Reader Question 1: What’s more important for teens, being organized during their school year, or being organized during their vacation?

This was asked by a colleague of mine who is a few years away from having a teenager of his very own.

My answer is an annoyingly chirpy, “Both!”  Helpful, I know.

But it’s really hard to say which is more important.  If your teen isn’t  organized during the school year, and they are as busy as active as the teens I know, they’re going to be overwhelmed, feel out of control and experience panic on a regular basis.  If your teen isn’t organized during the summer they’re going to be bored, uninspired and experience regret at the end.

So being organized for the school year and being organized for the summer both seem like extremely worthwhile goals.

If I think about the long-term, however, and think about what life skills I want my teen to have when she’s an adult, I actually think the summer vacation organization is more important.  This is because I think it’s easier for people to do goal setting and planning for their paid work than it is for their own personal goals, unassociated with whatever it is they do to make a living.

This is definitely true for me.  It comes much more naturally to me to be organized and goal-oriented at work, where someone is paying me money to be this way and my reputation and livelihood are on the line than it is for me to be that way in my personal life, where no one else is really going to keep tabs on me.  I really admire adults and kids who are able to do both.

So I change my answer!  Now it’s summer.  It’s more important for teens to learn how to manage their time in the summer, because later in life this piece is more frequently the one that people have a hard time  with.  And it may be the piece that contributes more heavily to having a good life overall.


Plan for making my August “beachy”

I mentioned in my first post about how I have a problem with vague goals when it comes to my precious Augusts (I take a break from my job for a month each year).

Using (again) Mike Williams’ method, I decided to ask myself “What do I want to be true at the end of August?”  And one of the answers is “I want to have gone to the beach a lot.”

But, as I said, this is too vague and I always fail.

So I decided to make it more specific.  My new answer is “I want to have taken my kids to the beach four times, for four hours each time, and packed snacks and drinks along with us to make it more fun.

I’m going to book each Friday in August, from 9am – 1pm as beach time.  I’m going to put these appointments in my calendar (I use a Moleskine black softcover 12-month extra-large weekly planner) and I’m going to treat them as seriously as I would dentist appointments.  I’m going to ask the kids to commit to coming with me ahead of time (this won’t be hard since they love the beach) and allow them to bring friends if they wish.

If I do all these things, I feel like it won’t be possible to feel at the end of August as if it hasn’t been beachy enough.  I’m a little concerned that I’ll have a different problem at that point, namely, that I’ll feel like my time off was too structured, but we’ll see if that’s the case.

Below, my youngest at the beach last August:



Forgetting things at school – can Wunderlist help us?

No matter how good your intentions are at home in the evening in regards to getting homework done, if the student has not brought home the necessary materials to complete a homework assignment, it’s not going to get done.

This is how it sometimes goes at our house:

Me: Any homework tonight?

Sophia: Um, I don’t know.

Me: Okay, let’s check the website.

Sophia (suddenly regains her memory): Oh right, I have that math sheet.

Me: Okay, can you try and get it done before dinner?  Then you can relax after dinner.

*** fifteen minutes passes ***

Me: How’s that math sheet going?

Sophia: I can’t find it.  I think I left it at school.

Me: (Sigh).  Alright, time to call a friend.

Sometimes, calling a friend works.  The friend can read the homework questions over the phone or Sophia can run over to the friend’s house and they work on it together.  But often, it’s not possible to do this, and we end up resorting to, “Ok, you’ll have to go to school an hour early tomorrow and finish it there.”

I don’t yet know how we’re going to solve this problem, but our first attempt is a free app called Wunderlist.  It’s basically a bunch of labeled lists that you can add items to using, in our case, a planless iPhone 3 (which essentially acts as an iPod Touch).

I haven’t played with the app much but my spouse uses it to keep a running list of big house projects (stuff like “finish painting basement” and “have front yard landscaped”) and he likes it.

It’s got to be better than my own personal  reminder system, demonstrated in this photo:

I had to write “ginger” on my hands a few times today, because the ink kept washing away when I washed my hands.  I did finally make it to the grocery store and procure the important ingredient though, so it wasn’t a total failure of organization and our curry will not suffer.

Anyway, here’s the record so far of how life with Wunderlist is going for Sophia.

Day one: forgot to take iPhone to school (0 Mom-approval points!)

Day two: took iPhone to school, created two Wunderlists, one for each classroom teacher that assigns homework, added items to each list. (1,000,000 Mom-approval points!)

Day three: was sick at home (0 Mom-approval points but 100 Mom-sympathy points)

One thing Sophia didn’t automatically do with the items she added to her list was to specify a due date.  In one case she didn’t know what the due date was, so I took the liberty of adding a task to that teacher’s list called “Ask about due date for carte postale assignment”.  My thinking is that she should get in the habit of opening up the app before she leaves for school in the morning to make sure she has everything she needs for the day, after she arrives at school to ask her teachers questions about existing tasks, and throughout the day to create new tasks.

The feedback from the teachers is that they are delighted.

Summer Goal Setting, Part I

Inspired by Mike Williams’ post about how he got his kids thinking about what they wanted for their summer vacations, Sophia and I have taken over half of the corkboard in her bedroom and created three columns for tasks: Not Started, In Progress and Done.

Then she did a brainstorming session with a black marker and some index cards and put all of her summer goals in the “Not Started” column.

The end goal here is to avoid a common end-of-summer problem: regret.  I take every August off work and I always have high hopes for what I will do during that magical month.  Inevitably, I am disappointed at the end because I didn’t do the things I wanted to do. Sophia feels the same way at the end of every school vacation.  Her friends do too, they tell me.  So we’re hoping this corkboard is going to help her avoid that regret.  Of course it may be true that not everything gets done, but at least this way we’ll know why (likely because other things took priority) and maybe we’ll be able to find another way to meet any missed goals once summer is over.  Or maybe the goal gets tossed because its importance in her mind has reduced.

We had a chat about one of my biggest problems, which is vague goals.  I told her about how I always say to myself “I want to have a beachy August” and then I expect that “beachiness” to just magically happen, without me taking specific, planned actions toward making it happen.

Starting on July 2nd, she will start examining the tasks in the Not Started column and thinking about how to break them down into smaller, actionable items.  Then they will move into the In Progress columns, and more index cards will be added to list the subtasks.

Can I just say that this is really unnatural for me?  It feels like all this planning is the enemy of spontaneity, creativity, and a happy, relaxed West Coast life. But I’m pretty sure that that feeling is wrong.  Despite the protestations of my subconscious, I’m pretty sure that this will actually be the key to a happy and productive summer for my almost-13-year-old.  Judging from her excitement and sense of contentment around just this one small exercise, we’re headed in the right direction.