Today we conclude our three-part series by guest bloggers Brandon Slade and Katie Zak of Untapped Learning, who have explored how the concept of Lead Domino can help students and others move ahead when Executive Function issues complicate their progress. Check out the first two parts of their series here and here.
We know lead dominos come in all forms. Sometimes they take the form of a task, other times the form of an action, or even a process.
For many of us, work or school is the driving force behind our "overwhelm". There’s often a big project to start, a paper or proposal to write, or a test to study for. We have to remember—the lead domino for any of those scenarios is just the one thing we can do that will give us some momentum.
Here are some frequent scenarios our students encounter:
- There’s an assignment due at the end of the week and you’re confused about the instructions. What’s the lead domino? Send an email.
Teachers and professors want to help you succeed. They definitely don’t want to see you fail just because you misunderstood part of an assignment. Reach out to ask for clarification, come into office hours, or even schedule a Zoom call if that would expedite the process and be more convenient. (Side note: make sure the clarifications around the instructions are documented somewhere, like in a notebook or on a Google Doc—you don’t want to have to email them a few hours later to ask again.) Asking clarification questions can save you from HOURS of work wasted on guessing. Not emailing, on the other hand, could cost hours of your future time as you redo the assignment, or the cost could be the hit your grade will take due to the points deducted. By sending this email, you’re also showing the instructor that you care about their class and your academic success overall, helping to establish a positive student/teacher relationship.
- You have a test coming up and you need to focus and study. What’s the lead domino? Create a clear workspace.
Notebooks, textbooks, flashcards, slideshows on your laptop—you have so many materials to sift through when preparing for an exam. They may all be helpful and necessary, but you know what’s not necessary? Yesterday’s half-full cup of coffee, the balled-up, dirty workout clothes on your chair, and pieces of an unfinished art project strewn across your desk. There’s no room for the materials you need, so take a minute to clean your space before you jump into studying. This will save you from wasting time searching for missing flashcards in the midst of scrapbook paper, or frantically cleaning up cold coffee when it inevitably spills on your notes. Take a minute to set yourself up in a clean environment, void of distractions.
- Tasks are piling up, but you’re just spinning your wheels. Where do you start? What’s the lead domino? Write everything down.
It’s hard to prioritize effectively if you’re not looking at a full list of the things you have to accomplish. If you have limited time to complete a number of tasks, you can’t always dive in blindly and hope for the best. Write down every task, assignment, or action that needs to be done. Once it’s all written down, you have a clearer idea of what things already have fixed times (class at 12:30, soccer practice at 4), providing structure to build around. At that point, you have everything you need to map out a realistic plan!
Planning is the first thing we do at Untapped when we sit down with students. We take every assignment, test date, dentist appointment, and violin lesson of the week and assign them to the appropriate days. If we don’t write down a test date, we might forget to account for study time in the days leading up to the test. If we don’t write down a violin lesson, we could incorrectly assume the number of hours available to do homework that night. Creating a plan is one of the best lead dominos, on both micro and macro levels, when you find yourself needing to get started. Whether you’re looking at your week as a whole, or you just can’t bring yourself to get to work on a specific project, take a moment to make a plan and organize your thoughts.