By: Taylor Martz
In the spirit of Disney’s enchanting new live-action production, graduate school is definitely a “beast.” Between working two jobs that amount to over 40 hours a week, attending night classes, researching, writing papers and reading, it all adds up to basically working a 60-hour work week. Oh, and don’t forget to add in a social life, family, and managing your health somewhere.
Despite the difficulty and taxing two to four years, there is still “beauty” to be found amongst the rigorous schedule and performance demands. To uncover the benefits, however, one must be prepared to successfully manage their time, health, responsibilities, and finances.
1. Time Management
Make use of idle hours – You know those awkward one-hour breaks between your undergraduate classes? Those exist in grad school, too. Instead of jumping on Twitter or Facebook, use that time wisely. While the last thing I want to do is answer work emails or manage my bank account after getting out of a three-hour seminar, I’m checking off items on my to-do list before I even return home.
Plan your free time –When we think of watching an episode on Netflix, we don’t often pair it with a time and date written in our planner; however, I’ve found that scheduling out my time helps me feel less stressed and gives me something to look forward to. When I know I’m not going to be nose-deep in a textbook all hours of the day, I put my effort into getting the task at hand done so I can relax.
Buy a planner – It’s hard to manage your time without being organized. A planner allows you to have a visual representation of your day, week, and upcoming month. There is no way I could remember due dates, work schedules, appointments, birthdays, and class times without it. Not only do I get these down on paper, but I can plan an entire semester in advance and schedule reminders on my phone through Google calendar. Find out what organizational system works for you and roll with it.
Get started right away – While this still isn’t my strong suit, my procrastination has drastically dropped in grad school. When I receive an assignment, I make a mental note to at least begin brainstorming right after class. Whether that’s taking a minute to research some scholarly articles or process my ideas out loud, getting started gives me less to worry about later.
Physical – Here’s my suggestion: buy a crockpot, lunch bag, and portable snacks. When you have back-to-back three-hour seminars, it doesn’t leave you enough time to prepare an ideal dinner. Use a crockpot to cook large portions that allow for plenty of leftovers, and then pair those leftovers with a variety of nutritious (and protein-packed!) snacks in your lunch bag. You can thank me later.
Mental – Even though we can’t simply forget our academic responsibilities, we can’t forget to keep ourselves sane, too. I highly suggest scheduling at least one consistent stress-relieving activity. While mine might be boxing and yoga, yours could be watching Survivor on Wednesday nights or cooking homemade lasagna once a week. Find what it is that lets your stream of thoughts shut off for a little while, and build this time into your schedule. Additionally, stay close to those who help you relieve stress. It’s okay to rely on your loved ones a little more than usual during this stressful period. They’ll hold you accountable, help where they can, and offer endless support.
Live below your means – It’s no secret grad school tuition can be overwhelming. Whether you’re coming off undergraduate loans or figuring out how to afford this new cost of returning to academia, it can be helpful to reevaluate your budget and spending habits. If you’ve worked a full-time job for a while, stretching $20 as far as it can go isn’t a familiar feeling. Peek at your spending and see where you can make temporary (or long-term) cuts. Adjusting your lifestyle and savings early will help ensure you’re not living like a student even after graduation.
Be willing to make sacrifices – You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Grad school teaches you the importance of balance and prioritization. Sometimes I need to sacrifice my A+ work on an assignment in order to make time for self-care. Self-care isn’t selfish. We must learn how to prioritize our to-do list every day if we want to stay sane. You know the graphic saying “Pick two: school, sleep, social life”? While it makes us laugh, this symbolizes a lack of balance. With proper time management, it’s entirely possible to have all three; however, sometimes we need to make sacrifices. If you put off an assignment to go out with friends one night, you stay in the next. No one said balance comes without consequences, but that’s part of making a choice (and why there is a tomorrow).
If nothing else, know this: everything will get done, and everything will turn out alright. Your assignments will get done. You’ll pass your classes. You’ll get an internship. It might require some late nights and early mornings, long calls with your mom, or doing research in a library on a Friday night, but it will get done, and you will come out alive.
How do you manage your time and stress levels in graduate school? What sacrifices have you made to maintain your academics, finances, and health?