My life on an Excel sheet

The benefits and pitfalls of always planning my plans

Spreadsheets are the most functional way people can organize, categorize, systematize and generally just “-ize” things into a more visually pleasing manner. As a college student, the need for planning and organization is so great that I have quite literally tried to plan years out on a computerized spreadsheet, starting as young as the age of 18, when I supposedly knew exactly what would happen over the busiest four years of my life.

Yet, many are the times that I crack my laptop open, have my coffee at the ready and crack my knuckles before opening up Microsoft Excel, the Organization God of all programs. The blank spreadsheet awaits me, with empty cells, waiting to be filled, color coded, bolded and so on and so forth until I have what looks like a Candyland board game but for “adults.” It is incredible how much time I can spend on one simple spreadsheet, editing endlessly — most of which is actually just deciding which color preset to use for my table and the font for the bolded column headings. 

I can gaze at my carefully constructed table endlessly and savor the warm satisfaction, washing over me at the reassurance that I am indeed quite put together and on top of my game. My deadlines wouldn’t be so much deadlines as just lines. I was invincible with this spreadsheet — everything I could ever anticipate was accounted for in my meticulous scheduling and all of my work would be completed days in advance. After a solid hour or two of pouring over my plans on Excel, I would always pull away feeling more confident in myself than ever. The making of these plans was always soothing, like meditation, and it would stop my frantic mind from jumping to dire conclusions along the lines of “I am definitely failing everything.”

Of course, it never hurts to dream. 

But unfortunately, there is never a case where I make an Excel spreadsheet and then return to it and consistently check up on myself. Once made, it lays forgotten on my desktop. It loses its fresh appeal as fast as green avocados oxidizing after being cut. The number of spreadsheets made titled “Plan,” “Plan 2.0,” “Plan 5.3,” all the way to “Don’t Fail Plz” pile up thickly, gathering dust. Yet, I go on making them as if the older ones never existed. Starting a new spreadsheet always feels like starting over with a fresh coat of paint — it made me look polished but underneath always rests layers of buried stress and worry. 

Apart from the number of spreadsheets that we college students make, it is interesting to unearth what we make spreadsheets for. Me, I’m rather conventional in the types of spreadsheets I create. These spreadsheets mostly plan out my classes, finals week and various applications. In addition, I’ve found myself making spreadsheets for meal ideas over the week, including columns such as “cuisine type” and “nutritional ingredients.” 

My roommate meticulously maintains a detailed spreadsheet for her various potted plants that reside in our apartment. She has a neatly laid out watering schedule for each plant, as well as the type of atmosphere, pot and soil that they require. Ironically enough, this is the only spreadsheet she has ever religiously consulted — her plans for classes and studying lie forgotten elsewhere. For her, plants are like children, each of whom require individual attention. I can only wish I felt as strongly about my planning spreadsheets as my roommate feels about her plant schedule. 

In the end, I can never figure out whether making Excel spreadsheet after spreadsheet is a remedy for my stress or one of the causes. On one hand, physically organizing my thoughts into categories and words helps declutter my mind and allows me to think clearly. On the other hand, laying everything out clearly also makes me realize the sheer amount of work that I really do have and it backfires, sending me into a larger panic than before. The one thing that I can say, however, is that spreadsheets certainly promote a surface-level of confidence that quite frankly, is a large part of college culture. 

Especially at a school like the University, competition and aesthetic go hand in hand — everyone wants to be successful and look graceful while doing so. A color-coded, categorized Excel sheet is one way of doing both, taken by many as a sign of appearing to be collected and composed without breaking a sweat. No need to worry about what you should be doing next — it’s all right there on the sheet.

In my experience, this is quite honestly a myth. Everyone has their own way of coping and accomplishing. Making spreadsheets is indeed a good way to trick yourself into thinking everything is under control, but it is also an excellent way to prolong a problem. As I have learnt the hard way — not that it gets any easier — the best way to solve that problem is to face it for what it is, not disguise it under layers of pedantic and pretty Excel sheets. Being honest and truthful with yourself about what is really stressing you out will only help you find the solution a lot faster. 

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