Education Blog

Time Management for College Freshmen 

By: Michael Smith & Georgia Bozeday Ed.D.

The word PLANNING spelled out using Scrabble pieces.

This past May, millions of students across America graduated from high school and many of these students will be heading off to 4‑year college or university in the coming weeks. This transition often fills students (and their parents!) with a mix of excitement and anxiety.  In college, students have more control over their daily schedule and have much more self-directed time to get their coursework done.  However, failing to manage all of this “free” time, will lead to missed deadlines and stress.  This post will explain why you need a planner and examine the pros and cons of a paper vs. a digital system. Also, I would encourage any new college freshman to do the activity described at the end of this post contributed by Dr. Georgia Bozeday, Director of Educational Services at Rush NeuroBehavioral Center. 

Choose a Planner System (Paper, Digital, or both!)

Every college student needs a planner system.  Our brains are not designed to remember all the details and deadlines of every assignment, paper, and exam.  Luckily, if we write this information down in a planner or enter it into a calendar app, using our Executive Function skills, our brains are designed to see our upcoming tasks and make plans to get our work done.  With this in mind, students should decide what system will work best for them… paper or digital.  Here are a few pros and cons for each:

Paper Planner


  • Writing by hand helps you process information better
  • Paper planners are highly customizable
  • You won’t be interrupted by notifications from other apps


  • It’s one more thing to carry around
  • Making changes can be messy
  • If you lose it, there is no “Cloud Backup”

Digital Planner/Calendar App


  • You will always have your planner available on your phone
  • You can access a cloud-based planner from multiple devices
  • Automated reminders can alert you of upcoming due dates
  • Online calendars are easy to share with others if you are trying to coordinate a study group


  • Apps are less flexible than paper and can sometimes have a steep learning curve
  • It’s more difficult to see the “big picture”. (The activity below will address this!)
  • Notifications from other apps can be a distraction when you are trying to make a plan.

Hybrid System (Paper & Digital)

Personally, I use a hybrid system to manage my time and tasks.  I use a calendar app to keep track of deadlines/appointments and a paper journal to help me manage my daily tasks.  This system really works for me and I think it could be a good fit for a lot of college students as well. To use a hybrid system in college, students should enter anything that is happening (or is due) on a specific day and time, into their digital calendar app. Encourage them to reference and update this app regularly. On days when they have a lot of “free time”, they can use a paper planner or blank notebook to make a list of activities and tasks that they want to accomplish that day before hanging out with friends or just enjoying some downtime. 

The Big Picture

In addition to her role as director of educational services at RNBC, Dr. Bozeday taught a Study Strategies  course at Loyola University for several years.  Below she describes one of her favorite time management activities from that course… 

Creating a Semester Timeline to see The Big Picture by Georgia Bozeday Ed.D. 

During the first week of class, I would give each student a long piece of butcher-block paper, about three feet long and a set of colored markers.  Using their syllabi, students would then create a semester timeline, plotting due dates for their assignments, papers, and exams. I instructed students to use the black marker to create the timeline and color-code their coursework and assessments making it easy to distinguish between different classes. 

Creating this semester timeline provided students with both the big picture for the whole term and the details regarding specific assignments. Additionally, the timeline allowed students to easily identify those time periods when due dates for assignments and exams are clustering – during mid-terms and finals weeks for example, when students will need to be diligent in applying effective time management strategies. 

Students would often roll their eyes at this activity comparing it to a 6th-grade history project.  But once they completed the activity, they had a very different perspective.  “This makes it feel real”, one student remarked.  Some students told me that they taped their timelines up on the wall of their dorm rooms and shared, “I am definitely doing this every semester!”

(Photo Acknowledgement: This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA)

Think Slow… Especially Online! 

I want to start this blog post with a simple word problem…(some of you may know this one. 😉)

  • At a local sporting goods store, a Bat and a Baseball cost a total of $1.10
  • The Bat costs one dollar more than the Ball
  • How much does the Ball cost?

The answer is 10 cents, right?  Let’s do the math…

If the Ball costs 10 cents and the Bat costs one dollar more than the ball, that means the Bat costs $1.10.  When purchased together, this would put the total cost at $1.20.  Hmmm… well that’s not right. 

The correct answer is that the ball actually costs five cents and the bat costs $1.05 ($0.05 + $1.00), which, together, adds up to $1.10.

