When you still need a post-it

I adore the app Eisenhower. It’s a task scheduler that let’s you classify tasks based on the popular Eisenhower Matrix, labeling tasks as 1)urgent and important, 2)urgent but not important, 3)important but not urgent, and 4)delegate. When you enter your tasks and click in one to complete, it starts a timer to help you stay focussed.

It works for me, because I can wisely choose when I have time to complete a task and then start it. But for kids it’s sometimes a little harder. They need something more concrete.

Several of the teens I teach struggle with prioritizing, and when something larger is looming, their anxiety increases exponentially. Also, few kids have the option of delegating tasks – so the app doesn’t ‘click’ for them.

So I got creative. On an 8.5×11 white card stock page I made a table of four squares. The top left quadrant I labelled ‘do today before leaving school.’ Top-right got the label ‘after school or tomorrow at school.’ Then, on the bottom-left, I created a box for ‘Due in the next 7 days,’ and the bottom-right was labelled ‘due within 14 days.’ I had each chart laminated with thick 5-ml laminate. Then I took double sided Velcro dots, and adhered the soft sides to the back of the card and the rough sides to the students’ desks. Finally, each student got a stack of small sticky-notes.

The first day, students came in to find charts velcroed to desks. When math class ended I announced that there was a video on my math site from then to watch that night, in prep for tomorrow. Then I prompted them to add a stickie saying ‘watch math video’ to their ‘tonight/tomorrow’ box. Later that day in language, we started working on monologues. I let them know I wanted a rough draft submitted in one week, and prompted the kids to put it on their charts. Finally, in science class, I announced that their unit test was in two weeks. At the first mention of it some kids had already reached for their stickies to add it to their charts, so I went one step further:

If our test is in two weeks, when should we have our review questions done? At least a week before, right! So add that stickie to your charts for one week from now.

At the end of the day, we detached our cards and popped them in our bags to go home. The next morning, all of my card kids had watched their math video and removed that stickie. I continued to prompt them for the next couple of days for ‘due tomorrow’ tasks. And then the miracle happened. A student raised her hand and asked “since our monologues aren’t a week away anymore, should we move that up to tomorrow?” And several classmates recognized the urgency. All of a suddenly, six days away was something to tackle NOW.

That’s all it took to train them.
These cards are now covered with sticky-notes. When tasks due today are completed, their stickies disappear. Tasks for tonight or tomorrow move over to ‘today.’ As new tasks and deadlines are added to our classroom schedule, students add them to their cards in either the one-week or two-week boxes. Some of my tech-minded kids leave the chart at school and take a picture of it on their phone before leaving. The system works for all of them.

The big a-ha moment comes when students empty their ‘today’ box, and decide to pull a stickie in from the ‘tonight/tomorrow’ box a day early. The satisfaction they feel is obvious, and the joy at removing stickies when tasks are done is gleeful. There is something about physically getting rid of that task that brings contentment.

Try it out for yourself, either on paper or with the Eisenhower app. Try it out with students who struggle with planning and organization.

Warning: Invest in stickie-notes.

Meg pj


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