Executive Function Strategies Blog

Academic Goal Setting: Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

Editor’s note: We hope you enjoy reading this story about how an Executive Function coach practices what she preaches as she encourages her students to use academic goal setting to strengthen their Executive Function skills.

Last winter I was standing in line to buy coffee with a fellow coach when he got an alert on his phone reminding Habit List app helps with academic goal settinghim to record an update on his progress so far that day, and he was so excited about it that he showed it to me. It was an app called Habit List and he was having success changing some habits he was focused on. I made a note of the name of it on my iPhone and thought, hey I'll check it out and maybe it will benefit some of my students down the road that want to change a habit. Little did I know then that something (kind of minor) he said would make such a major impact on my personal life.

Fast forward a few months: I had an enlightening moment when my jeans wouldn’t quite fit and realized I neededA coach uses apps for setting and attaining fitness goals to make some changes and set some goals. That got me thinking about how I could use Habit List for my own life to more efficiently tackle some of the goals that I've been attempting to set but only half-heartedly follow through on. I was especially excited about this because that would give me a great way to actually model what I'm regularly encouraging my students to do.  You know, the whole practice what you preach thing. My goal has been to exercise daily, and not just a romp through the park with my 2 year old, but a good-old-fashioned-work-up-a-hearty-sweat kind of workout.  So over the past few months I've made small goals, set a plan into action and enlisted lots of support from my family and friends. Habit List reminds me daily of my goal - to exercise - then tracks progress over time as I record it. I also use myfitnesspal to track my eating. Of course there have been other things that have helped me stay on track with attaining this goal: stationing my gym bag near the door nightly and setting out gym clothes for the week, planning meals and snacks ahead of time, factoring in a sweet cheat treat weekly (ie scheduling a break), and when I'm feeling like it's not happening fast enough I remind myself where I started and how much stronger I am than I was yesterday!

Academic Goal Setting for My Students

Let me tell you how I use this same strategy with some of my students to help them to work on their goal directed persistence for setting academic goals and meeting them! “Goal directed persistence” is simply the ability to persevere and complete a task to meet an objective. I was working with a high school senior who really wanted to tackle all of his senior thesis reading prior to winter break (talk about awesome academic goal setting there). So, in the fall we outlined how much reading he had ahead of him and broke down how frequently he would need to read daily throughout the fall and early winter to accomplish this goal. Basically he had 4 months to read 3 books.  Then, he allotted himself a “no-read day” and subtracted holidays to do the math for how much available time he had. He determined that he would have 100 days to read 1,596 pages which is approximately 16 pages a day for you non-math majors. Next he set the reminder in his Habit List app to alert him daily of his goal and to have him track his progress daily.  

He purchased all the books on his Kindle and put hard copies of the books in school bag (back-up for when his Kindle is not charged). We discussed ahead of time that if he did not read the goal number of pages that he would need to make up for that or increase his daily goal going forward in order to meet his goal. That, my readers, means more math. Full disclosure: he did occasionally have to do that - we all slip up once in a while - but by the last month he was only having to read 14 pages a day because even though he got off track occasionally he made up for it “when the reading got good”  as he said! Many of us struggle to persist to a goal, but sometimes that regular electronic reminder can be key.

As for my fitness goals, with some incredible follow through and daily reminders from my apps, I've been successful at hitting the gym at least 5x weekly for over 6 months. It feels amazing and I'm dropping weight, getting stronger and feeling healthier!

The struggle is still real but it's a different kind of struggle now...more about how to plan the gym as an A coach helps her self and her students to set and attain goalstappointment in my calendar, honor the commitment to myself and stick to my plan to reach my goals  because it's totally transformative and worth it. I am also able to better understand what it takes to persevere through many (sometimes self-induced) setbacks and not dwell on them but learn from them and keep working towards what I know I can achieve. This has been a pretty helpful reminder when working with some of my students; I know how a daunting goal can, at times, be overwhelming, but I also know how to handle the successes and the setbacks.

So that seemingly minor conversation I had standing in line at a coffee shop about a phone app that helps to build habits transformed the way I now work towards a goal that has been in the making for 2+ years and helps me to help my students when setting academic goals.


Do you know a child who could benefit from learning how to set and attain academic goals? Click below to find out how Executive Function coaching can help.

Executive Function Skills Assessment to find out if Executive Function coaching is a good fit for a student.


Rachel Krompinger is a Senior Level Executive Function Coach, Intake Coordinator, and Director of Marketing and Outreach, and is based in our Boston branch. In her role as Senior Level Executive Function Coach, she provides customized in-home Executive Function coaching for students in need of help with their immediate academic challenges with a focus to help them develop an approach to learning and working that makes them more effective throughout their lives.



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