Soon, the school bus will roll again. We’ll begin a new year. For many students, it will be a time filled with excitement, learning, and growth. For others, it marks another year of forgotten assignments, frustration, and disagreements both at home and at school.

How do some students make school look so easy? Is it intelligence, or could it be something more? What do they know that could help their frustrated classmates?

Over the next five weeks, we’ll talk about the habits that make school easy. Not only that, but we’ll look at the “grown-up” versions of those habits that make life easier every single day.

Principle Number One: Write It Down…All in One Place

I was a high school senior when I learned this lesson. Before then, sometimes I wrote down assignments. Sometimes, I figured I could remember it all. When I did write things down, they were scattered across different notebooks. Sometimes an assignment found its way to a random piece of paper folded and stuck in the pages of a textbook. Yet, times were simple enough that it still seemed to work.

The senior year was a different story. Activities were plentiful. Plans for college loomed large. It was too much to simply remember it all or rely on random pieces of paper.

What I needed was a system that put everything I had to do in one place. It also needed to be easy to maintain. I found the answer in a simple index card.

A Card for Every Day

On the front of the card, I wrote the events and tasks I needed to handle that day. That little card became my “marching orders” for the day. As teachers made assignments or announced tests, I turned the card to the other side and jotted the new items. If a friend gave me a phone number, I flipped the card over and wrote it there. Every homework assignment, every test announcement, every new event, every new phone number…they were all written in one place.

When I got home, I had exactly one job: Clear the card. Do what was on the front. Turn the card over. Do the homework assignments listed on the back. Transfer the phone number to my address book. Tell my parents about new calendar events that involved them. Write them on my own calendar. Take the announcement about the term paper and figure out the individual steps that would lead to success. When I had handled everything on the card, I was done.

The next morning, my job was to grab the first card from the box. Everything from the past that I wanted to return that day was there, all on that one little card. Stick it in my pocket and head out the door. I was ready for the day.

Different Tools. Same Principle.

Many schools issue a student planner. It gives the young person that single place to organize every responsibility. The caveat is the student must use it consistently.

A pocket memo pad is a simple and effective tool for trapping everything in one place. As soon as you pull out that memo pad and put pencil to paper, you earn the right to forget about it. The memo pad does the remembering. It’s also small enough it can go anywhere. In the evening, transfer calendar events and future to-dos to the calendar.  

What about the phones so many students have? Apps such as Google Calendar and Remember The Milk serve as the modern-day versions of my index card. The ability to add events and to-dos just by speaking into the phone is an easy skill to master.

Not Just for School

I’m no longer keeping up with my day on an index card. But, the same principle lives on. Trap ideas as soon as they occur. Do so in a central place. Now, you only have one place to look to see what you should be doing. Forgetting becomes a thing of the past.

Over a decade ago, The Art of Manliness blog wrote about The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men. You can read it at A month ago, the same blog recounted a story about the power of a “two-cent-pad.” You can find that one at

You don’t have to be famous or a man to fashion a simple system. As an old Chinese proverb states, “The strongest mind is weaker than the palest ink.”

The principle is the same whether the tool is a two-cent pad or the latest mobile phone. The principle is the same for the young student or the corporate CEO. To manage school (and life) the easy way, write it down…all in one place. Is there a young person in your life who needs to be hearing this? Help him or her find that tool to “write it down” and form the habit.

If you liked this post, check out the next one in the series.

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