A few of our favorite things here at Tungsten Prep are: women entrepreneurs, awesome study skills, and students with grit. So, when we heard about Georgetown Day School junior Ariella Cymerman we had to meet her! Ariella is the CEO and Founder of Smart Schedule, a company that provides students with daily schedules in the form of tearable notepads to help them structure their time. She graciously agreed to share her tips for how to work smart and still make time for sleep and recreation.
I love this concept! How did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been doing ballet since I was five, which has always kept me really busy. In middle school, I started using sticky notes to keep track of everything I had to do – rehearsal, homework, dinner, time with friends. My backpack, my binder, my desk at home – they became covered in yellow! I found that breaking these intimidating tasks into small, manageable pieces helped keep me on track. I started to notice that I was able to finish my work and still go to bed by 10pm every night, while many of my friends were stressed and surviving on four hours of sleep.
But I didn’t really get the inkling that this could be a business until last summer, when I went to an entrepreneurship camp at the University of Michigan. My professor told me: a good business solves people’s problems, and the bigger the problem, the better the business. Time management among high school students seemed like a really big problem. So I spent the summer working on my business plan, designing my product and building a website.
There are a lot of time management apps out there, but you’re an advocate for a low-tech approach. Why?
Productivity and good study skills are about focus. I find that apps, phones, and laptops present too many distractions. Some of my teachers at GDS banned laptops from their classrooms and forced us to take notes the old-fashioned way. I was really struck by how much more I retained. It’s not just about cutting out the temptation to check your social media, it’s also about having to listen actively, summarize information and make that link between your brain and the paper.
I started doing research and discovered the Pomodoro method – it means “tomato” in Italian and is named after a red kitchen timer. The idea is that you write a list with the day’s tasks divided into 25-minute blocks. You take small breaks in between “pomodoros,” and then take a longer break after three or four of them. The short breaks keep you fresh and motivated, while the physical act of writing tasks on a checklist forces you to evaluate how long any one activity should take. There’s something very satisfying about putting a big check mark next to a task, and it’s a very simple way to build in accountability to the most important person of all – you!
I’m not against technology – it can really enhance productivity, and I don’t exclude the possibility that someday I’ll build a study skills app. But for middle and high school students who are just learning to manage their time – and that’s my market – I think the simplicity and mini-rewards that a paper-based to-do list offers are a better learning tool.
You’re a busy junior with a demanding schedule, and yet you still have time to run a business. Can you offer your fellow students any parting advice on how to reach their own goals?
I think it’s really important to be clear on what your goals are. That sounds simple, but my dream isn’t someone else’s dream. So ask yourself who you are and what’s important? For me, the important thing is to do well in school, improve in ballet, and build a business that helps other students. From there, the key is to link your goals to specific tasks, without ever losing sight of the big picture. You’ll be a lot more energized to study for that Bio test if you keep in mind that your goal is to one day become a doctor. Finally, there is no task so big that it can’t be broken down into small, manageable parts. So as you plan your day, think of your “pomodoros.” Finally, and most importantly, don’t give up! I wish you the best of luck!