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by Kaitlin McManus | September 20, 2019


Back to School Planner

Alright folks, get ready for a truth bomb: College is chaos. It’s a mess of classes and due dates and actual dates and club meetings and parties and games and part-time jobs and office hours and opening night of that “experimental play” your friend wrote that you’re now regretting saying you’d go to. Establishing a routine is … pretty much impossible. Even if you start out with the best intentions, it falls apart the first time you oversleep or that group project meeting lasts two hours longer than it was supposed to.

In the face of abject chaos, I can offer you only one potential aid: impeccable scheduling. I can’t promise that your life will be any less hectic, but if you stick with it, you will spend a lot less mental energy wondering if there’s some obligation you’re forgetting. It’s also something that you’re going to have to keep doing as you enter the workforce, so it’s a good idea to get comfortable with the process early. So here are my tips for getting your schedule together in college.

Pick a Method

Scheduling methods can be sorted into two buckets: digital and analogue. Otherwise known as apps and physical planners. Each method has its merits, but what’s important is what works for you. I use a hybrid method—my work schedule is a Google Calendar, but my personal life is in a planner. I know some people who live and die by their phone calendar’s color-coordinating system or by their bullet journals. So poke around, check out some of the popular planners and apps, and pick one that you can use effectively.

First Priorities First

The first thing you put in your calendar are the things you have to go to or get done. This means your class schedule, your work shifts, any important due dates or exams. These are the parts of your schedule that you generally can’t change, so you’ll have to build the rest of it around these engagements. Luckily, these are also the most static parts of your schedule, so you shouldn’t have to reevaluate your entire life on a weekly basis.

Be Selfish

Not always the greatest advice, but when it comes to deciding what you’re going to do with your week, I say the same thing that financial advisors do: Pay yourself first. If you know that you study best in the early afternoon, then put that study time on your calendar as a fixed engagement. Be sure to also identify the things that you need to do to deal with the stress of college life. If you feel completely out of sync without a certain activity—e.g. practicing yoga or taking breather at a local coffee shop regularly—then it’s in your best interest to block out time for it (and yourself) before working to meet other people’s expectations of your time. Whatever it is that counts as “self-care” for you, it’s a lot easier to fit it in if you schedule it early.

Be Flexible—But Not Too Much

Being accommodating with your time is a necessity, and rescheduling things that can be rescheduled multiple times is a time-honored tradition of adulthood. But—and this is something to remember for life in general, not just in college scheduling—you can tell people “no.” Really, you can tell anybody “no.” You can tell your professor that their office hours don’t work for you; you can tell the over-achiever you’re doing a project with that you have better things to do on Friday night than meet at the library. Your time is just as valuable as other people’s, so while it’s polite to be accommodating when you can, it’s smart to be firm if you can’t.

Review It Constantly

Okay, maybe not constantly. But you should definitely be referring to your schedule several times per day, either to see what you have going on that day or the next, or to put something else on it. So make sure that you’re taking it with you wherever you go. This is easiest for those that use an app on their phone, but for the analogue among us, make sure to leave room in your backpack for it.

Incorporate Long-Term Goals

It can be easy in college to focus more on the now than the future—but when you’re making your schedule, you should think about your long-term goals, as well as the tasks you have to accomplish this week. Have you been meaning to check out grad/professional school programs? Have you been thinking about teaching yourself to code or to play the guitar? Try including steps to take towards these goals in your schedule—you might be surprised how much you get out of your free time when you have consistent reminders of those things you always meant to do.

If You Fall Off the Horse…

Want to take a guess at how many of my planners or bullet journals ended up half-used? At least six or seven. Scheduling is hard: You have to do it all the time, and it’s natural to get overwhelmed or just plain sick of it. But it is an important skill, and the responsible parts of our brains know that we should do it. So don’t worry if you quit for a week (or a month, or a semester…). Pinpoint what parts of your method weren’t working for you, change them, and try again. Scheduling is both a habit and a skill—which means you only get better with practice.