Five Ways to Manage Your Time in Graduate School
1. Go digital.
In this electronic age, it's harder—and increasingly unnecessary—to rely on the trusty wall calendars and day planners of yesteryear. Free e-mail providers like Google and Yahoo offer advanced features that allow you to upload your schedule to an online calendar and send yourself e-mail alerts when important dates are approaching. If mobile is more your style, most newer cell phones include a calendar function—use it to keep track of study sessions, exam dates, and more.
2. Get real.
Ambition is one thing, but biting off more than you can chew will only leave you feeling frazzled. Take a hard look at your syllabi at the start of each term and set realistic goals for completing coursework. Factor in your individual study habits as well as your extracurricular responsibilities—that way you can jump around if necessary to anticipate deadlines that coincide with a planned vacation or work obligation. And if a deadline seems unreasonable, don't be afraid to approach the instructor with your concerns. Serving as mentors and colleagues, most graduate educators are committed to helping students grow as professionals and as people.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to break down each large assignment into smaller, more manageable parts. When planning for a term paper, for example, set a more immediate series of deadlines for milestones such as selecting a topic, interviewing an expert, gathering resources, etc. Be sure to update your calendar to remind you of these smaller tasks as necessary.
4. Be picky.
You don't have to put your life on hold for graduate school—in fact, neglecting to set aside a reasonable amount of “me” time is the shortest path to burn out—but the intense nature of graduate coursework means that you'll have to budget your time judiciously. If accepting a friend's invitation or agreeing to help a coworker will interfere with your studies, don't feel bad tactfully declining. Not everyone can fully appreciate your situation, so it is up to you to tell people when you simply can't spare the time.
5. Get proactive.
Everyone knows that planning ahead is crucial for academic success. But what about those nonacademic, “life” tasks that suck time? When possible, stock up at the beginning of every term on toiletries, printer cartridges, and other necessities. Anticipate free time and schedule get-togethers with people you won't be able to see once the work piles up again. Gas up your car at the beginning of the week. Eliminating the minutiae in advance will save you a lot of hassle later in the semester.