Time Management for Grad Students

If you are a graduate student, then you have too much to do and too little time to do it. At least, that’s what you’d believe if you took an eavesdropping stroll down the hallowed halls of grad student offices at any institution of higher education in the country.

Between teaching, attending seminars, writing papers, lab hours, and, oh, yes, bathing and eating, it is hard to find time to both pursue a master’s degree or doctoral degree and have a life. But there is hope for the harried: with a set routine and some tolerance for imperfection, you could make time management look easy.

One of the hardest things to reconcile as a graduate student is the nontraditional schedule. While 9-to-5ers might have some late nights at the office or even some weekend workdays, a student’s work is truly never done. Finish reading for seminar? Then you could be working on next week’s presentation. Lesson plans set for the week? What about grading those exams that have been weighing down your desk for the past couple days? Found time to squeeze in some visits to the gym this week? What about checking your OkCupid account? And even when the semester is over, you can’t help but think of the independent reading you should be doing for your qualifying exams even as you reach for Mom’s homemade pumpkin pie.

Find balance

The first step in finding balance in your life is balancing the very driven attitude that has gotten you to where you are today with a more relaxed approach. This won’t just make your life easier, but could also save your health.

Adjust expectations

Adjusting expectations is key to time management, and I’m not suggesting slacking off—I’m promoting being realistic. For example, when you create a weekly schedule, factor in mundane tasks such as eating breakfast, taking a shower, and walking from your classroom to the library. A realistic schedule will not only allow you to set reasonable goals, but also permit you to enjoy a sense accomplishment at the end of the week rather than one of desperation.

Give yourself a break

Another way to be realistic with your time is to recognize that you are a human being. This means acknowledging and addressing your physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs. Try getting yourself to the gym, or to the park for a run, or even around the block for a walk most days. Give your mind a break and watch your favorite TV show or go to the movie on discount night (just be sure to pencil it into your weekly schedule). Schedule time with friends at least once a week. Practice meditation, join a religious group, or write in a journal. Taking care of yourself will not only benefit your sanity, but might give you an edge over your exhausted classmates.

Graduate school is not easy, but seeing it as part of your life rather than consuming your life will help you to get the most out of it.

Emily Matthews is currently applying to masters degree programs across the U.S., and loves to read about new research into health care, gender issues, and literature. She lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.