When Kailea Switzer was a child, her favourite activity was removing books from her bookshelf only to place them back in new categories.

“I have always been like this. I am passionate about organization. My brain just thinks that way; it thinks in categories, so I am happy to find a professional use for that.”

Today Switzer is a student coach. She teaches university students the importance of being organized to help them tackle their academic work with more ease.

“The gap between high school and university can be very extreme,” Switzer explained. “Students had so much structure in high school from their families and teachers. When they get to university, they have so much freedom, which can be really exciting but it can also lead to increased anxiety and procrastination and other self-defeating outcomes.”

Switzer earned an undergraduate degree in psychology at Mount Allison University, a Bachelor of Education degree at St. Thomas University, and a Master’s of Education at Harvard University.

As part of her master’s program, she designed an intervention to support students who are transitioning from high school to university by teaching them how to increase self-regulation and executive functioning skills. This intervention is the framework for her current coaching practice.

Switzer currently lives in Los Angeles but most of her clients attend universities in Canada. Their sessions are virtual and take place via Facetime.

“I think of organization as a skill. For many years I studied piano, and I always think it’s the same as that. You wouldn’t try to learn the piano or a sport just by reading a handout. But often with things like time management, planning and organization, that’s what we give students. It’s a skill set, so we have to learn it the same way that we would learn any other skill. It takes one-on-one attention and time to develop.”

Switzer said often students will begin a session feeling overwhelmed, but she helps them create plans that make their workload more manageable.

“Whenever you feel overwhelmed, it means your first step is too big and you need to know how to break it down into something smaller,” she says.

“Students often end the session saying, ‘I feel like I can breathe now. I have a plan for this week. I know what to do today and I know what to do tomorrow.’ At the end of the coaching session, my goal is that they can breathe a sigh of relief and have a sense of how they can get their work done, with less stress along the way.”

Switzer helps students identify priorities, set weekly goals, and lay out what they need to do each day to stay on track. She teaches students how to make a schedule that balances school work and fun, and uses habit formation and learning research to support students’ unique needs.

Switzer says although she struggled a bit more than her friends with academic content when she was an undergraduate student, her organization skills helped her succeed.

“There were people around me who seemed to master things so much more effortlessly in the classroom, but they weren’t organized and so their grades would suffer. I was extremely organized and it always seemed to work well for me in school. I feel like organization was my secret weapon!”

For more information about Kailea Switzer’s coaching practice or her online course 'Straight-A’ Secrets From a Non-Genius', please visit www.kaileaswitzer.com.

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This story originally appeared in Connections. You can read the full issue of the magazine HERE.