Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Academic Planner

I bought an academic planner today. Nothing fancy, but it does have bikes on it. I've never had one of these before. As an undergrad I would always write assignments at the end of the day's notes for each class, then I'd leave the spiral folded back on itself to the last pages scribbled on. Term and midterm projects would get their due dates written extra big across the top of some handout, and shoved in a folder. I kept track of all these papers and spirals without any great effort, and kept appointments in my head (philosophy club, play rehearsals).

I always thought the kids who used academic planners must have incredibly disorganized brains, or incredible neuroses. Last spring, during my 20 credit semester of insanity, I sat next to two dedicated planners in my Brit Lit class. I sat in the front row -- I always do because I like to run my mouth. But I think they were in front so they'd never miss a homework announcement. I'd watch them, probably a little too closely, as they'd pull out these huge leather academic planners, a set of Post-it flags, and a rainbow of highlighters. They would spend as much time blocking in, crossing out, and flagging with urgency as they did looking up at the professor.

The planner girls were not identical. At least my confusion and disbelief about them wasn't. I decided, based on these young women's efforts, that there are two types of academic planners: the slow study and the control freak. The slow study really does have to plan, just like she really does have to study (whatever that looks like). The control freak, in this case a communications major who was pretty sharp at literature and also at dressing herself, plans because even though she's capable, she just can't leave anything up to the possibility of being forgotten. She doesn't trust her own memory. Everything that is is what is written in the plan.

Something about starting graduate school, about going to school as a job really, may have made me worry about my own memory. But I think a more likely explanation for my impulse planner purchase (ha! already fighting the plan) was that I think I might actually benefit from planning how I get work done at this level. There's self direction involved, and eventually a thesis. I don't think I'll be a slow study. I've never been a control freak. But I'm a graduate student now. They plan, right? At the undergraduate level a mis-planned paper just meant a long night of coffee and fingerless gloves and feet on the radiator while I tap, tap, tapped out eight or so pages from note piles (seems I only procrastinated in winter). Such a mis-plan won't fly anymore, even in the spring. Such a mis-plan would be a disaster.

So I have this planner. It has bikes on it. It was only $3.50.

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