The Importance of Being Earnest… as a Student Planner

With only two semesters left in my library school journey, I’d like to share what has worked well for me in terms of planning. While many graduate students employ the same study and planning techniques that they used during undergraduate, the toolkit changes when schooling shifts from in-person to online. The daily routine of undergraduate studies breaks apart in online schooling, especially for students who take courses that require no synchronous lectures. These suggestions have helped me battle the inconsistency and excessive freedom that online graduate school offers, though all of the below recommendations can be used by students attending courses on-campus, as well.

On-the-Go Tracking

During a meeting with a colleague, I mentioned an app called “Forest,” which is a study app that keeps the user from opening certain apps (such as Instagram or Facebook, which are my biggest enemies when I’m trying to focus). My colleague had never heard of Forest, so I explained what it was and how I’d been using it to a) keep track of how many uninterrupted hours I worked toward my Summer internship each day and b) discourage phone usage while working, and c) give myself several breaks throughout the day to wind down. After my explanation, they mentioned another app that they utilized for the same purposes. While Forest worked for me, something else worked for them. Everyone will have their own preferences – find yours and stick with it!

Not everyone will have the same needs, however. While I needed Forest to get through my internship, I haven’t used it since. That being said, I’ve downloaded and used other apps to meet my needs as a student. Trello, for example, is an application and website that has a wide variety of uses. I have several Trello boards with my coworker to track the progress of our student assistantships; we are able to update each other, set goals, make notes, etc. on a shared work board that allows us to keep in contact without having to fill up our email inboxes. I have several other separate Trello boards that I use for my volunteer work, both of my jobs, and task tracking for my graduate courses. While countless templates are available for use (for free), you can also create your own that works for you. Again, although I use Trello and recommend it highly, I acknowledge that it may not serve the needs of everyone; find what works for you! Research, download, experiment, and analyze!

Planner or Bullet Journal?

Do you remember those agendas back in elementary school that you’d fill out at the end of each day? You’d write down your homework assignments or maybe have your guardian initial each night so that your teacher could keep track of family involvement. Some even had calendars with the days off from school listed.

Planners and bullet journals work very much the same way.

What’s the point of having a planner or a bullet journal, though, when I just recommended finding mobile apps that you can carry with you at all times? Many studies have been conducted throughout the years on the effects of typing versus longhand writing on memory. One such study was conducted by Mueller and Oppenheimer in 2014. This study in particular compared the effectiveness of taking notes on a laptop and that of taking notes using longhand, assessing information retention and memory; Mueller and Oppenheimer found that study participants who took notes longhand better retained the information. While this study is a good starting point, I encourage you to research further.

Because of my forgetful nature, I write down information in every way that I can. While I do use different mobile apps, I also have a planner and a bullet journal. It’s arguably redundant to use both, but I find that the simplicity of the planner works well for ease of access during more stressful periods while the bullet journal offers a creative outlet that helps me track and express what I want in the way that I want to.

In “The Point of a Bullet Journal” (2019), Alexia Yiannouli explains how using a bullet journal throughout veterinary school helped her “express [her] creativity” and “methodically plan out what [she] need[ed] to do on a daily basis without it feeling overwhelming” (Yiannouli, 2019). As she and other advocates of the bullet journal state, the point of a bullet journal is to personalize it to meet your needs with however much time and effort you are willing to dedicate to it. While the thought of beginning a study or schedule oriented bullet journal may be daunting, there are entire communities of planning and journaling people on sites such as Pinterest and Instagram. The first step is to simply buy a blank bullet journal and begin with as simple or elaborate of a spread as you want. Find examples online if you find yourself struggling to start!

Find What Works

As I’ve mentioned several times, these practices are what have worked for me. A combination of tech-based and handwritten notes and schedules have offered me clear coverage and a sense of control that I otherwise wouldn’t have felt. Cover your bases.

If a bullet journal isn’t an option, consider a pre-designed planner. If Trello doesn’t interest you, test other apps. No matter what you do, though, do it in a way that works for you.


Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159–1168.

Yiannouli, A.(2019). The point of a bullet journal. Veterinary Record, 185(6), 180.

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