Graduate school is demanding and so is adulthood, period. Time doesn’t always seem to be on our side. Yet, time management has been identified as a major indicator of higher performance, lower stress, and lower anxiety for graduate students (Forbus et al, 2011). This report accentuates time management from my own perspective, along with additional tools and techniques from the experts. Dare to walk in my rainbow colored, multi-dimensional shoes. Teaching by example is the easiest and most efficient way to relay this type of information as there really is no exact science, but merely techniques and tools that work for some but not all. This is due to the fact that it involves behaviors, which could develop either in a good way or bad way, depending on our individual choices and personalities as well as individual circumstances. Some have many roles to fill, or obstacles to overcome along the way…but, take it from me–if there is a will, there is a way. And you don’t have to have superpowers to succeed or be a traditional student with an IQ of 180, you just need to manage your time effectively.
Hello, My Name is Not Superwoman
Nearly 16 years ago I was unfortunately disabled by chemical toxicity while serving my country in the USAF, causing my CNS to almost entirely shut down. Being Irish and full-spirited, I stood up and began fighting it. Although it has been an extensive and entirely painful process of healing, I am happy to say I am about 80% healed. However, if I stress too much or take on too much, I begin to revert to more painful states that take work to get out of, sort of like a car that overheats if pushed too hard. Time management for me isn’t an option I can afford to ignore and it includes stress management and pain management as well. My college career began before I got sick while I was stationed on an AF base, and came quickly to a halt for nearly two years. I then decided to do online college during my therapy and juggle being a single mother at the same time. My family thought I was crazy, literally, but I was going crazy just focusing on the pain. I needed a distraction. It has been quite a slow process because I couldn’t juggle it that well at first, until I focused more on managing my time.
It wasn’t a race for me, it was more like a slow climb to victory with me having to come to terms with not being “superwoman” anymore. I always thought I had to be the best mother, or ahead of my class, or the greatest friend, or finish first…but in reality I just had to do what I could do with what I was given. I suppose my first piece of advice in time management is to be completely honest with yourself, yet be easy on yourself as you do. Unless you are an avid procrastinator, then pull up your big boy or big girl pants and do the best that you can do within reason. My mother always told me that if you are going to do anything, you may as well do it right, otherwise your just wasting precious time. There is a balance, you just need to find yours.
Let’s see what others have to say about time management—a few literature reviews proliferated into the following techniques:
- The key to successful time management is planning (Parry, 2005).
- Plan each day in advance.
- Prioritize while planning.
- Block or chunk your activities adding small breaks in between.
- Audit your time—you can’t manage it unless you know exactly what you are doing with each moment (Novotney, 2015).
- Figure out what works best for you—morning person vs. evening, multi-tasker vs. one task at a time…and design your schedule around your strong suits (Novotney, 2015).
- Manage your stress and time concurrently—stress, apprehension, anxiety, obstacles, challenges, commitments, uncertainty all are factors to consider when determining your weekly schedule. Figure out what activities are more stressful for you and allow yourself more time to cope with those tasks to take some pressure off (Forbus et al, 2011).
- Just get started, as your motivational state doesn’t have to match the task you’re working on (Novotney, 2015). Even if you don’t feel like it, just get started and soon enough you’ll be chugging away like the little engine that could.
- Stick to your plan, once you deter (unless you must) it’s not always easy to find your way back in time (Novotney, 2015). In the military we call this concept self-discipline. I think of it this way: the amount of self-discipline you have is parallel to your maturity level, and maturity is a conscious choice and skill that takes practice honing. We aren’t just born mature; we grow to maturity.
Just an Example
How does a mother of a teenage daughter and preschool son, disabled veteran, independent business consultant, mentor, and graduate student manage her time? Here’s an example of an Excel worksheet tool I have grown quite fond of at this juncture in my life:
Notice how I plan my weeks ahead and even schedule making a new schedule each Thursday. I also schedule many breaks, even if they are short as I don’t want to burn out or revert to more painful conditions. Priorities are key for meà1. Health (what good am I to anyone if I’m not ok) 2. Family’s health, happiness, schooling, and activities 3. School 4. Work 5. Friendships. I know I am lucky that I get to put my priorities in that order but it wasn’t so easy to get them there, that’s what took so many years to figure out and many sleepless nights until I got it right.
We are the authors of our own stories in my book. And sometimes I think fiction is a lot more powerful (and fun) than facts. So use your imagination, how would your story go? Then persistently practice making it that way. There are several tools out there that can assist you (see below for examples) with your own time management plan. Utilizing these types of tools really does help, and so does asking for help when it gets too hard. No one is superman or superwoman, we just are all humans. Keep your head up and your eyes on the prize and you’ll make it through your graduate school career in one piece. If I can do it, so can you.
Helpful Time Management Tools:
Microsoft Excel- a College Student Schedule Template
Microsoft Outlook- a task manager, calendar, and list builder
Microsoft One Note- you can make lists, place sticky notes on computer screen, and store/organize research and class lecture notes in one place
ATracker- has a stop watch to track activities, automatically builds reports on time spent, and has a calendar and task list as well.
Way of Life- good habit building app, to help get rid of bad habits and replace them with good habits, like studying.
Priority Matrix- prioritization system that helps improve focus, productivity, accountability, and transparency.
Forbus, P., Newbold, J. J., & Mehta, S. S. (2011). A STUDY OF NON-TRADITIONAL AND
TRADITIONAL STUDENTS IN TERMS OF THEIR TIME MANAGEMENT BEHAVIORS, STRESS FACTORS, AND COPING STRATEGIES. Academy Of Educational Leadership Journal, 15109-125.
Novotney, A. (2015). Where Do the Hours Go? American Psychological Association, 26.
Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/03/hours.aspx
Parry, C. (2005). Right Techniques Make Good Time Management. Inside Tucson Business,