Use an Academic Planner

If you’re like most of my students, you are probably thinking that you don’t need to use an academic planner because you can just remember your homework, projects, and upcoming tests. Guess what? That will work until it doesn’t! Some things are bound to slip through the cracks, and then you will end up with missing assignments or grades that don’t reflect your capabilities.

Trust us on this one, academic planners are extremely useful tools to help us manage our daily activities and achieve our goals. It’s like having an external brain to help you remember things.

Follow these 12 steps to organize your schoolwork, manage your daily homework assignments and prepare for exams using an academic planner:

Customize Your Planner

Write your subjects down in the order of your classes if your planner is customizable. If it isn’t, consider purchasing an Order Out of Chaos customizable planner- one of the many reasons we love it!

Include “organizing” as a subject so you can schedule a time to clean out your binder(s), backpack and locker. If it doesn’t get scheduled, it won’t get done!

Designate a space to record after school appointments, extracurricular activities, social events, and other things you want to get done. This is another reason we love the Order Out of Chaos planner- it has after school hours at the bottom of the planner to use for time mapping.

Use your planner for all of your activities, not just homework. This will help you see your available blocks of time to get things done.

Be Ready

Place a binder clip or bookmark on the current page. This makes it easy to find today’s date without frantically flipping through pages at the end of class to record an assignment.

Keep a pencil in the spiral binding so you’re always ready to write things down.

Record Your Assignments

Record your assignments as soon as you get them. For assignments not due the following day, write important assignments VERTICALLY on the date they are due so they stand out. This will help you plan forward and backward.

Consider color-coding tests and quizzes in one color and due dates in another.

Be Specific

Be specific so there is no question about what the assignment is when you look at it later in the day. For example, writing “math page 25, even problems” is much clearer than simply writing “math” or “page 25.”

Double-Check Your Assignments

Double-check your assignments to make sure they are correct. This can be done by using your class website, consulting with a friend from class, or checking with your teacher.

Identify Days Where You Don’t Have Homework

Write “No homework,” “No HW,” or “None” on the days you don’t have homework for a particular class. This will prevent you from second-guessing whether or not you had an assignment and simply forgot to write it down.

Take Small Actionable Steps

Break down big projects and any homework NOT due the next day into smaller steps of action.

Next, schedule the “chunks” of the project in your planner. If an assignment is due in 10 days, don’t wait to start it until two nights before it’s due! This can result in increased stress, nagging parents, and shoddy work.

Create a Time Map

Create a time map to visualize the blocks of time you have available to do your homework and plan both your workload AND fun things to do in empty blocks of time.

Download your own time map here.

Keep Track of Your Time

Estimate how long each homework assignment will take to complete and then time how long it actually takes. You need to know how long things will take in order to plan and manage your time. It’s better to overestimate and have some bonus free time than to underestimate and feel stressed! Write down both your estimate and actual time spent on each task. After a couple of weeks, you’ll be better able to estimate how long things really take!

Keep track of time. Use an analog clock to keep track of time by filling in “pies of time” with a dry erase marker or using magnets, on the metal frame of an analog clock, as time markers. You can also use timers or timer apps such as the 360 Thinking Time Tracker, Time Timer, Pomodoro, 30:30, or My Power Clock to help you work in chunks of time instead of by task. (These resources are all on our website in the resources section under Effective Learning Apps.)

Get It Done

Keep your planner open during homework so you can refer to it.

Check off completed tasks.

Do Daily “Brain Dumps”

If you think it, ink it! Spend five minutes downloading any “to do’s” that you have in your head into your planner. Thinking about things you need to do creates distractions and unproductive stress. Writing things down commits them to memory.

Check Your Planner Daily

Check your planner at the end of each day so you can reschedule any tasks that weren’t completed and see what you have planned for the next day. Also, remember to flip through the next week or two so you can see what’s coming up!

About Skills 4 Life:

Skills 4 Life Pediatric Occupational Therapy offers a broad range of pediatric occupational therapy services to help your child master age-appropriate developmental skills, become more independent, increase academic success & develop confidence. The experts at Skills 4 Life specialize in handwriting, keyboarding & executive function coaching, but also work with children on social & emotional learning, motor skills, self-regulation strategies & activities of daily living. Skills 4 Life Pediatric Occupational Therapy offers your child a safe, compassionate environment to learn the critical skills they need to be successful. Learn more about our team & services at, or you can contact our office by email at or by phone at 303.351.1828 for a free consultation.

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