Different planners were helpful to me at different phases of college and graduate school, depending on the types of tasks and assignments I had. Here, I’ll share the various types of planner systems I used since college. Unfortunately, I did not keep all my planners, nor did I take pictures of them all, but will include the pictures I have.
To keep track of my schedule which was filled with classes, meetings, and extracurricular activities, I bought a weekly appointment planner. Each class and type of meetings or activity was color-coded with colored pencils. I used separate binders per class to store syllabi, assignments, and notes. Every morning, I would review my class binders for what is due when, then prioritize and write my daily to-do’s on either separate pieces of paper or my portable whiteboard.
Sophomore and Junior Years
For the next 2 years in college, I used the planners provided by my university. The monthly views stored assignment due dates, exams, class schedule, meetings, and extracurricular activities. I used the blank lines in the weekly views to write assignments and other to-do’s for each day. Like Freshman year, I prioritized and wrote my daily to-do’s on either separate pieces of paper or my portable whiteboard every morning.
Senior Year and First Year in Masters’ Program
Towards the end of my junior year, I realized I needed more space for notes and lists. I wanted a planner that would let me write my daily schedule, as well as give me enough place to have separate lists for assignments, chores, graduate school applications, etc. Additionally, the planner needed to be small enough for me to take in my purse.
After a lot of searching, I found the perfect solution: Quo Vadis Notor! I absolutely enjoyed this planner for the time I used it, and it was just the right amount of space for my notes. They have free giveaways through their blog – I got both of the planners I used for free in exchange for reviewing it on their blog and product site! Below is an example of my using the Quo Vadis Notor planner:
There was an equivalent to a dollar store near my university, where I found small 4-in-1 primary colored pens (black, blue, green, and red). I always kept one in my purse to be able to write in my planner at any time, and used the colors to signify priority: red for very high priority or urgent tasks, green for high priority or somewhat urgent, blue for high priority but not urgent, and black is regular priority and not urgent. Here’s a link to the pen, though I did not buy it from this source: BAZIC 4-Color Pen.
Second and Third Year in Masters’ Program
As much as I enjoyed using my Quo Vadis Notor planners, I was starting to find that I had larger projects in graduate school versus smaller assignments I had during my undergraduate program. Rewriting the projects and assignments everyday became very tedious. Also, smart phones were just becoming a thing around this time, along with apps and cloud-services. I decided to try out quite a few task management apps:
While these apps would have a list of all the assignments, projects, and other to-do’s, I would plan my week (or longer) with specific tasks on ruled paper. I would make 7 divisions across the paper horizontally for the 7 days of a week, or make blocks vertically for each day.
First and Second Year in PhD Program
While technology is great, and I like how all of the information I save is potentially available either on my laptop or iPhone at any given time, it did not feel as rewarding as writing tasks in a planner, crossing them off, and flipping through the pages occasionally. During my Freshman year in college, in response to my telling my roommate that I enjoyed flipping through the pages of my planner, my roommate told me “We are achievers, and looking through your planner makes you feel accomplished.” I decided to go back to a physical planner. My needs at the time was for a planner that reduced rewriting recurring meetings and tasks, and large projects .
After much searching, I found the WeekDate Academic Planner, which has different sections so that you can write recurring tasks/meetings/notes once, and sections for weekly tasks/meetings/notes. I used Post-it Page Markers to write my meetings and tasks in the weekly section, as these allowed me to change my recurring meetings and tasks when the semester changes. Of course, I would write my daily tasks and ad hoc meetings in the weekly view, with colorful pens. If I don’t finish tasks on a day or have larger tasks that multiple days, I could easily draw an arrow across the days of the same week, versus needing to repeat the tasks.
I don’t have a picture of my actual planner, or have the planner anymore. Below shows an example of what my planner looked like (I took an image of the WeekDate Academic planner, and added shapes and text to simulate my planner):
Third Year and Half of Fourth Year in PhD Program
Though the WeekDate Academic planner worked well for me for 2 years, towards the end of my second year using it, I was finding the planner was becoming too small for me. My tasks for a day could not all fit in the section allotted for the day. Plus, as I was starting to develop a research topic and items to present at conferences, I had many deadlines to track. Selecting a conference and its corresponding set of deadlines is a balancing act – it depends on whether I have enough research and work in time for the deadlines, and if it is applicable to the conference. Being new to this research life, I was not exactly sure what kind of planner I needed, and therefore, did not have a complete or perfect solution during this year and half. These are the tools I used during this time, while searching for a more complete solution:
- Monthly view calendar: Free printable from Scattered Squirrel, I especially like the Pastel theme
- Important Dates (to list conferences’ deadlines): Free printable from DIY Home Sweet Home
- Apple Calendar synced across my laptop and iPhone (for meetings, appointments, etc.)
- Random papers for lists
- Mailbox is an email app that lets you snooze emails for another date and time. However, this app has since shut down.
Present-day (Second Half of Fourth Year in PhD Program)
I found a planner that is working quite well for me at the moment, and I will tell you all about it in my next post 🙂