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College application season is notorious for pushing seniors to their limits of procrastination. After all, no matter how many times people say that essays can be recycled, there are always significant revisions to be made or personalized essays to write for a particular college. Deadlines become dreaded entities looming ahead like a grim reaper assessing your life line. Despite the CommonApp’s effort to make all of the various college deadlines digestible, it still lacks the necessary interactivity to actually reminds a busy senior to complete the action.

Cue visual calendars. What is a visual calendar exactly? Unlike typical calendars such as the handy app that comes with the iPhone or Google calendars, visual calendars use a combination of images and text to convey information on certain days. Naturally, they have a psychological draw to them. A visual calendar is just like an infographic, highlighting all of the necessary information in an appealing way while cutting away the minor details. It reads easily and is physically attractive.

But more than that, when tasks are laid out in a calendar with images to connect text to something tangible, schedules appear far more manageable. In neuroscience, the cost benefit analysis entails that humans focus on opportunity seeking and threat avoidance. The theory explains why we are more attracted to calorie dense foods (more energy) and why we mentally make certain decisions. For students who stress themselves out by thinking about all of the work ahead of them, it is simply weighing the mental energy expenditure against the benefit from doing the work. We see this everywhere, especially in second semester seniors who find conserving energy far more rewarding than expending it. The advantage of visual calendars is it significantly eases the perception of energy loss and promotes greater efficiency and a more positive approach towards the task. Many visual calendars such as Cannonball also include the option of adding social media content, following other content, and sharing events.

“Visual and social streams change how you interact with the platform. Rather than using the calendar as a stagnant planner, Cannonball allows users to discover curated, customized events for the future. Truly, the only similarity between Cannonball and the digital iPhone calendar is that they both organize events by time,” stated Kiki L’Italien, marketing director at Cannonball Visual Calendar.

While this might seem counterintuitive to productivity at first, it actually provides a rather important element of diversity in a calendar schedule. After a certain extent, no matter how many more images you include, a long list of tedious tasks is still a long list of tedious tasks. According to Hick’s Law, which states that the more options a person has the longer it will take for him or her to choose something, just staring at a large amount of work to do can waste more time.

That is, if it’s a homogeneous list of work, it can easily be procrastinated. Many visual content calendars create an environment in which there is both work and “play.” In short, interesting posts or news on certain days disperse through the heavy laundry list of essays to write or tests to study for, making for a much more pleasing experience.

Visual calendars also target another issue many are prone to: selective blindness. Selective blindness is exactly as it sounds: our brains filter out content that we deem unnecessary or simply do not want to see. Selective blindness is commonly seen in people who are so accustomed to ads on websites that they forget whether or not they saw any on a certain site. Selective blindness also happens quite frequently to students. Even for students who use planners and write in reminders several weeks before the deadline or due date, students can easily become blind to this text. Too many reminders become habitual and faded entities of text. However, the visual calendar’s images make writing events off extremely difficult. Writing can be easily ignored but images are automatically processed once a pair of eyes flit across them.

This is not to say that more conventional calendars are ineffective. Rather, just like not everyone learns the same way, not everyone works or processes work the same way. And for some, the impact of a collection of images, words, and graphics is just the tool that will get them to finish their college essays on time.

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the author

Lucy Zhang attends Duke University and is majoring in electrical and computer engineering. Her passions include watching anime, sleeping, and writing the occasional article or two when productivity levels are high enough.

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