Once in a while, we all wish there were a couple of extra hours in a day. For some, this issue even more vital.
Being a graduate student isn’t a picnic in the park. You have to go above and beyond to get that precious master’s degree and each year, many students struggle with keeping up with the pace. Many of them wear their socks off to cover the debt and get their foot in the door. Add here personal and social responsibilities, and you’ll get a sterling mix for burnout – if not worse.
And while 24 hours a day is the maximum we can all hope for, there’s still something you can do to make your life as a graduate student easier. Just embed these seven time management principles in your daily routine to boost your productivity and do more in less time.
Build a Clear Plan of Your Goals and Activities
A journey is always easier with a map. In time management, it’s a well-structured plan.
The plan should include everything: important dates, deadlines, scheduled activities, and your goals. Once ordered and organized, you’ll have a clear understanding of how effectively you’re using your time, where you may be wasting it, and how you can improve it.
But don’t try to fill every minute of your day, keep it flexible instead. Things can always take an unexpected turn and you want to have some backup time to adjust.
We all want to be as fast as Flash but don’t deceive yourself. Planning just a few minutes for a 2-hour task doesn’t make you more productive but will only get you nervous and may sabotage the whole day of work.
Rather than putting yourself in the pressing limits, try to cut yourself some slack. It’s okay if you schedule slightly more time than you actually need to complete it; just make sure you have a selection of activities to fit in your day in case you manage with something faster than you expected.
Swiping Instagram feed, commenting on posts, checking some random news are famous time killers – and unfortunately, they kill your productivity too. But while every time management resource will recommend you to eliminate all the distractions before they destroy your day, it’s almost impossible to do that in the age of digital technologies. There’s always going to be a colleague who needs you immediately, a question you need to clear up with your professor before it slipped your mind, or a cute naughty kitty who grabbed your attention once you got bored.
What you can do is to take it under control. Set working hours, and turn off or put away the phone while you’re busy. Schedule some time when you can check all your social media and message your friends. Jot down the questions you need to ask, information to check, and ideas to develop once they visit your mind but do that in the scheduled time. Every now and then, you will still be disobeying this rule because life happens. However, once you remove most of the distractions, you’ll notice how easier it is to stay focused and productive.
Follow Healthy Work-and-Rest Routine
You may think that those who work hard, reach their goals. But this is just a part of the truth. In fact, go-getters are usually individuals who know how to maintain the balance between work and rest.
As a graduate student, you’ll be short of time more often than not. And while studying until the last dog dies may sound like a good idea, you’ll end up lacking energy pretty soon. Here the thing: the human brain isn’t a perpetual motion machine; it needs time to process information, reboot, and recharge. And the harder you push, the more reluctant it gets to work.
If you’re aimed at keeping your energy levels high, develop healthy work and rest routine. Pomodoro technique can be a good example to start with. Not necessarily this has to be the 25 minutes of work to 5 minutes of rest ratio – try to adjust it to your needs. You can increase the time when you work, or have more minutes for rest – choose whatever option helps you stay focused and work at your full capacity.
Learn to Prioritize
As a graduate student, you will likely have way more tasks than you can handle. But getting down to work ASAP disregarding other responsibilities – and rest – isn’t much of a solution. While prioritizing is.
As much as it means discriminating urgent and important tasks from those that can be left out, it also includes taking a whole bunch of decisions: when to work, how to work, what task to do in the first place, how to schedule the week, and on, and on, and on.
Deciding whether to do something yourself or handing it out to someone else is among them. Delegating is an essential skill of every successful student, as much as of wise and valuable employee and team member. No one can do everything alone. Rather than trying to hammer the nails with a microscope, isn’t it better to assign something you’re bad at to a pro? This way you’ll vacate plenty of time for more important assignments, social life, and individual learning.
The idea is to find smarter ways to do things. As an example, you can join a studying group, like Michelle did:
“It wasn’t just a studying group – we wouldn’t have made it without each other. While I was helping others with Math, my friend Matt was writing my essays. After a few months, he had so many argumentative essay orders that it grew into a full-time gig that kept him going for a while even after graduation.”
In the end, remember that the idea of time management is to find time for joys even when it gets hard. So make sure that you vacate at least a small time gap for your hobbies and friends.