One of the great things about technology is that if you’re looking for something, the internet probably has it. Recently, one of my students introduced me to Ambient-Mixer, a website where you can listen to “relaxing music, ambient atmospheres, and astonishing sound effects.” I was a little skeptical at first because there are tons of sites out there that play classical music to help stimulate the brain and tune out distractions, but Ambient-Mixer takes it several steps further by allowing YOU to create the perfect soundscape that will enable you to focus.
Are you a huge Harry Potter fan? Well, take a look at the Ravenclaw Common Room template. You can set the volume for individual sounds, such as pages flipping, the wind blowing, and a fire burning. Or maybe you’re more of a Disney fan? Check out Belle’s Library, where you can adjust the volume on a grandfather clock, a chair creaking, and footsteps. There are templates for everything! From ‘Autumn Forest’ to ‘Victorian London’ to ‘Inside the TARDIS,’ you’re guaranteed to find a mix of sounds that works best for you. And these are just the templates – you have the freedom to upload your own audio files if there are certain sounds that you know relax you, or you can choose from existing ones on the site and create your own perfect ambient mix.
Background noises can increase productivity and reduce stress, which makes them ideal for students who are struggling to tackle workloads in this age of virtual learning. And even though I’m not currently a student, I’ve found that this website works great for me too! I never would have thought that listening to sounds like “milk and honey ambient pad” and “pre-thunderstorm” would help me better focus on my work. So the next time you’re having a hard time concentrating on a task, try perusing the options on Ambient-Mixer until you find your ideal sounds!
Time management skills are essential for all aspects of life. Whether you’re writing a paper for school or juggling Thanksgiving dinner, knowing how to manage your time appropriately will make things run much more smoothly. Practicing these skills at a young age will allow you to learn how to work independently, use time effectively, and complete tasks by the deadline. Here are some great apps students can use to improve their time management skills:
Rescue Time (Android, Apple): This application sends you weekly reports that allow you to pinpoint the things that are stealing your time. For example, maybe you spend two hours idly browsing clothing sites, or maybe you open up social media sites ten times an hour. Once you know where your time is going, you can use Rescue Time’s distraction blockers (i.e., block your access to these time-stealing sites) to increase productivity.
Toggl (Android, Apple): Toggl allows you to track how much time you spend on projects and tasks. This is a great way for students to see what sorts of assignments or classes demand the most of their time and why; for example, maybe Algebra worksheets consistently take a long time to complete because the content is difficult. With that knowledge, students can then appropriately budget the correct amount of time they need to finish a task.
Pocket (Android, Apple): This app is great to help students stay focused on the task at hand. Many times, students get sidetracked by something that pops up on their screen, like a new TikTok video or an article. With this app, you can place the item into your “saves” and review it at a later and more convenient time. This way, you’re less distracted and can focus on your immediate work.
Be Focused Timer (Apple): Be Focused provides a handy way to track blocks of time and your past work history. You can set a timer to work for a specific amount of time on a task and then set a timer to take a short break. This app allows you to manage your tasks, track your goals, and customize work interval duration to maximize your productivity.
There are dozens of time management apps out there, so go out and explore! Since we’re living in a digital world, using apps to our benefit can help us feel more in control of how we spend our time. If you’ve found other time management apps that have been useful for you and your family, let us know.
We’ve all been there. It’s 7:30 on a weeknight. You’ve worked hard all day and are starving, but there are no leftovers, or not enough to make a full meal. Your fridge is filled with an assortment of unprepared healthy foods: raw kale, half a cucumber, two raw potatoes, and a pack of still-frozen uncooked chicken thighs. How long will it take to combine these ingredients into something that everyone will eat? You’re hangry, and DiGiorno ends up on everyone’s plate for the third time this week.
