there must be routines that support checking the calendar and going through task lists. As we've discussed in previous posts, routines may be hard at first but they rapidly make life easier for everyone.

First, set up Google Calendar. This should involve a different colored event type for each class, it’s start and end time each day, as well as a color for sports, jobs, tutoring, or any other weekly/recurring/predictable events. Non-routine events, like doctors appointments, should get their own color. This color code and the recording of events will need to updated each time schedules change (per quarter or semester) as well as when sports seasons end and others begin. Plan time for that in your Sunday routine (described later).

Next, find a task recording app, like Trello or Wunderlist.

We also highly recommend purchasing Fantastical as well, this feature works with Google Calendar as well as Apple phones, watches, etc. and allows the user to talk instead of type all the relevant information.

Third, establish daily and weekly routines that allow for maintenance of these systems: morning routines or evening routines (whatever works best for your teen’s schedule) are for checking over their calendar and then reviewing the task list to determine which tasks will be accomplished at what point in the upcoming day. For instance - If I have my entire day laid out clearly in my calendar, I can quickly and easily see open time slots.

Don't forget to schedule travel time as well!

In the spots where nothing is scheduled (yet), I use my task list to assign tasks I can complete during that period.

You can also decide to use the task app or Google Calendar to send reminders to
complete each task during the available time - it’s a personal preference.

Sunday Routine

Sunday Routine - this is time (one hour, typically) reserved on Sunday afternoons or evenings to reorganize and update all systems.

Spend time checking the calendar and todo list systems to make sure they have the right information, are setup correctly (e.g., are sending reminders if desired), and checking to make sure there aren't any conflicts for the coming week. This is also a great time to see if your teen is too busy. Is there any free time for creative play? Is there down time to unwind, read a book, or go for a hike? Remember that "free" time is necessary for a healthy, balanced life.

Last, ensure that reminders are set to go off in sufficient enough time for them to elicit action towards the task or event. Trello, Wunderlist and all calendar apps send reminders (often more than one if you would like). All of these can be shared with others and accessed from multiple devices.

Making the use of these systems should have natural rewards and consequences. Missed appointments often cost money and assignments should be completed on time each week if extracurricular activities or social opportunities are to take place. Just as you would have consequences for not meeting deadlines or failing to cancel an appointment on time, so should your teen. Additionally, when you follow your calendar you are rewarded by the activities that take place during your freed up time - the same goes for your teen.

For more information and tips on systems and supports for high school and college success, visit: The College Info Geek - or better yet, have your teen visit the site and spend some time reading about the system.

Have another tip for organizing your family's calendar? We'd love to hear about it on our Facebook page.

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