If you answered correctly, you most likely resisted the urge to answer impulsively and instead used your executive function skills to really think through the problem before responding. Either that or you have read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2005).

If you, like me, thought that ten cents was the easy and obvious answer to this puzzle, you are in good company… So did the majority of Havard students in a 2005 study (Frederick, 2005).  In fact, some argue that Kahneman himself is guilty of not “thinking slow” and taking time to thoroughly investigate the validity of several studies he cites in his book (Engber, 2016).

Nevertheless, Kahneman’s (2005) Bat and Ball Example sheds light on how our initial, sometimes impulsive responses to a problem may be far less accurate than a reflective response that requires time and cognitive effort. In the 21st Century, we can apply this approach to maintaining a professional online reputation, which is essential to build trust with those we seek to serve as educators.

Thinking Fast and Slow goes into great detail explaining the complicated nature of our human brains and thought processes (Kahneman, 2005). While I am barely scraping the surface of the insights found in this book, I find there to be a profound connection between helping students build strong executive function skills and using our own EF abilities when it comes to maintaining a reputable and professional online reputation.  When we quickly create or comment on an online post, we are most likely acting impulsively and emotionally, which can lead to unintended consequences for ourselves and others.  Developing and practicing impulse control and emotional regulation are not only key components of our Executive Function Curriculum, but they are also essential skills needed to engage empathically and respectfully in any and all of our online interactions. 

In today’s social media climate, often filled with polarizing views and opinions, it is easy for us to think fast and respond impulsively.  When you find yourself in this situation, think back to the Bat and the Ball Example and remind yourself that thinking slow and responding reflectively and thoughtfully will help you to maintain a positive online reputation built on trust, professionalism, and respect. 


Engber, D. (2016, December 21). The irony effect: How the scientist who founded the science of mistakes ended up mistaken. Slate.

Frederick, S. (2005). Cognitive reflection and decision making. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19 (4): 25–42.

Kahneman, D. (2005). Thinking, fast and slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Qualities of a Successful Student 

Qualities of a Successful Student

By: Michael Smith, Senior Education Specialist at RNBC

What are the qualities of a successful student?  Take a minute to answer that question in your head or grab some scratch paper and make a list. 

Here is a list of responses that I have received from middle and high school students when asked this exact question during one of our Executive Function Student Workshops…

    • “They pay attention in class.”
    • “They do their homework.”
    • “They turn assignments in on time.”
    • “They can work well in a group.”
    • “They are open to new ideas.”
    • “They are good listeners.”
    • “They study for tests.”
    • “They keep their papers organized.”

It’s an insightful list of qualities.  Did any of these items match some of the characteristics on your list?

The biggest insight for me, however, is what the students don’t say.  After more than a decade of leading this workshop, not one student has ever responded to this question by saying…

  • “They have to be an excellent reader.”
  • “They have to understand many scientific concepts.”
  • “They have to know a lot about important historical events.”
  • ‘They have to be able to solve math problems quickly.”
  • “They have to be really smart.”

Students seem to instinctually know what researchers have found in their recent studies… Mastery of Executive Function skills is a better predictor of school success than IQ. (Diamond, 2013). 

With this in mind, here are some Executive Function tips to help your child get off to a good start and maintain some helpful habits this school year:

  • Be sure students have a Materials Management system in place such as a binder and folders that are color-coded and labeled by subject.
  • Encourage students to use a school planner (assignment notebook) to keep track of homework, tests, and projects.
  • Help students find the “Hidden Steps” when they are assigned school projects
  • Watch the video below from our EF Desk series and teach students how to use the “3 Ds” approach to prioritizing their homework. 


Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual review of psychology, 64, 135–168.–143750

Coming Soon! 

Come back soon learn how you can help students build better executive function skills while they are on summer vacation!

Welcome to the Brain Blog 

Hello and welcome!

The Brain Blog is dedicated to exploring the intersection of executive functions, technology, and education.  We will dig into recent findings from educational neuroscience and share evidence-based, practical, strategies that you can apply to your teaching and parenting. 

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Executive Functions are cognitive processes that allow us to plan, organize, make decisions, pay attention, and regulate behavior.  Executive Function skills are essential for students to succeed in school and adults to succeed in later life.