With many people stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we supposedly have more time to cook or prepare fresh meals. I don’t know about you, but I can’t say that I have all the time I would like to do everything I dream of, even now. However, more and more research is emerging that shows what we eat affects the health and function of our brain, and it’s in our best interest to eat in a way that supports our mental capabilities. With that in mind, I’m making an effort to incorporate more organization and planning into my meals so that I can successfully eat healthy foods.
Make a plan
Plan out your week of meals so you don’t need to go to the grocery store five times a week.
Make a list before going to the grocery store and check to make sure that you indeed don’t have those ingredients before leaving home.
Set reminders on your phone or schedule specific meals for certain days, especially if you need to use an ingredient before it expires.
Use our Guess/Actual Timesheet to learn how long it actually takes to prepare some of your favorite healthy meals so that you can schedule them appropriately.
Make a list of the different things you want to cook and how long they take. Can you cook several things in the oven at the same time? Can you multi-task if two foods need to be prepared simultaneously?
Don’t have time in the mornings? Make overnight oats the night before! If a smoothie is all you can stomach, cut up ingredients over the weekend and put them into serving-sized bags that you just need to dump into the blender.
Nobody is perfect, and we shouldn’t feel ashamed of doing the best we can in our busy lives. However, incorporating some of these tips might help you pull off a few well-planned meals throughout the week and teach your children healthy habits. After all, executive functioning skills are as important for work and school as they are for home life!
Erica MechlinskiFood for Thought: Executive Functions in the Kitchen
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered our daily activities, and finding information about the practical impact on so many areas of our lives can be challenging. With many students currently preparing for an all-virtual or hybrid school year, they may be unsure what other aspects of school may be changed because of the pandemic. For those graduating high school in 2021, Thinking Organized is happy to offer some information about COVID-19’s impact on the SAT and the ACT and how students can begin their preparation for the big day.
To effectively prepare for either standardized exam, students should first take a full-length practice test, which can be found for free on the SAT and ACT websites. From there, they should assess their strengths and weaknesses in each of the content areas tested on the exam by comparing their performances on each question type. For example, if a student does very well on systems of equations but very poorly on quadratics, he should focus his study time on the latter. In addition to reviewing specific content areas and completing practice problems, students should also aim to improve their stamina and strategic thinking skills. The SAT and the ACT are both lengthy examinations that require students to concentrate for long periods of time, which can be particularly challenging for those with ADHD. As test day approaches, students should practice working for longer periods and taking full-length tests to build up their ability to sustain their attention for the entire length of the exam.
If you’re unsure whether your children are prepared for the SAT or ACT, Thinking Organized is here to help! Our SAT/ACT Prep program is designed specifically for students who struggle with ADHD and executive function weaknesses, as these students learn differently and require specific structures to thrive. In this multi-week program, our mentors will help your children identify their strengths and weaknesses, provide them with the instruction and practice required to improve content knowledge, and teach them strategies that will allow them to maximize their performance on test day.
ACT for Fall 2020
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACT has expanded their available testing dates for fall 2020:
Beginning with the September 12th administration, the ACT will resume in-person testing at many of the same centers that they have traditionally used while offering additional test dates to accommodate social distancing. Students will be more spaced out, and PPE – including masks and gloves – will be allowed but not provided. Students will also be asked a series of questions to determine whether they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms; any student who appears to have the virus will be asked to leave and allowed to reschedule their testing date at no cost. For those who feel uncomfortable sending their child to a school for in-person administration of the exam, the ACT has announced plans to offer in-home administration of the test. Check out the ACT’s website for more resources related to COVID-19.
SAT for Fall 2020
Much like the ACT, the SAT will soon resume in-person administration of the test, though it will be offered once per month for most of the fall and winter. Those administrations are contingent on the educational institutions the SAT partners with allowing testing to move forward at current capacity. The current dates offered for the SAT are as follows:
The SAT will require a face mask or covering and will ensure that students are seated at least six feet apart. Additionally, the SAT has relaxed the restrictions placed on their educational partners, including allowing flexible start times and off-site administrations to ensure that proper social distancing is enforced. Unlike the ACT, the SAT does not currently have any plans to offer testing administration outside of their current partner institutions.
