By Tim Tibbitts
What are two things all of the following have in common?
You did the homework, but somehow it never make it into your book bag.
You took good notes in history class, but you were using your math notebook instead of your history notebook that day, so now it’s time to study for the test, you’ve got to track down what you need before you can get started.
Every time a teacher hands out a piece of paper that hasn’t been three-hole punched, it goes into an enormous mass of papers in your increasingly heavy backpack.
Every day when you sit down to do homework, you’ve got to go to all of your teachers’ class websites to find out what the homework is.
Or once you get started on your homework you’re fine, but it’s just really hard to get yourself started.
If your answer is “I never struggle with any of these things,” then stop reading, forward this post (pretty please) to your most disorganized friend, and get back to your super-efficient life.
Most of us, however, have a few little Achilles’ heels of inefficiency.
Here’s my answer:
They are real challenges tons of people—smart, capable people—struggle with every day.
There’s a really easy solution to every single one of these. And that solution can be summed up in a single word: routine.
You can all it a ritual or a policy or a rule—call it whatever word you relate to, but what we’re talking about is a very simple is a simple “if…then…” statement that removes aggravation and inefficiency from your life, allowing you to focus more of your attention and brain power on the stuff that really matters.
Let me give you an embarrassing example from my own experience. Picture the scene: It’s time to leave the house to get to school or work, and I’m running around like an idiot, checking the pants I wore yesterday, my top dresser drawer, my bedside table checking—looking for my keys. This stupid little scene used to repeat itself over and over in our home, causing me and often my family a silly mount of stress over the years. Then we re-modeled our kitchen, and guess what? I don’t lose my keys anymore. Sound stupid? Sure. I admitted that up front. But hear me out: Built into one end of a row of kitchen cabinets is a thin little cabinet about the size of a medicine chest, a little place where you can store all the crap that used to sit out on the counter, including my keys! We have named this place “The Place Where They Must Always Be.” Now, every time I come home from wherever I’ve been all day, I take my keys out of my pocket and hang them on my hook in “The Place Where They Must Always Be”—and I never have to look for them anywhere else ever again!
So, I’m an old dude who loses his keys—what does this have to do with being a teenager trying to balance school, sports, etc.? Good question. Let me turn the question back on you: How much time to you spend (waste) looking for crap, or having trouble getting started on homework, or simply compiling the list of all you have to do for homework?
What if I told you the solution to any one of these challenges was so easy that you could implement it today—right now—and it won’t cost you a dime? It’s true. Decide on a routine. When it’s time to do Task X, here’s how. Every time you get home from school, you put your keys in the basket. Every time a teacher assigns HW, write it down in a planner (or on your phone). Every time you sit down to do homework, you pull the loose handouts out of back pack, three-hole punch them, and put them in the appropriate binders. Every day when you get home from school, set a timer on your phone for 30 minutes, and when it goes off, go immediately to your desk to start your homework. Don’t miss my point here. I’m not telling you to do all these things. I’m offering examples. You know where you get stuck from day to day, and if you think about it for a solid 30 seconds, you can probably come up with a simple routine that, if you do it every time, will make life easier.
There are a lot of problems in life that are really complicated and really hard to fix. None of the stuff mentioned in this blog falls into that category. You could literally fix one of these problems by—arbitrarily, even—deciding on a routine. Right now. Do it for the first time today, and then do it again, every time.
The Whole Kid’s founder, Tim Tibbitts, can be reached with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.