I’ve had a planner every school year, since (at least) third grade. Initially, these planners were of the school-provided sort that my parents had to sign each night, showing that they understood my assignments. Once teachers let us deal with assignments on our own, I began to pick out my own planners. I started with the cheapest available ones from Target (palm-sized, perfect for the amount of work assigned in middle school), and eventually graduated to a knockoff Moleskine that I used as a bullet journal.

None of these planners lasted me longer than about five months. The problem wasn’t with the product; I tried too many products, too many planning styles, for that to be the case. The problem was me. My longest-serving planner lasted me through the first semester of my freshman year at Penn — that is, the semester during which I could easily keep track of all the work necessary for my four classes and single club-like obligation in my head. Once my second semester kicked off, I might as well have thrown that particular planner (another knockoff Moleskine, Star Wars-themed) out the window.

We all have so much to do — we can’t seem to stop talking about the sheer amount of stuff on our plates — and yet strategies for effective time management are so rarely part of the ongoing discourse surrounding this avalanche of assignments, meetings, rehearsals, and study sessions. 

Almost everyone I know (myself included) procrastinates. Almost everyone I know (again, myself included) talks quite openly about the fact that they procrastinate and pull frequent all-nighters as a result, knowing that others will both empathize and sympathize. Almost everyone I know (once more, myself included and indicted) finds a perverse sort of joy in sharing details of exactly what they did to procrastinate. For my part, if I’m wholeheartedly procrastinating on an assignment (as opposed to procrastinating by convincing myself I’m being “productive” in other ways), I’m often listening to the same song or watching the same music video over and over again. It’s pointless. But it’s fun, somehow, to talk about the next day in a horribly sleep-deprived state. 

It’s not my place to tell everyone to get it together and do their work, given how miserably bad I have been at “getting it together and doing my work” in the past. Indeed, in certain cases I would even argue that activities commonly used to procrastinate are genuinely more fulfilling than meetings or routine homework assignments. 

But, the way we glamorize our lack of time management skills is not good for our health — physical or mental. If we simply did what we needed to do (academic or otherwise) and got enough sleep, we’d be at least a little better off than we are now. We encourage everyone around us to practice self-care, and then turn around and talk loudly about how we barely get any sleep because we were scrolling through Reddit for hours.

My father, after my spectacularly bad second semester of freshman year, sent me a short email that contained some strategies that might have prevented me from pulling all-nighters and subsequently doing quite poorly on assignments and tests I had the ability to do quite well on. The advice was as simple as “have regular sleeping hours,” “ask for help earlier rather than later,” “finish studying before you go out,” and “don’t keep hoping that the curve will help you.” I have followed some of it, if not all of it.

Organizers won’t help, regardless of how we’re taught to use them and how they’re marketed. They’re just a way for us to keep track of how much we have to do — they’re not a concrete plan to get those things done. I don’t actually feel more “together” during my times of planner-use than I do during my times of planner-neglect. This is a more fundamental problem that requires a more fundamental fix, in the way that the email from my father addressed it — it’s something I almost wish had been addressed sometime during New Student Orientation, although I doubt I would have listened at the time. 

Perhaps this is the sort of advice that ought to come from fathers. If Penn gave it to us in a direct manner (as opposed to just posters in the halls of college houses), this would be accused of “nannying” its students. I’ll be the first to admit, though, that I certainly needed a bit of “nannying” in that respect once the going got tough after my first semester, and I’m sure others did, too. Time management isn’t taught in grade school — or college, really — and filling out planners is all I, and many others, know how to do.


SHILPA SARAVANAN is a College junior from College Station, Texas, studying linguistics. Her email address is shilpasa@sas.upenn.edu. “Phone Home” usually appears every Thursday.

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