by Theodor Maghrak
I’m often approached by fellow grad students asking me, simply, “How do you get it all
done?!” Throughout my graduate career, I’ve worked at least one job alongside school,
oftentimes without having a complete day off for the entire semester. A lot of us know
this situation, trying to avoid student loans at all costs by working ourselves to the bone.
Even with funding, it often seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep
up with our schoolwork, much less having a job and a social life. Here are few tips on
“getting it all done” in grad school that I’ve found useful, regardless of your particular
1. Be busy.
While it at first seems counter-intuitive, I have found that maintaining a full schedule actually helped me to develop excellent time management skills by force. While this isn’t an ideal situation in graduate school, it helped me to adhere to scheduling and make time for the important things. That brings us to the next point.
2. Make a schedule.
It’s elementary, and may sound a little juvenile, but regardless of how full your plate is, you should always have a schedule. Most of us go into the weekend with a long list of things that we have plenty of time to accomplish. But it’s far too easy to keep saying “I have all weekend,” or “I’ll get around to it,” or “I have plenty of time.” By Sunday evening, many of us will have accomplished nothing on that ever-growing to-do list. That being said, plan your day. Block out a specific hour or two for each task. This will eliminate the “I’ll get around to it” factor as we all get increasingly distracted by daily
life. For a lot of us, a calendar app, spreadsheet, or daily planner can accomplish this very well. For more visual people, there are lots of other great tools to organize just about all of your work like Trello.
3. Make time for yourself.
Working on the same principle, schedule time for yourself. Doing so makes a rigorously
planned day more bearable, but it will also help you to enjoy that time for yourself much
more fully. Without that time planned into a busy schedule, most of us would likely fall
behind and get backed up, overwhelmed by all the work. That would make a rigorous
schedule unbearable. Building in time for friends and self-preservation is key.
4. Don’t even consider incompletes as an option.
Let’s be honest. Many of us end up taking incompletes in graduate school courses
because of the sheer amount of work involved in any given semester. Lots of professors
will give them without much fuss, a pattern that can be unproductive at best. Knowing
that an incomplete is an option can make you ignore work for one or more courses while
focusing entirely on one or others. An incomplete will also add additional stress and
weight on your shoulders until you can finish that course, resulting in an even greater
backlog of work. While sometimes an incomplete is unavoidable, treat them as the last
resort they should be rather than a legitimate option.
5. Set writing goals.
While a schedule helps to organize your time, you should make sure to use your time
most efficiently. Whether you are writing a term paper,a conference presentation, an article, or your dissertation, explicit writing goals will help to move your work along in small, digestible chunks. In my undergraduate career, I always tried to write an entire paper in one sitting. While I could do this with some courses, I pushed other work to the side because I could not dedicate the consecutive hours to write the entire thing. Learning from this, I developed the skill to write in chunks in
graduate school. Try a daily goal of 3 pages, a weekly goal of 12, or a monthly goal of 30. Having a
concrete schedule and page goal will help to motivate you as you move deeper and deeper
into your own dissertation research. (For more tips on writing, check out this blog post). While I could mention a few more useful ideas, following these five guidelines should help you to get yourself and keep yourself on track. If you feel like you’re going under,don’t give up on the schedule. Maybe allot more time per task, smaller goals, or longer
breaks between tasks. Whatever works best for you, you’ll find it. We’re all in this together, and no one should feel like they’re alone on a sinking ship. Good luck!