Digital Diaries Season 3 Episode 5: How NU students keep up with the quarter, clubs, and classes



This week, The Daily asked Northwestern students about how they manage their busy lives. Answers ranged from weekly planners to Notion pages to simple memorization.


MIKA ELLISON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison. This is Digital Diaries, a weekly podcast following the college experience and asking students questions about life at Northwestern. This week, Northwestern students shared how their methods of organizing provide the feeling of accomplishment —

EVA YANG: It’s very satisfying to click the checkmark, and then it crosses it out for you.

MIKA ELLISON: fierce loyalty —

SOPHIE PEREL: Live love Google Calendar.

MIKA ELLISON: and even a source of community.

ESTHER TANG: Whenever people discover that I use Notion, they’re like, ‘Oh my god, you’re a Notion girly too!’ So I think there is some form of community.


MIKA ELLISON: Weinberg sophomore Esther Tan is a pre-med neuroscience major who uses Notion, one of many organizational apps available, to remind herself of upcoming assignments and events. She says one of Notion’s major draws was the ability to make her schedule a little more aesthetically pleasing.

ESTHER TANG: I think I started in freshman year of high school because one of my friends recommended it to me. She was like, ‘Oh, it looks really aesthetic.’ And I’m like a big person for aesthetics and a minimalistic kind of look, so I decided to give it a try.

MIKA ELLISON: Tang uses a template she found online to sort assignments and other responsibilities in the app.

ESTHER TANG: It looks really fancy and it’s like, green and (has) plants and there’s gifs going on, like animations, but somebody else designed that.


MIKA ELLISON: Weinberg sophomore Eva Yang has many responsibilities ranging from her business development internship to clubs like the Korean American Student Association. Yang had a bullet journal in high school, but says she had trouble keeping up with it consistently. She says she had to do more research than Tang to fully take advantage of Notion’s capabilities.

EVA YANG: I feel like it took a long time to set up, like I had to watch so many videos about it. But now I have a set template. So it’s like no work. Every week, I just click a button and it copies the template for me.

MIKA ELLISON: Yang started using Notion after seeing people on social media promote it, and says she likes that it acts as several different platforms in one, like Google Sheets, Google Docs and Google Calendar.

EVA YANG: You can use it for so many things. A calendar and a weekly planner are like the main ones that I use, but I also use it to track, what books I’ve read. When I was taking four classes, I actually had a big assignment tracker where I would basically combine all of my syllabi, and make a huge to-do list out (of it and) check it off throughout the quarter.

MIKA ELLISON: Besides all of its practical uses, Yang says the real reason she likes Notion is a bit more cosmetic.

EVA YANG: I’m gonna be honest, I literally just think it’s because I can make it pretty. I think Google Calendar’s functionality is actually better than Notion’s calendar.

MIKA ELLISON: But Yang says that Notion has been helpful in her day-to-day activities.

EVA YANG: I think it makes me feel better when I dump everything (I have to do). Just the act of doing that, even though I haven’t started any of my tasks, makes me feel better, like now I have a vision, (or) a goal for what I’m going to do. And it helps me relax a little.


MIKA ELLISON: Notion requires a certain level of commitment, but what about the reliable scheduling app, that has everything you need right in front of you?

SOPHIE PEREL: Google Calendar, my savior. I love Google Calendar.

MIKA ELLISON: That was Weinberg freshman Sophie Perel, a pre-med psychology major with a proliferation of clubs and other responsibilities. Perel says she plans every aspect of her life with “G-Cal,” as it’s colloquially known, including social engagements. She described what her calendar looks like.

SOPHIE PEREL: A lot of colors cause I make a different calendar, not per class. There’s one for like, all my classes one for office hours, there’s one for exams and there’s one for just like, my social life, because if not, I forget the plans that I make.

MIKA ELLISON: Perel says it’s Google Calendar’s reminder function that makes it indispensable.

SOPHIE PEREL: I’m never late for anything and I always put the location (in the entry). So I know where I’m going and she (Google Calendar) just like, has everything for me and she’s never failed me.

SOPHIE PEREL: I love the idea that I’m never gonna forget anything because my Google Calendar is going to be like ‘Beep beep beep!’ and tell me.


MIKA ELLISON: SESP sophomore Donny Tou takes a literal page out of the previous generation’s book.

[sound of flipping pages]

DONNY TOU: Everything that I need to do to plan out what I’m going to do every single day is done in this little blue notebook. So like, for today, I’ll (write) like, all of the to-dos I need to do today.

MIKA ELLISON: Tou says he’s been keeping track of tasks like this since his junior year of high school, and that he finds a physical to do list more satisfying than a virtual one.

DONNY TOU: It just makes me feel a little bit more productive. I think it’s mostly a psychological thing. It makes me feel legit. There’s a difference for me between checking off something digitally versus checking it off in my notebook. And I don’t think it’s actually true, but it feels less malleable if I have it physically in front of me. Sometimes I have this fear of like, ‘Oh, my online stuff is going to be wiped out.’ It just feels a lot more constant.

MIKA ELLISON: Ultimately, Tou pointed out that each method is very individual – what works for one person might make another person even more stressed.

DONNY TOU: I have a friend who plans everything, days, sometimes even weeks in advance. He uses Notion though. I’m just not one of those people.


MIKA ELLISON: Google Calendar, Notion and physical planners are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of ways to manage a busy life. But what about those students who don’t outsource their organization to anything at all?

RIVERS LECHE: I free-ball it! There’s no organization. There’s none. I have a picture of my class schedule on my phone. I have a picture of my work schedule on my phone. Oh, I do have a planner. But I don’t really use it like I should.

MIKA ELLISON: That was Communication junior Rivers Leche, who was so busy we had to do our interview over the phone.

RIVERS LECHE: I’m so busy. My alarm is set for 8 a.m., which I know to adults, doesn’t sound very early, but for college students is practically dawn. Hardard to keep up. One of my friends – I wish I was joking — they call me the Princess Diana of Northwestern. I just have so many wonderful friends, and I want to see them all. But it’s like, I don’t even have time.

MIKA ELLISON: Leche says she has always lived life without an external form of organization, and she likes it that way.

RIVERS LECHE: They always gave us like planners in middle school. And they’d be like, ‘Use this.’ And I would say, ‘I don’t think I need to.’ So I just remember it.

MIKA ELLISON: Whether students need Notion to schedule their social life, or keep it all in their head, they agree that anything goes, as long as they get to their next task in time.


MIKA ELLISON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison. Thanks for listening to the fifth episode of Digital Diaries Season 3. This episode was reported by me and produced by Bettina Sanchez Cordova. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is myself, the digital managing editors are Ava Mandoli and Erica Schmitt, and the editor-in-chief is Alex Perry. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikaEllison23

Digital Diaries Season 3 Episode 4: The problem with housing, once again.
Digital Diaries Season 3 Episode 2: Pranks, jokes, scams and swindles
— Digital Diaries Season 3 Episode 1: Curing the Real Freshman Flu — Homesickness