Eight time management tips for graduate students

Efficient time management is important for graduate students since they have several competing demands. These might include balancing a full-time job and academics, coursework and research work, or completing their thesis or dissertation. Wasted hours quickly turn into days, and even weeks can go by without making any substantial progress.

Preventing this from happening takes a lot of planning that many people, including myself, find restricting. Nevertheless, having a well-planned schedule that you strictly adhere to is the crux of being a successful graduate student. Outlined below are some helpful tips for effectively managing your time and balancing competing demands.

1. Determine your goals

The first step to creating a functional personal schedule is to set your short- and long-term goals. These may include your academic goals; personal goals, especially health, social, and spiritual concerns; or interpersonal and relationship goals with your family and friends. For example, one of your long term academic program goals could be completing your program at a set date, while short term goals may include writing a term paper. The primary benefit of outlining your goals is to help you determine how much time you need to allocate to complete them.

2. Manage your time

After establishing your short- and long-term goals, you can start filling in a weekly schedule by outlining your routine tasks, like getting groceries, cooking, and hopefully cleaning. You can use the leftover time to create a comprehensive weekly or monthly schedule with explicit actions to achieving your goals. For instance, you should include times for breaks, deadlines to accomplish tasks and identifying the resources that are required to tackle tasks that may be out of your skill level. This is critical in ensuring that no aspect of your life is neglected. An added benefit of this process is that you can allocate time for critical tasks that require substantial mental strength to openings in your schedule where you know you’ll be most alert. For example, you can be sure to schedule your studying earlier in the day, when you’re still fresh, to help you retain more information.

3. Be disciplined

This is very critical in time management. Unessential things (or people) tend to come up at the most inconvenient times. Say you’ve allocated one hour to relaxing, in the duration of that one hour, it is likely that nothing interesting happens and you just surf the internet or watch a movie to pass the time. Then with five minutes to go, you get a phone call from a dear old friend who initiates a conversation that will last at least one hour. Or someone drops by your office, asking to buy you lunch. When these not-so-minor interruptions come up, no matter how painful it may feel, you have to learn to say no to them if you want to stay on track. Imagining the price you’ll have to pay for abandoning your work – whether it’s less sleep or a poorly-written paper – could help you resist distractions.

4. Update your schedule

As the saying goes, you never step in the same river twice. Therefore, it’s important to constantly review your schedule – whether on a daily or weekly basis – depending on how quickly your responsibilities are changing. During examination periods, for example, you’ll need to update your schedule to allocate more time to studying.

5. Breaks are important

Include adequate time for breaks in your schedule. Working for hours on end without breaks has been found to be counterproductive. In this vein, study blocks that last between 30-60 minutes, with 10-15 minute breaks in between, are believed to be helpful in aiding retention. It is, however, important to not get too distracted during these breaks, as we all know a quick glance at one’s Instagram page can quickly turn a 15-minute break into 45 minutes. One humorous way I’ve been told to avoid overshooting one’s break time is to set reminders that go off when the time is up, with threatening messages like “get back to work or you will fail!” attached to them, although everybody has their own methods.

6. Don’t underestimate the power of a little fun

In addition to breaks, you should incorporate adequate time for fun and relaxing activities into your schedule. Spending time on fun and relaxing activities won’t make you feel so guilty if you set scheduled time aside for it, and it will help to keep you from becoming overwhelmed by your workload. We all know that it is unrealistic and even counterproductive to assign 12 consecutive hours (even when interspersed with short breaks) to studying in a day, so try scheduling part of an evening to just do something you love.

7. Peer support is important

It is also helpful to have at least one friend or colleague who can help keep you accountable (and who you can also help, as mutual accountability tends to work best) in the fulfillment of your academic goals. Peer support not only serves as a source of encouragement in fulfilling your academic goals, but also poses a challenge that will spur you to do better.

8. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Inevitably, you mess up a part of your schedule. Maybe you ‘accidentally’ overshoot the time you’ve allocated for relaxation by one hour because you’re binge watching the latest episodes of Game of Thrones. In my experience, even when I didn’t have a formally written schedule, just a mental one, this sort of situation typically leaves me feeling quite rotten.

If you aren’t careful, this sort of incident can ruin your entire day and have a major effect on your self-esteem in the long run. However, incidents like these are inevitable, since people are far from robotic in the execution of their daily activities. Besides, a disruption in your schedule can be caused by something as mundane as oversleeping, or even something out of your control like a bus that runs late or bad weather. Thus, an important aspect of the art of time management is making sure that following a disruption, you’re able to pick yourself up, not get discouraged, rearrange your schedule as best as you can, and make the best of the rest of the day.

One way to do this is to get yourself excited by remembering your initial motivation for setting the goal and putting it into your schedule. For example, if the disruption was to your study time, motivate yourself to do the work by remembering what made you enroll in the graduate program and how it’ll improve your future. This simple act can also help you in times when you’re seriously stressed out by work and feel like giving up.

Overall, there is a very thin line between flexibility and procrastination or idleness, and being able stay on the right side of this line is paramount. As we all know, time waits for nobody and always seems to get away from us during busy times in our lives. I sincerely hope that these points will help you in this continuous and conscious effort to make every minute count.

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