In light of the difficulties and potential safety issues for so many families in taking a standardized test this fall, many colleges and universities have dropped the SAT/ACT requirement for fall 2021 admission. A list of institutions that have dropped the SAT/ACT requirement can be found here.
Erica MechlinskiPreparing for the ACT/SAT in Fall 2020
Like many of you, I scrambled to locate fun, educational activities to work on with my students when distance learning began. With schools significantly reducing the amount of homework students normally received, they found themselves with tons of extra time in their schedules. As I searched through various activities, I found one that spoke to my students’ inner naturalist: a nature journal.
A nature journal is exactly what it sounds like. You can either observe an animal in your backyard or on a zoo’s livestream if you don’t happen to have tigers lurking nearby, and you watch them. Whether it’s for a matter of minutes or a half hour, you then write down what you see: how the animal behaves, what it looks like, and what its environment appears to be. After that, you create a list of questions based on your observations. For example, why does this animal have claws? Why does it have short fur even though it lives in a cold environment? The next step is to research potential answers to these questions and jot down what you discover. Depending on how artistically-inclined your children are, you can also have them draw a picture of the animal so that they can refer back to it later!
The nature journal was a big hit with my younger kiddos, especially those in elementary school. To me, this activity was a great way to work on their attention and critical thinking skills. For many kids with executive functioning weaknesses, sustaining focus on a single task can be a challenge, as they tend to become distracted. Watching an animal, though, was something that they were legitimately interested in, and this exercise allowed them to practice the crucial skill of concentrating. Not only that, the observatory nature of the journal required them to process what they were seeing and think about its larger purpose; instead of just noting that the animal had claws or short fur, they asked themselves why this was the case.
If you’re looking for fun activities to do with your kids this summer that promote executive functioning skills, I highly recommend giving the nature journal a go!
You’ve finished the college application process, you’ve been accepted to a university, you’ve hit it off with your roommate…but what comes next? How do you make the big decision of what to study? You’ve probably heard from several people that choosing the right major will have a huge impact on your life post-school and that if you choose incorrectly, you’ll regret it later. With all this pressure, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when it seems like everyone around you has a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives.
The pressure is real, there’s no denying it. Yet it’s crucial to not rush into a major without first giving it a lot of thought. There are many factors that should go into your decision about what to study, and this list is just a small sampling:
Talk to people.Your academic advisor, professors, and TAs are here for several reasons, and one is to give you advice! You’re not the first person who’s been confused by college majors, so reach out to your support team. They can share their own experiences and those of others; talking to someone who’s been through the same challenge and seeing how they’ve grown can be a huge morale boost.
Think big. A common misconception that students have is that there is only one job they can have based on their major (English = teacher, History = historian, Philosophy = Plato’s heir), and that’s just not true! If you love to read, consider majoring in English. Not only will you develop critical thinking and communication skills, you will be able to apply these skills to a variety of fields, such as law. Each major offers a skillset that can be applied to multiple disciplines, so don’t discount a major without first looking into the skills it offers.
Take gen eds.Colleges tend to require students to take classes from a variety of disciplines. While it may sound terrible to take another math or French class, taking gen eds is actually a great way to figure out which majors you like and which you don’t. If your Bio 101 class makes you want to fall asleep but your Chem 101 class piques your interest, consider signing up for another class! Don’t prejudge your gen eds before seeing whether any of them appeal to you.
Consider your interests.It’s no secret that some jobs pay more than others. But majoring in something you don’t legitimately enjoy will be painful. If you’re passionate about dance, take some classes to explore it! You may discover that the teaching aspect of dance is something you can see yourself getting into, or perhaps you’re enthralled by writing about the history of dance. Majoring in something that puts a smile on your face will make the next four years go by happily, and you’ll feel more confident in looking for jobs later on. It’s hard to pick a major without first taking some classes, so sign up for the ones that you’re sincerely interested in!
