Choose essay topic. Plan essay. Go grocery shopping. Do laundry. Take out trash. Email adviser.
It’s the first thing I do when I wake up each morning: open my planner, look at my calendar and make the list. I write down (in order) each task I need to do, and I add a little box next to it that I can check when I’ve completed it.
Nothing is left unwritten — from tasks as difficult as finishing my 40-page thesis to those as simple as exchanging my graduation gown for a smaller size, everything I need to do in a day is carefully recorded in my precious planner. I even color-code my tasks based on categories (my thesis class is purple, job applications are bright pink, anything related to The Daily Californian is bright blue).
Whenever I’m working, I pull my planner out so it’s sitting open beside me. By the end of a good day — a productive day — my planner will be filled with all the colors of the rainbow with checks next to each task.
So the first few times I didn’t get to a single task, I hated myself.
I was a second-semester sophomore, and I’d just started a new job at the Daily Cal as an assistant news editor. It was an average day in the newsroom, and I was doing some homework — until we received an email with a list of incidents that Berkeley Police Department had responded to in the past two weeks. All things we needed to write news briefs on as quickly as possible.
My planned day was suddenly tossed aside.
Instead, I spent the rest of the day writing three briefs, editing three news stories and running in and out of meetings. I came home at 1 a.m., exhausted but exhilarated from all the work I’d done. But when I took my planner out of my bag, all I could think about was the list of things I didn’t accomplish: finish readings, choose essay topic, meal prep, write discussion post. All of them without a check mark next to them. All things I would have to push on to tomorrow.
I felt so guilty — sure, I’d done a lot of work that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t the work listed in my planner. Tomorrow, I told myself, I’d do better. I’d stick to my schedule.
But this kept happening. The days I’d planned nearly to the second were worthless because of all the unexpected things that popped up, disrupting my carefully organized schedule. I woke up each morning worried, already expecting that I wouldn’t be able to complete most of the tasks I’d written in my planner, yet still holding on to the hope that I would.
But as each day went on, I stopped feeling guilty. Because the thing was, I didn’t regret any of the times I veered off course.
I enjoyed those spontaneous moments. Instead of sticking to my plan to go home and do laundry before my evening meetings, I went to Brewed Awakening with my fellow news editors to comfort each other over the stress of our jobs or gush about our incredible reporters. Instead of getting a head start on next week’s readings like I wrote in my planner, I tackled breaking news that reinforced my love of journalism and wrote countless stories that made me a better reporter. Instead of going home to eat dinner by myself, I laughed over a pizza that I shared with my co-editors.
I hadn’t planned for these moments, but they were just as valuable as the things I’d accounted for in my planner — if not more so.
Slowly, the guilt about my neglected planner started to fade away. It was OK that I hadn’t done the long list of things I’d originally wanted to accomplish that day — I’d done a lot more work that I hadn’t planned for instead. I started to realize that I didn’t have to schedule every second of every day to be productive. I was allowed to enjoy the unplanned moments once in a while and go off script. There’s no way to know every single thing that’ll come up during the day. So when the unexpected happened, I just had to toss out my old plan and come up with a new one.
I still love my planner — it’s open next to me right now as I write this column, filled with many different colors and all the different tasks I have to do before graduation. But I don’t let my lists dictate everything. Every once in a while, I’ll close my planner up, leave it at home and just take the day as it comes.