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Time Management for the Busy Grad Student

Grad school is no joke. Twice as busy as undergrad, with twice as much responsibility. Take it from a fellow grad student -- here are 6 tips for making your schedule manageable.

I recently had to take a little hiatus from writing for GenTwenty because of graduate school. It’s a whirlwind of a time; I’m working two jobs that equal nearly 40 hours a week, attending classes and doing hours of homework and reading for school. Add it all up and I’m basically working a 60-hour work week. I have a dog to take care of, friends to be with, and a family to visit. How on earth am I supposed to manage my time?

Grad school is hard. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Managing what time you have left isn’t easy and I still don’t have it down pat, but here are a few things that have helped me use my time wisely and keep my stress levels down — or at least keep them semi-manageable.

1. Use the awkward hours.

There are a few times during the day where I have an hour break between class and work. I’m tempted to dawdle on my phone during those times; the last thing I usually feel like doing is more work when I finally have a break. But, when you think about it, those awkward hours are the best times to get things done before you go home.

Even if you only have time to reply to emails or check your bank account, you’re doing something productive that you won’t have to do later. Getting the little things done makes that long list of to-dos a whole lot shorter and a whole lot less stressful.

2. Plan your free time.

Usually, the fun things you do aren’t planned. You spontaneously decide to read a book or have a Netflix binge. It isn’t something you plan. It just happens. I’ve found that planning these free times helps in many different areas of time management.

First, it gives you you time. I schedule out time to read for fun or to go get my nails done. I don’t just schedule it — I write it in my planner. Second, when looking at your schedule, seeing that you have a nail appointment or a walk or a Netflix binge planned is a great way to get motivation to keep going.

Having something to look forward to eases stress because, psychologically, you know you won’t be working every hour of the day.

3. Do things immediately.

I have a lot of trouble with this one. I get an assignment and have time to work on it after class, but I wait and wait; I use the time after receiving the assignment to check Instagram or peruse Twitter. Delaying even just an hour brings your motivation down a lot.

I find that starting the project right after it’s assigned is the best way to get it done on time, or even early. It gives me a lot less to worry about later!

4. Don’t get too comfy.

I can’t do homework on my bed. My apartment is fully furnished but I bought a separate desk to put in the living area so I wouldn’t have to use the desk right by my bed. This may have been a little extreme, but the point is I can’t get too comfortable when doing work.

Netflix or sleep just become too tempting, especially when I’m already on my laptop for homework purposes. Sitting at an actual desk with a cup of coffee facing a wall with quiet music is the best environment for getting things done. Find your ideal environment — or make it!

5. Be brainless.

You know those assignments that don’t take much mental effort? I had to address envelopes for a client last week. That isn’t necessarily a mentally taxing task. So what did I do? I had Netflix on while I worked. It was enough to distract me from how much time I was spending on the envelopes — and how much my hand was hurting. Having something to pass the time during brainless activities like this is a good way to keep yourself going until the task is done.

6. Be willing to sacrifice

I had to take a hiatus from GenTwenty and my own blog for a month in order to get into a routine and learn how to manage my time. I may have to sacrifice a few work hours or sleep hours or a night out.

Or, sometimes, I may have to sacrifice doing my best on an assignment because I need to spend some time taking care of my mental health. Prioritization is a form of survival. We have to learn to prioritize everything we do every day if we don’t want to lose our heads.

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Remember that pie chart that resurfaces every now and again that says “School, Sleep, Social Life: Pick two?” Well, that’s honestly a load of BS. Time management, especially in grad school, is all about balance.

One day you may have to sacrifice some sleep. The next you may decide it’s best to stay in for the night. Balancing isn’t always easy, but that’s why there is tomorrow — if you slack on an assignment one day, you do better the next time. If you spend a Friday in, you go out with your friends on Saturday.

Each day, we have choices to make on how we’ll spend our time. We can’t forget our responsibilities, but we can’t forget to keep ourselves sane either.

[Tweet “Time management: we can’t forget our responsibilities, but we can’t forget our sanity either.”]

About the Author

Maggie Marshall

Maggie is a senior English major at Abilene Christian University. She enjoys creative writing, reading everything she can get her hands on, and learning what it means to be a grown-up. After graduation, she plans to pursue a MFA in creative writing and perhaps a PhD after that, all while working on getting published and finding as many writing opportunities as possible. She would love to continue contributing to sites like GenTwenty and perhaps, after getting her doctorate, become a professor of creative writing at a university.