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Time management tips for graduate students

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
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Time management tips for graduate students
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For graduate students, there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Research, working as a TA or at a part-time job outside campus, meeting with your advisor, preparing a paper - with all the tasks that need to be done, trying to stay on top of it all can feel like a never-ending uphill battle. Some students will become overwhelmed by the towering pile of work to be done, and not do the things they need to do because of stress, while others will try to do it all, leaving no time for self-care and causing them to burn-out quickly. There can be a healthy middle ground that prepares you to succeed, however, and it involves time management. 

Actively taking control over your schedule can help you tackle the work that needs to be done without overexerting yourself. Here are seven time management tips for graduate students:

1. Set SMART goals 
You may have a general, big-picture goal you want to accomplish, such as getting a good job after graduation or having a paper published. But these types of broad goals can be intimidating, leaving you wondering where to start as the time goes by. A better strategy is to set SMART goals, Rutgers University advised. Break big goals into smaller goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. For example, think of all the tasks that will be required to get a paper published: Deciding on a topic, researching the paper, writing the paper, getting feedback on it from your advisor, revising it, polishing it to be submitted - these are just a few of the steps that will be required. Thankfully, even these can be broken down into smaller steps as well. By approaching goals this way, you can feel prepared instead of overwhelmed, and thus use your time more wisely and strategically. 

studyingSetting SMART goals can make big projects seem less overwhelming and help you manage your time better.

2. Audit your time
You may think you're spending your time a certain way, but if you take a closer look you may discover "time pits," such as taking an extra hour to ease into your morning study session after breakfast or spending three hours doing laundry. To have a better grasp on your current time management and ways it can be improved, conduct an audit of your time, Carleton University psychology professor Timothy Pychyl recommended, in an interview with the American Psychological Association. For one week, write down how long everything you do in a day takes, such as eating, driving and getting ready for the day. By tracking your activities this way, you can see how you truly spend your time and can then develop a schedule that's more likely to stick. 

3. Feel empowered to say no
In graduate school, when you are surrounded by an inspiring network of peers and faculty members, it's easy to feel like you need to attend every workshop, function or school event. But spreading yourself too thin can actually have an opposite effect, hindering your success by taking your focus away from your goals. The University of Maryland advised learning to say no to some activities so you can instead put more time and energy into achieving your academic and professional objectives. 

"Don't spread yourself too thin - learn to say no to some activities so you can put more time into focusing on your goals."

4. Use your in-between time
Small snatches of time add up. If you're on the bus or waiting for the train, pull out your notes to study or finish a chapter of a book instead of browsing the internet on your smartphone. "You might be surprised at how much you can get done in a day by just using those small chunks of time to make progress on something," said Pychyl. 

5. Don't be a perfectionist
Projects that should have taken a few hours can stretch into several days when you're trying to attain perfection - and this time takes away from the other work you have to do. One of the most powerful ways to better manage your time is to change your mindset and stop trying to be a perfectionist, North Carolina State University recommended. First of all, achieving perfection is impossible, and second, many times the need to be a perfectionist comes from a fear of failure. Develop your mental hygiene to get rid of catastrophic thinking - for example, remember that if your paper or other assignment is not perfect it will not be the end of the world - and instead readjust your expectations and remember that's it's okay to make mistakes, as they are a necessary part of the learning process. 

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