Half of college freshmen end up switching their major, so you’re in good company if you change your mind about what you want to study. The important thing is to experiment in your first two years. Take a bunch of classes, write down your impressions of each, and talk to people in those departments. In fact, you can declare yourself as an Exploratory or Undecided Major until you find the right classes that speak to you. You don’t need to have your life figured out on Day One of college; all you need to do is keep an open mind.
With the holidays in the rearview mirror, I’m hoping to convince you to carry over one holiday tradition throughout the new year. If your family is anything like mine, the long open stretches of time afforded by the holidays means board games. While games can simply be a way to pass the time during your next snow day, they can also be a powerful tool for challenging your child’s brain. Everyone knows the timeless classics, but the arrival of the internet has given a platform to the widest variety of games in human history, some specifically designed to help strengthen your child’s brain and others hiding that mental goodness under a thick layer of family fun.
Consider the following games, organized by the skill they primarily challenge, for your next family game night:
Logic and Reasoning. The oldest games in the world almost always revolve around strategy, and strategy means logic and reasoning. These ancient games remain a powerful tool for building your child’s fluid reasoning skills, whether it’s Go, Chess, or Mancala. If you are looking for something more modern, strategy games like Catan, Axis & Allies, Risk, and Diplomacy force players to weigh dozens of factors and make strategic decisions to press an advantage. All of these games, based on concrete rules but with no defined path, build the type of flexible thinking that makes tests like the SAT and ACT much easier to tame.
Language. Perhaps no type of game has benefited more from the boom in game development as much as those requiring our language processing skills. From the old standbys like Scrabble and crossword puzzles, to fun new party games like Apples to Apples and Bananagrams, these games challenge players to utilize their language skills in new and different ways. But most importantly, they allow children to work on these vital skills without even knowing it.
Memory. Most of the games on this list will test a child’s memory, whether short-term or long-term. Chess grand masters can recall the step-by-step gameplay of matches they played decades before. Scrabble requires players to quickly search their long-term memory. And many card games your family may already be playing (my family played Hi Low Jack) reward players for remembering what cards have appeared. There are also many games that reward memory directly, such as Guess Who, Simon Says, and, of course, Memory.
Creativity. Mastering Calculus is important and clear enough that a robot could learn it, but success in the humanities requires a bit more creativity. Games like Dixit, Salad Bowl, and Pictionary challenge players to be more creative. Building creativity is essential for a wide range of humanities skills from writing essays to understanding the complex metaphorical language in Shakespeare.
Any of these games can be a fun evening for a family while also helping children to build crucial skills for their future success. But the best advice when it comes to games is mixing it up. My grandmother could knock out the New York TimesSunday crossword in under 10 minutes and she absolutely always knew who was holding the Jack, but one of the biggest benefits to games comes from the learning. As you challenge your brain to understand not only the rules, but also the strategies that underpin the game, new neural pathways are being built. Once you’ve become an expert, construction has usually long since concluded. So trade games with your neighbor, go to a restaurant where they have a collection of board games, or check out new games from your local library. Challenge your child to read the rules and explain the game to the rest of the family. Ask them how the game you’re playing this week is different than, and how it’s the same as, the game you played last week. With the current boom in board game, you could play a new game every single week and never run out of new option
We can all benefit from the use of checklists – whether we’re shopping at the grocery store, keeping track of appointments, or planning for a trip! Making a list helps us to orient, organize, and prioritize our thoughts to come up with a clear plan. For students, to-do lists help break down longer-term projects, which are often breeding grounds for procrastination, into individual, easier-to-accomplish subtasks with firm deadlines. In the 21stcentury, creating checklists on your phone makes your tasks even more accessible; you can even sync your tasks to your smartwatch!
