Tech for EF Part 5: Task Planners vs. Calendars

We’ve made it to part 5 of our Tech for EF series in honor of Ed Rev this Spring, and I’ve saved my favorite for last. Our final guiding question is: How is a task planner different from a calendar?

This relates to a much bigger topic that I will be talking about which is the difference between Time Management and Task Management. But, for now, we will just be talking about the tech tools that one can use and how they differ.

Let’s start with a discussion of calendars. This is a strategy most of us are familiar with, and is a great example of externalizing our brain. We know that we won’t be able to remember the date and time of that dentist appointment we’re scheduling for 6 months from now, so we write it down. And, better than writing it on a post-it note destined to be lost within a week, we put it in our calendar so that all post-it-worthy dates can live together. Now just don’t lose that calendar.

With the onset of digital calendars, we’ve gained even more lovely features — cloud storage (for those who really are prone to losing things), syncing across devices, pushed reminders, shared calendars, and so much more. Seriously, what would we do without calendars?

Creating a calendar habit takes a little bit of time, and should be started early. Having family calendars (be them digital or the big white board in the kitchen) that everyone has access to is a great start for elementary/middle schoolers. Even better, set aside weekly family time where everyone goes over the calendar together. This not only helps get everyone on the same page, but it is great modeling. Kids should watch you have to problem solve the fact that Frank’s piano lesson and Amanda’s soccer practice are at the same time. Plus, it starts to ingrain in them an understanding of how a calendar is used and why it is used.

As students enter high school, they should start to be handed off their own calendaring duties. Still have a family shared calendar, but let them have their own that they manage. For tips on how to build a calendar habit, look for our upcoming post on time and task management systems.

A well-maintained and functioning calendar system is a thing of beauty, and a necessity. But, calendars can fall short in our daily lives — and this is very true for students. Calendars are built to track time-specific events: meetings, appointments, parties, birthdays. When we start trying to track tasks, however, calendars are ill-equipped to meet all of our needs.

Task management is the need to plan, track, and execute tasks so that the get done on time and correctly. The challenge with calendars is that they do not typically allow for the level of detail nor the flexibility that task management requires. Imagine trying to plan and throw a party using a calendar. Aside from potential meetings with vendors, there isn’t much that you’ll feel belongs in the calendar. What most people head to is their handy to-do list.

A to-do list is a better way to track all of those little tasks that need to happen at some point in order to make appropriate progress on the overall goal. Some of them might require time-specific scheduling, but many will not. Trying to place each of those into a calendar is tough.

Let’s now move to a student’s life. A student could put their nightly homework into a calendar, but a planner is a more commonly used tool — a place to write down what needs to be done but without specific time slots. The challenge with a traditional planner is that if a task doesn’t get done on the day you’ve written it, the page gets turned and it can fall off your radar. Not to mention the things a traditional planner lacks like reminders and the things it requires like *gasp* using a pencil!

Enter, task management applications. These allow us to create digital to-do lists with ease, organize them into projects and subtasks, and create due-dates and reminders. Plus, the ever joyous feeling of checking things off.

My personal favorite task management app is ToDoist, though there are many on the market with similar features — do a little hunting and see which stands out to you. Here is a list of features we think a good task management app should have:

  1. Syncing across devices so you can get it anywhere
  2. The ability to quickly input tasks (most have “smart” typing where you can type “next Monday” or “every other Tuesday” and it will put them on the correct day or make them recurring
  3. Tags so that you can categorize tasks (for instance, by subject)
  4. Subtasks — this is hugely helpful for long term projects to be able to nest smaller tasks within larger ones.
  5. Our absolute favorite feature is the idea of an “Overdue” section. This means that if you didn’t check off your task on the day that you planned to do it, instead of disappearing, it heads to the top of the page as Overdue, and stays there until you either change the date, or check it off. Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 4.49.55 PM.png

Creating a task management habit and building it in to your life can be a challenge, especially for those with executive functioning deficits, but that is for a different day. For now, explore some options on the task management front. Here are some great apps to get you started:


What is your favorite task management system?

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