By Nick Haas
Fox School of Business Graduate Student and a staff member at Temple University Center City
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….
Time is a valuable commodity, especially for graduate students who often feel it ticking away.
Many skip over graduate school, thinking they just don’t have the time available to complete the work. While it is a major time investment, there are obvious benefits to completing a graduate degree. It can help you get the promotion or position you desire. It can help facilitate a career change.
With a few time management techniques, grad school is less daunting.
Several former and current graduate students shared their tips for time management with Temple University Center City. Common threads emerged from these conversations that can help students successfully navigate graduate school.
Have a Plan
To-do lists. Planners. Schedules. Whatever works best for you, do that, but commit your plans to paper. Plans create organization. They can help map out your day, week or semester and act as visual aid.
Schedules are crucial for time management. While you are attending graduate school, you may be working full-time, have a family or other social obligations. This can cause tension and make you feel as though you are being pulled in multiple directions. If you plan ahead, however, you can avoid these conflicts.
Allison Bankhead, a current Temple student, swears by her planner.
“By putting a concrete plan in writing,” she said, “I’ve got accountability and it also ensures I don't over promise or double book on evenings and weekends.”
Bankhead said she also includes non-work or school related items on her schedule. Lists shouldn’t always have to be filled with obligations, but should include fun activities, as well, she added.
If a manual planner doesn’t work for you, some students use technology for their schedules. Temple student Matt Guzzardo suggests using Microsoft One-Note and Apple Notes. He’s pursuing his Master’s in Healthcare and these programs have helped him organize his busy schedule on the fly, he said.
Now that you have a plan, it is time to prioritize. Some assignments are more important than others. This isn’t new. That’s just the way grading works. Identifying these projects ahead of time is key.
This may take some time if you are just returning to school. You will have to find out what personally gives you trouble. Then find ways to tackle the projects that are more difficult for you.
Mark Buenavista works full-time, has a young child, and takes two MBA courses a semester. He has a tried and true method for allocating enough time for these tougher, weightier assignments.
Buenavista breaks down his to-do lists as follows:
- Prioritize urgent and important tasks.
- Schedule non-urgent and not as important tasks.
- Try to tackle difficult assignments early in day and easier projects later in the day.
- Break down very complex, long-term projects into smaller tasks.
- Delegate tasks if possible.
This is an example of what one student found that works for him. Tailor your own prioritization as you see fit. There isn’t a right or wrong way to approach prioritization.
Distractions are everywhere, and avoiding them is becoming increasingly difficult. While trying to tackle schoolwork, everything you actually want to be doing is in your pocket. Leave your phone in another room if it gets in the way. Answer emails at specific times of the day. Turn-off notifications. The time you set aside for schoolwork is important and interrupting the flow of work can make your day longer.
Having a set space to do school work can be helpful. While this may not be available to everyone, it is a useful option.
“I just couldn’t do work in the living room with the TV there,” said Rachel Clarke, who just completed her Master’s in Education as a Reading Specialist at Temple. “I needed a quiet place to focus and work.”
If you have kids, the quiet place may become a time more than a location. Working after bedtime may be a viable option.
Find Productive Moments
Sometimes everything can go awry. That’s life. Unforeseen problems come up and require immediate attention. Now your schedule is wrecked. What can you do?
Ed Meyers works in Information Technology and is completing a Master’s degree at Temple. He has two small children, so finding small pockets of time to be productive is a necessity.
“Finding time for homework and class is definitely difficult when working full-time and balancing family responsibilities,” he said. “I’ve managed to keep up by working on assignments on the train during my daily commute, or spending a few minutes on assignments during my lunch break.”
This may be the reality of graduate school for some people. Pursuing a master’s or doctorate is hard work. Staying productive and ahead of the curve is the only way to succeed.
Break Up Your Workload
Sometimes life can feel like all work while attending graduate school. From the time you wake up until you lay down at night, you’re working. That can be draining on your mental state, which affects your academics and social life. Take time for yourself and it will benefit your academics.
Stand up and walk around while working on a project to jog your memory. Go for a walk or run to help ease your mind and prevent burnout.
“I am pretty social person and I need that in my life,” said Temple student Nicole Regis. “I’m learning how to adjust on the fly and make room for my social activities. I've been doing homework or studying in the car from one family event to another.”
There isn’t one way to get through graduate school. It takes hard work and dedication. Give yourself the permission to manage time in a way that is effective for you.
Or, there’s always Temple graduate student Sean Eagan’s advice — “Sleep less, drink more coffee.”