Here are some to-do list highlights to try out:
Google Tasks: Many students use Google Classroom or Google Drive in school, which makes Google Tasks a perfect option for tracking assignments. Not only can you access Tasks from the sidebar when using any Google application, but tasks can be synced to your calendar and accessed from your phone. Students who have messy handwriting or find it challenging to utilize a traditional academic planner may find checking off their work using Google Tasks a much easier and productive method.
Microsoft To-Do: This task app syncs your to-do lists to your Microsoft 365 account so you can access it from your Outlook Calendar. Tasks can be moved, grouped, and organized into individual sections. This app also allows you to make subtasks to break down more complex responsibilities. You can assign tasks or share your lists with other members in your organization, which makes this app ideal for working professionals!
Actions by Moleskine: With this app, you can view, track, and color-code your tasks. When you create a task, the app takes care of scheduling, reminders, and notifications. This way, you can receive push notifications when you need to get a job done! Tasks can also be moved around by priority and can be dropped into lists. This app also offers smartwatch and Siri compatibility, which makes it even easier to keep track of important items and keep your productivity hands-free.
Post-It: Take pictures of existing Post-it notes or add your own digital notes to help you brainstorm, collaborate, and get organized! Once you’ve added your notes, you can group them on a grid and share them to PowerPoint, Excel, PDF, and more. This app allows a lot of creativity and independence, and it’s great for group projects, business meetings, or quick reminders when you are on the go!
Good Old Pen and Paper: If you’re not tech-savvy or just prefer the act of physically writing tasks down, putting pen to paper is always a great option. If it’s a grocery list, consider grouping items by their location in your local store. If it’s a daily list, you might organize the tasks by the order you want to accomplish them in. Add check boxes next to each object or action so you can get satisfaction out of checking them off the list!
There are many options out there when it comes to checklists; some prioritize accessibility and ease, while others focus on versatility and functionality. It’s important to try multiple possibilities until you find one that works best for you. Ultimately, your efforts will result in the same outcome: a handy tool to help you plan, prevent procrastination, and give you the satisfaction of getting the job done!
The alarm rings. Once. Twice. Three times. You go into your child’s room and discover he’s still sleeping. You tell him to get out of bed, and he mumbles that he will in a minute. When you return 30 minutes later, he’s still snoozing away but bolts up in a panic when you inform him that the bus is leaving in five minutes.
If your child is struggling to get out of bed when the alarm rings, there are several things you can do to help him feel more in control. First, establish a routine. While it’s difficult to predict the amount of homework a student gets on a given night, aim to have a “light’s out” time so that he knows it’s time to unwind and go to sleep at a reasonable time. If your child struggles to stick to this light’s out time at first, that’s okay! It’ll take time to adjust, so in the meantime, try to get him into bed within a half hour of the light’s out time. By doing so, this will increase his chances of not only getting enough sleep, but feeling rested enough to wake up in the morning with no fuss. This routine can encompass other elements as well, such as picking out an outfit the night before and placing a packed backpack near the front door to reduce stress in the morning.
Another method your child can try is to manage his academics effectively. Part of the reason that students stay up so late is they misjudge how long an assignment will take them, or they lose focus. Have your child set a timer for 25 minutes; he must work continuously during this time, and when the 25 minutes are up, your child earns a 5-minute break. He then returns for another 25-minute block of work, and so on and so forth. By scheduling blocks of work and breaks, your child will be able to remain more focused and complete his work efficiently. It’s also helpful to teach your child how to gauge how long he believes an assignment will take him so he can judge how many 25-minute blocks he should devote to it and how he should prioritize his assignments.
School mornings have a bad rap, but they don’t have to if you plan accordingly! If your child goes to sleep at about the same time every night and learns to manage his time while attending to his homework, waking up in the morning and heading off to school will be a breeze.
Through seminars and individualized instruction, Thinking Organized is a unique and effective solution to a persistent problem. Think about your work differently, organize it successfully and accomplish your goals.