I had a love-hate relationship with planners and calendars up until college. I would go to the bookstore, pick out a planner that made me look like I had my life together, and then never use it again after January. This cycle continued for years, until I finally figured out five ways to turn those overpriced notebooks into my very own personal assistant. Here is what not to do to get there, too.
1. If You Can Barely Make a Physical Planner Work, Don't Even Try a Digital Version
Despite my failure with planners in the past, I failed harder with online and phone calendars. I realized that if I was going to remember any of my responsibilities I would have to write them down with a pen. Not only that, but filling in my planner at night and reviewing it in the morning steals my eyes away from computer screen for an extra few minutes a day. I'm not a Virgo, but routinely looking at my planner became a way to center myself and focus on the many responsibilities I need to take care of for the day. It also saves some of my eyesight.
2. Don't Make Your To-Do List Too Specific
Something that really changed my scheduling habits was being more vague and flexible with my descriptions. Before, my to-do list would spiral and remind me of basic activities like "eat lunch! - 2 p.m." Rather than detailing tasks like breathing, I make sure to say "Write COM 202 Essay!" in place of "Write 5 Paragraphs of COM 202 Essay by 9 p.m." This makes my planner less of a helicopter parent and more of a list of suggestions and reminders (like it's supposed to be).
3. Don't Forget to Include a "Needs to Get Done" Section
After getting less specific, I divvied up my responsibilities into things that would ruin my life if I didn't finish them and things that would make me a shining star if completed. Finishing my poetry portfolio, and applying to my major on time falls into the "Dire" section and doing my laundry goes into my "You're a Star" section. It sounds childish but it is another source of motivation and it alleviates some of the pressure already stacked on my shoulders.
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4. Don't Obsess Over Crossing Everything Off
This one is easier said than done, but worth it. I'll admit it, sometimes I complete a task I forget to write down and then write it down in my planner just so I can cross it off. So to assuage my desperation I cross off the finished assignments and circled the things that still need completing. The little act of circling my unfinished responsibilities forces me to acknowledge what needs to be done instead of avoiding it and wallowing in the guilt of feeling unaccomplished.
5. Don't Plan Too Far Ahead
I make a note to not write things down on my planner too far in advance. Half the time I would look at my syllabus and scribble in an assignment on my calendar that was due in 2 months just for my professor to change the date. Or, I would write down one of my shifts at work that was scheduled for a month and a half in advance and I would end up switching shifts. It made my planner feel useless and not credible. So, now I stick to only writing down my responsibilities for the month on my desk calendar, and going day by day in my planner. This saves time and helps me prioritize what requires the most attention.
Crafting a healthy relationship with my planner took time and required being honest with myself. I wanted to be that girl with the fluffy pen and a cute calendar filled with tasks color-coded according to urgency but, alas, now I have a black planner that just says "Journal" on the cover and looks like I dropped it in a gutter three times. Regardless, as long as I have it together and manage to not miss my deadlines, then my ugly planner and I are perfectly happy.