High School

How to Convince Your Teen to (Actually) Use a Planner

Every year, you buy your high school student a shiny new planner. And every year, it’s abandoned before October 1. Put a stop to the missed assignments and conflicting commitments with these tips for getting your teen to buy in to a planner habit — for real this time.

A high school girl writing in a pink planner
Teenage girl writing in notebook

For some students, a crisp unspoiled planner represents a world of opportunity — for better productivity, smarter time management, and less stress. For teens with ADHD, it looks like a lot of agonizing work. But a well-organized planner is perhaps THE most useful tool for middle- and high-school students with ADHD. For some time-challenged teens, it can mean the difference between success and failure — both before and after graduation — so it’s definitely worth the pain and suffering.

For parents, the wrong way to encourage a productive planner habit is clear: Hand it to your teen and walk away. The right way is more work, but well worth it: Sit down and guide your teen through the steps, from setting up the planner with color-coded sections to building its use into his daily routine. Also necessary: motivation and empowerment strategies to make sure your teen really understands how a planner can benefit him, and what he can do to better understand his specific challenges. Here’s how to get started.

Motivate, Motivate, Motivate

Motivation is vital. If your teen can’t see how using a planner will help her, no amount of nagging will make her dig in and use one. So a parent’s first step is this: Show your teen the benefits of using a planner, and empower him to take ownership of his needs and build his independence by asserting control over his schedule and life.

Ask your teen to think about some time-management challenges she’s faced in the past, and discuss together how using a planner might help. Some are easy: if she frequently missed assignments because she forgot to write them down, explain how establishing a daily planner routine will help her boost her grades and better demonstrate her understanding. If he struggled with procrastination, propose using a planner to break down tasks and set mini-deadlines to reduce stress and last-minute fire drills. She might not see the light right away, but if your teen starts to understand how using a planner can help her get more done quickly, she’ll be more likely to “buy in” to the system you establish.

Maintain your teen’s motivation through positive reinforcement. Praise him every time he uses his planner, and frequently point out instances where it helped him get his work done. In dire situations, bribery isn’t out of the question — giving your teen a dollar for every day he successfully follows his planner routine can work wonders toward building a long-term habit.

[Your High School Get-It-Together Guide]

Setting Up the Planner System

Next, work together to set up a planner system that actually helps her keep track of assignments. Seems like a no-brainer, right? But what often gets lost here is understanding how a planner would work best for each teen’s unique brain and time-management needs.

This is where the “left brain vs. right brain” dichotomy becomes important. Those who are “left-brain dominant” are typically more analytical, logical, and objective. “Right-brain dominant” people tend to be more creative, intuitive, and subjective. Many with ADHD (but not all) fall into the latter category. Teens who are right-brain dominant may struggle initially while learning to use a traditional planner, even if they really want to — because their brains are designed for processing information in a more free-form way.

To make a planner truly useful to a teen who thrives on creativity, you’ve got to sync it up with her processing style. No single system will work for everyone, so it’s important that you work with your teen to test approaches. If you need ideas, however, the following planner strategies have proven successful for many who are right-brain dominant:

  • Colors, colors, and more colors: Make the planner visually appealing — with bright colors corresponding to different subjects — to help a creative brain stay interested and easily recognize what needs to be done.
  • Personalized language: Don’t allow handwriting difficulties or distractions to derail your child’s efforts. Help her devise an easy-to-remember shorthand — like “T” for “test” or “WS” for “worksheet” — to keep track of assignments without getting fatigued and overwhelmed. Her shorthand can even incorporate symbols or stickers — a useful tool for visual learners.
  • Routines: If using a planner feels unnatural to your go-with-the-flow teen, begin by establishing the structure of a daily routine. Set a time every day for reviewing and updating the planner — right before homework time works for most. A daily review of assignments will help your child determine his most urgent priorities, and plan what he needs to work on tonight, tomorrow, and further down the road given deadlines and conflicts. You may need to supervise this routine for a few weeks or months until your teen gets in the habit on his own. As his competence grows, pull back.

A planner should include more than just homework assignments. Make sure your child uses it to schedule extracurricular activities, plan social events, and track other important information. Once a planner is used to track all commitments, your teen will turn to it regularly and begin to see time more clearly — helping him complete his assignments, work toward his goals, and improve his self-confidence.

[Free Download: Transform Your Teen’s Apathy Into Engagement]

Our Top Planner Picks

A planner is a very personal thing, and the right planner for your teen depends on several factors. Layout, size, style, and even the texture of the paper can all play a role in whether or not your teen will feel comfortable regularly using a planner.

No matter which planner you choose, remember that it’s only as good as its content and use. Utility is likely to be higher when it’s selected specifically for your teen’s needs. If you need help getting started, here are some of our favorites:

  1. Order Out of Chaos
  2. Blue Sky planners
  3. AT-A-GLANCE planners

As another option, The Student Organizers of Atlanta will custom-design planners of any format, size, and color for students. The beauty in this option is that after a consultation, the student’s preferences, unique ways of processing information, and interest level are all incorporated into the planner’s design.

[8 Paper Planners That Will Change Your Life]