Paper Planners & Post-Its: Staying Organized in College WITHOUT Technology

Please note: This article was published March 16, 2016.
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Since I started school, the world has moved on from paper agendas and post-it notes. We now depend on to-do list apps, electronic notes, and spreadsheets to remind us of what needs to be done. Don’t get me wrong: I love my due date spreadsheet on my MacBook, but there is something to be said about the paper method – it can really be a lifesaver at times. If you’re like me, and sometimes need a breather from all the technology, try using these two real-paper products to keep everything organized.

Sticky Notes

I’ve always been a fan of sticky notes. Since middle school, I’ve been sticking them on my computer monitors and desks with little reminders. I’ve even been known to stick multiple pages together with to-do lists (there always seems to be a lot going on). Packs slip easily into my bag and don’t take up much space on my desk, so they’re easy to store for later. Simply peel one off when you need a reminder, and you’re good to go. It’s a fool-proof method, and I’d recommend it to anyone.


There’s a couple of ways you can use these individual cards to keep things straight.

If you want to use post-its regularly, using color-coding is a great way to go. Sticky notes are sold in almost every color, from neutral to neon, but you can even use different colored pens on the plain old yellow ones if that’s your style. Maybe blue post-its are for tasks that need to be completed on Monday. Maybe all the calculus homework gets written on pink. Maybe you have neon green notes for urgent tasks. Whatever your categories, adding color will help you keep all the stray stickies organized.

If you choose to use them only every once in a while, color may not be such a big deal. Rather, maybe you need to remember to keep them in a place you’ll always see them. I like to stick them to my laptop, especially since most of the stuff I have to do requires my computer anyway. The space next to the TrackPad makes a perfect spot, because it’s annoying for me to see it there, and I want to do the task so I can get rid of it! Maybe you need to keep them on your alarm clock, your doorknob, or just hanging off of your work desk – the beauty of the sticky side is that you can put them virtually anywhere. (Just make sure you remember where they are!)

Sometimes, I’ve been known to just write one task in big letters, but other times I put lengthy bulleted to-do lists. There’s no wrong way to use sticky notes, but however you let them remind you, make sure to keep them in a safe place, because they can easily be lost in an endless stack of papers.

Paper Agenda Book

If individual notes aren’t your style, but you still want to use a tangible organization method, a paper planner is the best way to go. I’ve been using these since elementary school, and they not only help me remember assignments, but they keep my entire life organized.

I’m way too particular about which agenda I pick out from the store. Target always has the best ones, so I would recommend starting there, thumbing through them, and figuring out what will work best for you. For me, in college, with a lot of things going on between work and school and family life, I like (affiliate link) Blue Sky’s Day Designer planner. I have the weekly and monthly one, and at first I didn’t like the set up, but now I can’t get enough of it.

The first few pages of the Day Designer are goal-setting prompts, daily routine charts, and reminders to fill in birthdays, anniversaries, and such into your planner. Then it gets into the real agenda. There’s a simple grid calendar before every new month (an agenda book standard), then the typical weekly layout, with Monday through Sunday on the page. This all sounds pretty normal, but there are a few key design differences that pull this planner apart from the others.

Firstly, instead of simple blank lines across the page for each day, the boxes are divided vertically in two, with blank lines on the left, and checkboxes for a to-do list on the right. If you’re using a planner strictly for homework, this set up may not be for you, but if you use it to plan your days, it’s perfect. I put my plans for the day and due dates on the left, and tasks on the right. It’s perfect.

The top of each weekly spread also has a section called, “This Week’s Top Three.” I think it’s really important to try to live your life as a whole, instead of becoming a machine, living day by day. For me, I put goals, important events, or anything else that is important for more than just a day in my top three. It helps remind me of the big picture, even when I’m planning out each and every day.


The (affiliate link) Day Designer is my current planner of choice, and although I’m always changing, I know I’ll at least stick with this one through the next few years, because whether I want a large size or a pocket size, I know it will work with my schedule. (P.S. Their website also has a bunch of free printables to help you stay organized!)

Whichever planner you choose to use, you have a couple of options on how to keep it organized:

As always, color-coding is essential. I like to look at color on a page – it brings my eye right to the important things and helps me categorize. You can put all essays in red, all assignments for Psych-101 in purple, or even switch things up with no set plan. Either way, color is important, because it keeps you from blurring things together when you look at the page. Lugging around 10 different colored pens can be a pain, but even if you start in pencil, and go back in color later, you’ll thank me for reminding you to liven up your planner!

You can also try organizing by location on the page. Personally, I like to put things in my planner in order of occurrence, but that can be hard when things get shifted around and plans turn up at the last minute. I try to leave some space where I can for these changes, but generally, morning tasks get put at the top, and evening tasks at the bottom of the box. Whatever you do, make sure you leave some room for last-minute activities (if every day was the same, you wouldn’t need a planner in the first place).

The best way to use your agenda is to remember to always take it with you wherever you go, so you can always check your availability and add tasks in. It only works if you use it, after all!

Whether you choose the electronic route or the paper trail, staying organized is a challenge for a lot of college students. It’s important that we share tips to help each other out! How do you stay organized? Let me know in the comments!

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