At the start of each school year, I look forward to one thing: my annual planner purchase. The decision is not made lightly, as this singular purchase sets the tone for my academic year. In my early high school years, this process involved hogging the aisles of Walmart and Target, pestering my mom or sister about their opinions on different layouts, font sizes, and most importantly, the outer shell. I’ve now advanced to a comparison of online stationery shops and their ability to customize a planner to my liking. Gone are the days that forced me to sacrifice style for layout. In preparation for my year at Yale, I shelled out $38 and waited nearly 2 weeks for my perfect custom planner.
To my surprise, upon arriving on campus I was met with an onslaught of reminders to “set up my G-Cal before the year starts.” I scoffed at this, surely this advice was directed to those who had no method of scheduling at all. But the reminders persisted and soon came from my peers. In just a few weeks, the same people who had never touched the Google Calendar app prior to coming to Yale looked at me in astonishment when I confessed that I hadn’t mapped out my month on G-Cal.
By the second week of classes, I cracked. I was a few days into quarantine, alone and confined to my sweltering dorm room. My days consisted of shameful walks to the dining hall and endless social media-induced FOMO. I scrolled enviably as my classmates posted their newly joined clubs and impromptu trips. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me. I took the plunge and opened G-Cal. Part of me wanted to counter my feelings of stagnancy and uselessness. Another part of me wanted to grasp onto some aspect of the Yale experience, so why not embrace this simple yet important tool? I transferred my schedule over and told myself, here you have something. I thought that embracing a Yale staple that students essentially attributed their success to might make me feel less behind. In a moment of insecurity, G-Cal fit into what I thought I needed to be doing.
I very quickly felt the pressure to be rigidly productive, to have a schedule so packed that the obsessive use of G-Cal becomes necessary to get by. G-Cal exists as a spectacle as much as it does a resource on this campus. Its mention is quickly followed by a glowing phone screen pointed in the direction of any willing eyes, scrolling through an overlapping schedule as if to request validation of their productivity. It has become a physical manifestation of the pressure to always be working toward something.
What that “something” is and whether it has meaning takes the backburner with such rigid scheduling. Creativity and personal hobbies are lost in the pursuit of productivity. The digitized calendar does away with any remaining work-life division. The calendar threatens to send notifications of a looming assignment or meeting, transporting students back into a cycle of stress.
As a planner enthusiast, these critiques may sound like a personal vendetta that reflects my own resistance to change. But to let go of my planner would sacrifice an exercise of creativity, an extension of my own mind. It is something I imagined, designed, and brought to life. Its outer shell has seen many faces and grazed many surfaces, but its inner contents exist solely for me. Every morning, accompanied by my morning coffee and trusted pen, I compile my daily to-do list. Each assignment and time constraint is broken down into small digestible bits, leaving my future self ample opportunities to feel the bliss of crossing out every minuscule task. The memories of these small victories live on within its pages. My to-dos exist only when my planner’s pages are in view. Once tucked away, I am at rest.
The dull, checkerboard blobs will never replace the feeling of putting pen to paper, of jotting down plans in whatever form feels right. Give planners another shot. Find the perfect one. It may be stashed away in a random store aisle or hidden in the inventory of some unknown internet shop. Grab some colorful pens and really make it your own. Our lives are already rigidly structured, must our calendars be too?