I just returned back to school for my junior year of college. Now that I have moved in, it has started to settle in that I will be responsible for a full course load in a matter of days. It is within this span of move-in and the first day that the emails start rolling in. Professors send their syllabus, the club I’m a member of discuses events and meetings, and career center announces all of the upcoming job fairs and seminars. It is overwhelming to say the least, and the stress that it induces has me practicing breathing techniques to calm down. I know that this period is stressful, it happens every quarter.
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. The number of tasks on the horizon is numerous, and everything seems incredibly difficult or unattainable. What is your default coping mechanism? Mine is planning.
I have been a planner all my life. I think one of the reasons why I have a GPA that I am proud of is because of my organization and foresight. When I plan, I am able to anticipate when things will be busy and stressful and try to be mindful of it. Sometimes the most important part of getting through a difficult task is realizing that it is often temporary. Anticipating projects, assignments, and important events well in advance gives me a sense of control that puts me at ease. That’s why I often turn to my planner.
My “planner” has varied greatly over the years. For a long time, I had a composition notebook, sometimes with a bullet-journal like calendar drawn in for every month. This was great because I could plan out weeks on the calendar and also write notes freely-- it was a hybrid journal-planner. I’ve also used a large calendar and color-coded assignments and activities, hanging it on a wall by my desk. A few months ago I got a traditional planner from a friend. It has a typical set-up-- with a calendar for every month and a few lines for every day to write notes. This has worked out nicely, because it combines the previous two formats in a way that allows me to plan and notetake at the same time.
For a long time, I would start planners during some new beginning and then gradually abandon them. I grew frustrated when what I wrote in them didn’t happen or I would fail to follow through on something. I hated seeing my mistakes and shortcomings in writing, a reminder of imperfection (can you tell I am Type A?). A couple days ago, I was talking to my friend who completely related to this sentiment. She and I had discovered the permanence of a planner can be too overbearing and had come up with two different (and simple) solutions to this problem all on our own. My friend wrote down all of the tasks and assignments that she had to do on mini sticky notes and set them on a large weekly calendar. Whenever she did not complete the assignment on the day she desired, she would move the sticky note to the next. Similarly, when I started using the planner my friend gave me, I strictly wrote in pencil. Whenever something fell through or a task was not completed, I would erase it and assign it to a day in the future when I could. It’s from this that I’ve learned to be flexible with my expectations. I try to acknowledge that it’s okay when things do not go as planned and embrace the process of completing a specific task.
Another thing that I’ve found that helps is to write small achievements, personal or work-related, in the same planner at the end of the day. This can range from “made curry for the first time” to “did a face-mask self-care night!” While sometimes I’ll erase a task or assignment that didn’t get done that day, I am able to reflect on all of the things that I did do, making me feel instantly better. This has become as important to my night routine as taking care of my skin and spraying Lovely Lavender on my pillow every night.
It’s taken me a long time to acknowledge that self-care is not just a nice buzzword, it is a necessity. Being flexible and honest with myself is crucial to my growth and well-being. So, next time you’re in a planning rut, remember to accept failure and take time out to appreciate the little things.