Time Management Tips For Graduate Students

Time management is a form of art that is difficult to master. This is especially true for those juggling graduate school, extracurriculars and maybe even a job. The key to successful time management isn’t in the amount of time you have, but how effectively you use what you have.  This article gives a few tips on how to get organized and get things done better and faster. 

As a new graduate student, I am still getting used to the busy schedule, studying in the evenings and basically living without weekends. My program is specifically designed for working professionals, which means most of my classes are in the evenings and on the weekends. This is supposed to give me enough time to work 30 hours/week and have a day off on Friday to prepare for class… but it doesn’t. When I signed up for my schedule and applied for jobs, I didn’t account for how tired I’d be after a 9-hour work day and a 2-hour commute. Later I realized that I was actually spending too much time on my phone, on social media and drinking tea when I should be writing articles and researching the next project. Although I have the time to get things done, I don’t use it effectively enough.  Does this sound familiar? So let’s sit down and figure out our next steps to effective time management in graduate school.

I bet you were already sitting when you read this. Good job, you’re one step closer to success!

  1. Create a master plan

    Take a piece of paper and think about how and where you want to see yourself in 3-5 years. Do you want to have your dream job by then? Earn your Master’s degree? Maybe travel to 10 different countries? Write it down!

    One important twist in this exercise is to write everything in the present tense with a positive tone (this means no “no’s” and “not’s”. This helps me set the right attitude and gain a little more confidence!

    Here’s my list:
    ~ I am a Master of Communications in Digital Media
    ~ I am a professional in my field
    ~ I work at a comfortable job with flexible hours and opportunities to travel and work remotely
    ~ I dedicate time to my hobbies and enjoyable lessons
    ~ I am a well-rounded person

    *runs off to a print shop to make a poster of this list*

  2. Audit your time

    Instead of planning ahead, let’s go backward! Make this your little research project and take a week to keep track of everything you do and the time it takes you to do it. Write down when you wake up, how long it takes you to eat breakfast and the duration of your commute. Maybe you take some time to chat with your classmates? Write it down! Then see how long your class is and the time you spent preparing for it. Don’t forget to record your extracurricular activities, sports,  job, etc.  This can be done both on paper and on Google Calendar. If you’re really into data, try out Excel and let me know how you did it!

  3. Find out what works

    After you’ve finished tracking your daily activities, take some time to reflect what worked and what didn’t work, when you felt overwhelmed and, perhaps, couldn’t focus on the task in front of you.

    If the schedule you tracked this week worked for you – great! Keep it up! If it didn’t, then figure out what the problem was and work on fixing it. For example, try working longer hours but fewer days. Study in twenty-minute increments to not get bored. Remember that the key is to be present in what you are doing, and think less of the tasks in other areas of your life.

  4. Break the wall and just get started

    Often “just getting started” is the hardest step in completing an assignment. I bet that this is the step that unites all procrastinators out there. But what I realized recently is that once I begin my assignment and see some progress, I become motivated to continue it.

  5. Use small bits of time

    It’s the 45-15 Rule!  Study a bit, rest a bit. Work a bit, rest a bit. Even though it seems like a natural and logical step, we often forget to take breaks every once in a while. I prefer to get a cup of tea if I am at home or walk around the block if I am at work. It’s a nice way to relax and look at the task with a “fresh look”.

  6. Use technology for your benefit

    While technology can be distracting, there are lots of apps that can help you manage your time, keep to-do lists and even block distracting websites for a certain period of time! Here are some of my favorites:

    ~ StayFocusd: a great Chrome extension that helps you limit the time you spend on social media and any site you don’t want to spend time on.
    ~ Time Spent on Facebook: a passive-aggressive, but very effective Chrome extension that shows you how much time you spent on Facebook today. To the second.
    ~ bSociable: an app that sets your online time limit based on how much time you spend off your phone
    ~ Moment: this is the app to use when you want to see how much time you spend on other apps and online through your phone

  7. Reward yourself

    My motto is “Work hard, play hard”, even though I’m still working out the balance between the two. Being in control of your behavior and productivity is a tough task alone, not speaking of all the work you do at that time. So after a tough day, make sure to take some quality time and fully relax. Whether you watch cheesy TV shows or go out with friends, just do something that takes your mind off your work and studies. This will give you the much-needed “recharge”.

What are your time management ideas? How do you stay productive? Share in the comments, I want to know!