We asked some of our Ambassadors to reflect on how they manage their time in the midst of all the activities and relationships that graduate students must balance throughout their studies. Here is what they had to say about the strategies they use to effectively manage their time:
Graduate students should generally assume that they are going to be extremely busy. If you have a partner and/or children, God bless you! Many students in my classes also are part-time caregivers for members of their family, so bless them too!
At this point, I have a GATF Fellowship (20 hrs/wk), a Schweitzer Fellowship (6 hrs/wk), 3 classes, and a 24 hr/wk internship at Baylor Psychiatry Clinic. I also try to make time for my mom and my brother during the week and over the weekend. My schedule is really tight. I think most 2nd year students experience a little more stress if they are going full time than they did the 1st year.
Some suggestions: Use a visual organizer. Mine is a two month calendar that is erasable and has boxes that are about two square inches for each day. I use different markers to keep track of different activities. I also try to exercise at least 3 days per week, so I put that in as well (self-care people!). I look at the calendar every day before I leave the house and take another look when I return home (but not right before I go to bed because then I just obsess over things). I also use the calendar function on my blackberry. You can set these things up to have recurring appointments as well as things that come up on the fly.
Evidence has shown that 15-30 minute chunks of working is actually fairly efficient. Thus, time in between classes can actually be used to read, work on an assignment etc… I tend to have all of my books on me or in my car, so I am able to do that almost anywhere I go. I try to give myself small rewards for completing my assignments, e.g. watching a movie, reading a book, reading the paper etc… The best way to manage time is to plan ahead. Don’t wait. Work ahead a little bit and save yourself a few gray hairs.
I have the cheapest assistant in the entire world – it’s reliable, always with me, and is filled with love. My assistant costs me ~$24 per year and its name is “At-A-Glance”, aka, my planner.
Graduate school absolutely requires some kind of time management skills and a system that works best for you. For the past five years or so, I’ve used this same weekly appointment book and love it. Seeing appointments, reminders, and assignments laid out in a 15-minute format from 7am-9pm, with space for notes (sorry, forgot to give the “nerd alert” warning) has been my big secret for managing everything related to school, work, social events, deadlines, self-care strategies, date nights, wedding planning… everything.
Oh yeah, and everything is written in pencil. Life happens and that ink just leads to scribbles and messy days. From a social work perspective, we always talk about how we need to be ready to “switch hats” and from my experience I’ve found that visually preparing for the hat swap has been most helpful.
I never really knew I had time management issues until I began graduate school. I’d previously rationalized my procrastination with euphemisms such as “I work best under pressure” or “there’s a method to my madness”. In undergrad, when I had more time, needed less sleep and had fewer responsibilities, my time management system worked. However, in grad school this “method of madness” is not such a good fit.
One reason for the mismatch is that procrastination does not allow one to take advantage of some of the great resources that the university has to offer; one of which is the University of Houston Writing Center. Here, students can make an appointment for general consultations with a peer tutor and have their papers proofread for grammar, continuity, and clarity*. The Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) program is very writing intensive and naturally the professors are sticklers about the finer points of English composition. Having a second set of eyes review your assignments before submission is extremely valuable. However, appointments for general consultations must be made a full two days in advance of the requested appointment date. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to have a finished product this far ahead of schedule. However, I am a work in progress so maybe I will have the chance to take advantage of the service before I graduate.
Another great resource available to GCSW students is the librarian who is solely dedicated to our students, Ms. Irene Ke. Ms. Ke is very helpful in locating references for research papers and provides useful research guides on the library’s website. She also provides an introductory training to help students navigate the numerous databases to which the university subscribes. Ms. Ke is quick and responsive to requests, but understandably she is not available at 10:30 pm the night before your paper is due.
As I stated, I am a work in progress. I’ve adopted the following techniques to help me succeed in this program.
#1: Submit your life to the Master Calendar (a little dramatic, I know)
My number one, essential school supply is a tabbed planner with monthly and weekly inserts. At the beginning of each semester, when I receive each syllabus, I fill in the calendar with each assignment and color code the due dates with a highlighter. In doing so, I can see my workload for the entire month and know just how much time I have to procrastinate eerr, I mean “prepare for my assignment”. (Don’t forget to schedule in time for self-care as well!)
#2: Set your own deadlines
Sometimes I trick myself by writing in a due date that is earlier than the due date on the syllabus. Much like setting all of your clocks 10 minutes fast so you’re always on time. It sounds silly but it works. There are times when professors won’t give a due date for each assignment but will rely on the student to turn everything in before the end of the semester. Since I actually like to celebrate Thanksgiving as opposed to write papers over Thanksgiving Break, I choose to trick myself into getting my assignments done early.
#3 Learn to focus on one task at a time
This rule helps me actually finish my assignments in one sitting as opposed to drawing them out over several days. This is a major time saver since between my field placement and class I only have one full week day to dedicate to school work (not including the weekend). When I am able to stick to this, I have extra time left over to proofread several times, constantly refine my ideas, and get feedback from my professor if necessary.
I hope my honesty can help someone else not fall prey to that thing called time management. As future social workers, we have a whole world of things to fight against. Time just shouldn’t be one of them. Good luck.
*There is a separate Writing Support Program for incoming GCSW students. Foundation professors and GCSW staff may be able to provide further information on this program.
Time Management is one of those topics that we are always talking about in grad school and striving to perfect, but what I have found that there is no one right way to do it. I’m not sure perfect time management is ever possible to achieve, but I have learned a few tips over the past couple of years.
- Find the calendar system that works for you. I used to be completely devoted to my At-a-Glance full-size yearly planner that gave me space to schedule my days by the hour. I loved writing in my appointments and to-do lists and crossing them out decisively when I completed each item. I resisted moving away from pen and paper for a long time, but this past year I made the switch to Google calendar. There are two reasons why I really love it: the first is that I can create a different calendar (in a different color) for my personal events, law school events, social work events, work events, etc. The second reason is that I can easily creating repeating events- for example my classes every week. Having a way to organize all my different commitments so that they are distinct, but all in one place has really helped my time management.
- Schedule time to have fun or time to do your work- whichever way you are inclined to lean away from. My first year of grad school, I was definitely inclined to schedule my social life before my studying so I had to make sure to schedule time to do my reading and assignments. As things got busier my second year with school and my field placement, I realized that I needed to start scheduling self-care time into my schedule (see my previous blog on self-care). It sounds silly, but it really made me take a break when I needed it even if I just penciled in time to watch a movie at home.
- Treat graduate school like a job so that it doesn’t consume your life. My first year of grad school, I would wake up early every morning and get to school around 7 or 8 even though my first class was at 9. After class was over, I would force myself to stay and read until about 5 PM, but then I would let myself go home and enjoy my evening. Of course there would be some days where I would need to stay later, but that is the same as any job.
There are obviously different techniques for different people, but these are a few of the ways that I have found to be helpful when balancing my life and finding time to do everything (or at least almost everything :)).