Best Practices for Time Management When You’re a Grad Student with a Full-Time Job

You’ve taken the leap and been accepted to graduate school. Congratulations! But your financial situation requires you to keep a full-time job. That’s rough, and it gets rougher when you remember you’ll need time for chores, homework, family obligations, social activities, and sleep, too.

manage time grad student

It can seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but if you employ the right time-management techniques, there can be. To help you succeed, here are some best practices for time management when you’re a grad student with a full-time job.

The Critical Calendar

Your calendar is your new best friend and confidant. Add meetings, deadlines, work hours, family obligations, and any other events or responsibilities to a monthly calendar the moment they’re scheduled. And check it daily to remind yourself what’s coming up—finals always arrive sooner than you think.

Employ a daily planner as well. Use it to organize your time so you can meet those commitments. Determine your weekly and daily goals, write them down, and check them off as you go.

When planning your day, designate an MIT (most important task) before prioritizing other duties in order of importance, and favor S.M.A.R.T. goals to prevent burnout and discouragement. If possible, schedule the exact hours you plan to work on these tasks.

Small and Steady Wins the Race

Classes and work will consume a large portion of your week before you even get started on homework. Feeling the pressure, many grad students dedicate one large chunk of time to homework in a frenzied attempt to accomplish everything in one sitting.

Don’t fall into this trap. Instead, divide your study time into small, manageable chunks, while taking short—but frequent—breaks to recharge. You may find yourself doing more homework on certain days, but try your best to space it throughout the week.

There are many methods for this type of time management, but one of our favorites—which we’ve discussed before—is the Pomodoro Technique because it makes small amounts of time incredibly productive.

This technique has several benefits. It helps you maintain focus by limiting how much you take on at once, it makes large projects more manageable by breaking them down naturally, and you can measure the “pomodoros” it takes to tackle certain tasks, enhancing your ability to manage your time realistically. You can find out more about how it works here.

Avoid Procrastination and Distractions

Don’t put off your daily to-do list. Rushing to complete a semester-long project in a week will mean sacrificing sleep, relaxation, and other healthy habits to compensate. This will increase your stress and drain you both emotionally and physically, contributing to poor workmanship, which will drain you further when you try to correct for it. It’s a devastating feedback loop.

Avoiding distractions, especially digital distractions, will help you curb procrastination. Don’t check your email, social media, or favorite websites whenever the urge arises. Instead, set your devices to not interrupt you while doing homework, and schedule one or two small chunks of time during the day to follow up with your favorite sites and social media platforms.

Perfectionism Need Not Apply

You were accepted into grad school because you do good work, but don’t let perfectionism make every assignment a nightmare. Emails don’t need to be grammatically flawless works of art, it’s unnecessary for your classroom discussion posts to be novel-length, and it’s not essential to cite every expert in the field on each assignment.

Instead, reserve your focus, energy, and critical eye for the most important tasks. How do you tell what’s most important? The higher the point value given to an assignment, the more useful your inner perfectionist will be.

Learn to Say No

You don’t want to disappoint people. We get it. But a yes-man mentality will have you taking on more than you can handle. Maybe it’s an extra shift or helping a fellow student study for exams. Whatever the case, if you can’t complete the work without stress or burnout, you need to say no.

Work-Life-School Balance

It’s not easy holding down a full-time job while being in grad school, but it’s a situation more and more students are finding themselves in. According to a 2015 report from Georgetown University, about 40 percent of undergraduates work at least 30 hours a week. That number jumps to 76 percent for graduate students.

Good time-management practices will be key to your success. But even the best-laid plans of mice and grad students can only get you so far. You’ll still need to exercise, eat healthy, take breaks, and get enough sleep. We know this is easier said than done, but maintaining healthy habits will ensure your mind and body stay at peak performance, allowing you to do better work, which frees you up to better manage your time. It’s a beneficial feedback loop.

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