School Planner (or Life Planner) Organization 101

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Posted 30 Aug 2007 in Soulville

“Ok class. Today you are to read Excelsior chapters 1-3 and 6 plus do the assignment at the end of chapter 5 to turn in on the 22nd.” – Does this sound familiar as something your professor has said to you or written in your syllabus? Lots of information at once can be overwhelming for a student or anyone else in the world. In the business world and as a student, there are all kinds of meetings, lunches, reminders, etc that go on each and every day. If you’re like me, your brain says “I’m not holding all this. I don’t hear you. La la la la la.” So I have to write things down and I’ve learned it’s better to do it in a fashion that makes sense to you if no one else. This post won’t make you change your habits overnight, but it’ll give you a few hints and tips to make it all better.

Hint #1: The Planner (aka WRITE IT DOWN)

Everyone isn’t born organized. Everyone can’t grasp the concept of total organization. But that’s ok. Some of us LOVE to plan and that’s how we do what we do. I used to absolutely abhor the idea of using a planner. My mom would always buy me one and I’d try to use it for a couple of days then toss it in some back drawer. And I’d always forget my assignments or turn them in late or be really confused when I showed up and nobody was in class. So slowly but surely I started working my way toward a planner of sorts.

First, I started using 3×5 index cards. I’d turn them so the long side went up and down and write everything I had to do that day on the card – reading for class, time for class, time for doctors appointment, library study time (yes, I “was” studious), hang out time, tv time, club/org meetings, this paper that was due, etc. By the end of the day everything was crossed off because I had written everything necessary down. Then the 3×5 card wasn’t enough space. I need something with dates so I could peer into the future. Soooooo, I invested in *gasp* a planner. Not just a plain one though – I knew I needed day by day organization, but also needed times during the day and a monthly calendar. (If you don’t need all that, get a regular one and save the extra dough). So I spent my $20 and got the best planner I have ever bought. I have used it every single year since and have not been disappointed. I’ve even had one mailed to me one year when I couldn’t find it after I moved. *Note: Spend the money now. It’s worth it in the end rather than buying something you don’t like and won’t use*

I sit down and do each month of the planner two weeks before that particular month starts. It reminds me that I have to square away some business prior to the beginning of the month. In the monthly calendar I put everything – dates and times of classes, when bills are due, big meetings, vacation, social functions, work, etc. In the weekly/daily calendar, I write in the classes, meetings, socials, work, etc next to the appropriate times. Then I color code – I pick a color for each of the types of activities (clubs and orgs + social activities are one color; work is another color; school is another color; miscellaneous is another color) and highlight the block of time that it takes up. Then I see white space where I have no activity and know that’s either a) free time or b) time to set up something else to do. When someone adds something to the syllabus or something new comes up, I just stick it right in. You don’t have to do it as early as I do, but as soon as you know a definite thing, go ahead and put it there. That way when someone asks what you’re doing Saturday and can you come hang out or help them move, you know you have that thesis to work on or the big game is this weekend or you are free to help or hang.

Now never fear – I color code and write these things in, but I still keep up with my notes of everything to be done that day. I use a different color pen to write in everything that has to be done that day and mark through it as it gets done. This way I actually combine the space all in one. Sometimes I need more room, but the particular calendar I use gives me more room to the sides and bottom to make extra notes. In case I need even more, I keep a spiral notebook in which I write down the to-do list and take it with me as well.

Hint #2: Wall Planner

Though I have my 8.5 x 11 planner I carry around everywhere, I also like being able to glance up when I’m home and see what is going on. I use 2 things to achieve this – a desk calendar that I have put up on the wall (using poster tabs – they rock!) and a huge marker board (you can use a smaller one – whatever fits you). Again I color code here. On the calendar, I write all the big events and when homework is due. I block off days when they have passed to keep up with where I am in the month (when you’re in a whirl, you’re oblivious to the “small things”). I add things when needed, but this calendar is to have yet another visual reminder of what’s going on and where I am to be. The markerboard is used to make my lists of things to do. As I sit next to it and remember something I have to do, I write it down. Part of the board stays permanent – it’s all my bills and when they are due. I use one color for groceries to buy, another for school things to do and who I need to set up a meeting with, another color for social/club things and another color for miscellaneous. Use whatever colors you want (it helps differentiate between tasks or you can use it to differentiate between importance of tasks) and write away. When you are done, write these things down in your planner or notebook so it’s portable.

Hint #3: Online Planning

So you’re in a technological age. The internet has plenty of planning ways to get you together. There are sites where you can go print out calendars and daily planning pages, sites to set up online calendars (I prefer Google calendar, but I use Google for everything; check this list on best online calendars), places to go get help, etc. It’s really awesome. Being the forgetter that I am, I also keep most of my calendar split into about 8 different calendars (color coding again) on the internet. If I forget my calendar, I can go on the net and grab it really quickly. It’s been a lifesaver a few times. If you have an email program on your computer (Outlook, Thunderbird, Eudora, etc), they usually come with calendars that can be pretty useful. If someone emails you an event, you can automatically add it to your calendar.

Though I use all these methods, you might find something else that works for you. I recommend to always write things down multiple times. As for notes in class, the more times you write it down, the better chance you have of remembering. Especially for classes, try making a spreadsheet with all your assignments in it for that week or (if you’re diligent) the entire semester. Make sure to try and put reminders about big assignments like papers or presentations in your calendar so you don’t forget them or end up working last minute. Always carry something to write with and something to write on (besides your hand or arm – they wash off) – something will pop into your head to do or you’ll see something you have to do and just relying on your busy student mind is probably not going to be enough. You’ll end up at dinner then later say “what was i supposed to be doing??”.


So – try a planner, a desk calendar, a wall calendar, a markerboard, a notebook or 3×5 cards. Hopefully at least one will work for you. I’m OCD about organization (hence my job doing logistics and organization) but everyone doesn’t have to be. But at least give it a try, you never know – planning might grow on you!

I’ll be back next week with how to plan a service project. Hope to see you here and please post ways you stay organized for school planning! Everyone can use new ideas so post away!

HarriMac enjoys a well lived life with a large serving of soul. Her special feature, Welcome to Soulville, appears every Thursday. Subscribe to the Welcome to Soulville feed to get new installments in your feed reader.

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  1. Good tips! I personally use my Blackberry to keep track of everything.

    Since I always have my phone with me, I just input the events in my calendar and set an alert. It is great because I can set the audio alert for any time frame- at a certain time, 30 mins before, 1/2/3 hours, 1 week, etc.

    • I use my Treo for keeping organized, but I really do like the idea of a paper calendar. My solution will be far less advanced than an actual planner – probably more along the lines of printing out my Google Calendar and putting it into a folder.