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

This article was first published March 16, 2016.

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, but there is something to be said about the paper method. 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. I’ve been sticking them on my computer monitors and desks with little reminders since I was in middle school, and I’ve even been known to stick multiple sheets of these together to create long, running to-do lists. Plus, since packs of these are slim, they don’t take up much room in my bag or on my desk.

Here are some other ways you can use sticky notes to keep things straight in school:

1. Use color-coding.

If you want to use sticky notes on a regular basis, color-coding is a great way to go. Packs of 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 more your style. Maybe blue sticky notes 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.

2. Keep them in your line of sight.

If you choose to use them only every once in a while, color may not be such a big deal—but it’s still important to keep your notes 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 complete the task so I can get rid of the note!

Maybe you need to keep these 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. 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.

Related: Why Taking Notes by Hand is Better for Learning (Guest Post)

A Paper Agenda Book

If individual sticky notes aren’t your style, but you still want to use a tangible organization method, a paper planner is probably your best option. 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 pretty particular about which agenda I pick out from the store, and I often bounce back and forth between several brands before figuring out what works best for me and what’s currently going on in my life. Kayla at Kayla Blogs has long been tracking the latest and greatest planners out there for college students, so head over to her blog if you’re not sure where to start.

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

1. Use color-coding.

Yet again, color-coding comes up—and if you stick around this blog long enough, you’re bound to come across this time again. 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 all your assignments from blurring 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!

2. Organize by location.

You can also try organizing you planner by being particular about where you write each assignment, task, or event on the page. Personally, I like to put things in my planner in order of occurrence, but that can be hard when due dates 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!)

3. Keep it with you.

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. How do you do it? Let me know in the comments!

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Related: Stay Organized With My Due Date Spreadsheet [+FREE Printable!]

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