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Using Planners in Your Professional and Personal Lives


Using Planners in Your Professional and Personal Lives by Nora Clark

As a 35-year-old full-time employee, part-time grad student, wife, daughter, sister and WVU MarCom Ambassador who also has ADHD, balancing life is important. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until college. I’ve learned over the years that some of the organizational habits I created for myself from as early as fifth grade are practical non-medicated techniques to “treat” or work with my ADHD. When I was first diagnosed, I was happy to have medication to “fix” me. Oh, how I would learn!

In fact, the organizational habits I’d created for myself and become accustomed to - carrying an hourly/daily planner everywhere, for example - were beneficial not only when I was a college student but also when I entered the workforce and coordinated with multiple teams, offices, departments, etc. I also found that while treating my ADHD with medication was helpful, it was not a cure and certainly not the be-all and end-all in managing my ADHD and balancing the multiple areas of my life. Some of these things were coursework, work (I worked what was considered full-time at my job during college, which was anywhere from 35 to 40 hours a week), internships, volunteering and family time.

Nora with her husband and her father at her father's art exhibit.

Continuing to utilize a planner after my diagnosis, along with medication, helped me fine-tune my organizational, planning and strategic planning skills. I didn’t take my first project management course until spring 2021, but by that point, it was essentially learning “industry terms” to the concepts I’d been utilizing since I was in middle school. I’d even implemented project management software at a few jobs before that course because I’d already learned and seen the benefits.

You may be thinking to yourself, “OK, cool. First, I don't have ADHD. And second, what if my work doesn’t have a project management system - or I don’t find planners very helpful?” Well, if you’re considering an online graduate program, whether you’ve just finished your undergraduate degree or have been in the workforce for a while, having a planner, at the very least, is one of the most underrated tools for success as you continue your education. Between textbook reading, module reading, additional assigned articles, discussion boards, and assignments, there are a few things to keep track of when starting an online graduate program - or any grad program!

If you’ve recently received your undergrad degree and are also starting a job while starting an online grad program, don’t underestimate the stress of that first “real-world” job. Finding a system that works for you will help not only manage your time during these transitions, but it can also help internally manage your mental and emotional capacity and resilience. These skills were also advantageous in my various roles as they showed my managers and leaders that I was organized, strategic, productive, and focused (many didn’t know/realize I had ADHD). You certainly don’t have to have ADHD to feel overwhelmed by being a multi-faceted human with lots going on in your life. You can still utilize tools and techniques around time management, project management.

I wanted to start my first blog as a WVU MarCom Ambassador to be on this subject since it’s not only a new year and new semester, but these are tools and skills that can be picked up and utilized at any time of year and can help you if you transition from a job that doesn’t utilize a project management platform to one that does.

So let’s dive a bit more into how I make it all work for me!

Nora working at her desk with two monitors and books spread around her.

First, I like to recommit and re-examine my planner and project management setup at the start of each new semester to ensure I begin a new course on the right foot. Luckily, being a student can help thanks to student discounts that either give us complete access or discounted access to different software systems (and potentially other necessities like some internet providers have student discounts - more on that in another post!).

Here are a few things I’m utilizing and have utilized in the past:

Project Management Platforms

  • My work is transitioning to, and over the holiday break, as I was going through some trainings on the platform, something came over me, and I looked into student rates/discounts - it’s completely free for students. There are some limitations, but it’s a great system for visual learners and planners like myself!

  • The first project management platform I utilized was Asana, and I was excited when my work was looking at transitioning to that platform since I had experience with it. They didn’t go that route, but Asana does have a free student version, so I suggest checking it out.

  • I’ve mentioned that my work is transitioning away from a software management platform, which would be TeamWork. They have a more complex student discount process, but if you utilize it for your current work, it may be good to look into seeing how you can create another login for your schoolwork.

Second, a tip about project management platforms that stems straight from my ADHD brain is that I suggest if you have to utilize a particular platform for work, you also utilize that program for school, even if you aren’t the biggest fan.

Physical Planners

After several years of utilizing Erin Condren's Daily LifePlanner (it can be rather bulky), I tried out Passion Planner and a few other planners that had an hourly as well as monthly view with room for notes as well, but last summer, after failing to utilize the latest planner for more than a month, I switched back to the Daily LifePlanner, but this time in the Ring Agenda version. I gifted my husband the Academic Planner in a Star Wars-themed cover, so yeah, don’t worry, guys, some options don't revolve around bright colors, florals or astrology signs.

Digital Planners

Passion Planner has a digital version and digital products/collections. Personally, though, while I enjoy project management platforms and software, I haven’t been able to replace a physical planner with a digital planner. Again, being a visual person, I need to have my planner next to me while working, doing school work, planning vacations, etc.

(If you have experience with a digital planner you love, I would like to know! I still am open to this mode, ESPECIALLY if I can sync it with my iCalendar/iPhone/iPad.)

Set Up Your System

Third, the most important thing about utilizing these tools, whether it’s only one or multiple of these tools, is setting up a system for yourself. As I mentioned before, I “recommit” to my project management set-up at the start of each semester. That essentially involves me writing out my deadlines and due dates in my planner and creating new boards in my project management system that map out deadlines, due dates, and reading schedules. I ensure that is done within the first few days of class so I can get started on the reading and work that needs to be done ASAP, and I can then add anything else important to my planner and project boards as the semester progresses.

Another reason I’m looking forward to using a new project management platform in conjunction with my planner is that I can store my notes, discussion board instructions, assignment instructions, discussion board drafts and final posts, as well as ideas and final docs for my assignments all in one place. This ensures that I utilize the system any time I work on modules, readings, etc., to not only update the status of my reading or assignment but to make changes and plan ahead based on that day's/week's work. In the past, when I only relied on my planner, I carved out an hour on Sundays to plan my week and update my planner for the week ahead. I still do that with my physical planner, even though I use it on the weekend while studying as well, so even if I don’t have anything to update, visualizing my week helps me feel prepared and helps ward off the Sunday “scaries.”

At some point, you have to get started - and that’s where we’re at here! Hoping the semester starts off well for everyone, and I look forward to sharing more with you here soon. In the meantime, you can read more from my personal blog here.

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