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The ghosts of agendas past

Lessons in time management


A graveyard of retired planners sits in the drawer of my bedroom nightstand. It boasts all types, ranging from the generic, spiral-bound variety plastered in leopard-print duct tape to the cream-colored pages of a limited-edition Moleskine. With some time to kill over the last weeks of summer, I took a few minutes to flip through some of them.

What I found was noticeable neglect. In every planner, the majority of pages were left completely blank.

Chronic disorganization has been second-nature to me for as long as I can remember. Give me a tidy room and I will obliterate it in a matter of days. Hand me miscellaneous sheets of paper and I will precariously shove them all into a two-pocket folder, where they will remain until the spine starts to tear. (To avoid this problem, I’ve upgraded to more robust plastic folders.)

These patterns of behavior have manifested themselves in my planner-keeping habits. Every attempt is met with the same fate — I tell myself I’ll promptly write down everything I have to do every single day, and it goes smoothly for about one week. Then I abandon my planner, assuring myself writing things down is a waste of energy. Perhaps I’ll whip it out again if a professor mentions something urgent, or I need some scratch paper to work out homework problems.

Last semester, I didn’t even bother purchasing a planner. I managed to get by using only my Google calendar, peppered with just a handful of significant deadlines and exam dates. My day-to-day schedule consisted of procrastinating aimlessly until I looked at the clock and became aware of the number of things I should have been doing. I then began a frantic sprint to churn out time-sensitive work.

Given that my fourth-year schedule is overflowing, I knew there was no way I could sustain my old habits. Simply owning a planner wouldn’t be enough — I had to find a way to motivate myself to actually utilize it.

I decided to do some research on productivity, organization and studying techniques. Most experts in these areas claim planning to do a little bit of work each day is far more effective than letting everything pile up at the last minute. Obvious enough. But I still couldn’t figure out how to truly internalize the process of balancing out my time.

My soul-searching led me to Thomas Frank, who runs a blog called ‘College Info Geek.’ On his YouTube channel, I learned about his tiered task-planning system. I felt incredibly overwhelmed — if I have never been able to keep up with just one agenda, how could I possibly handle three levels of planning?

I let his ideas sink in for a little while. Then it hit me — I’m not incapable of being organized. Rather, I tend to anxiously avoid confronting the long list of tasks I have to do.

I’ve always been averse to making to-do lists because of the questions I thought they’d raise. What if something unexpected comes up, and I can’t cross everything off the list? What if I forget to add something really important? What if I can’t figure out the order in which to complete my tasks? How will I even know where to start?

I realized I can’t find answers to these questions unless I actually experiment with task organization. Confidence is key — if I believe the number of things I have to do is unquantifiable, I’m never going to get around to tackling them head-on. Armed with this mentality, I’m hoping this semester I will finally use my planner to help me succeed in everyday life.

Vega’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at