Five Tips in Five Weeks: How to Navigate Graduate School While Working Full-Time

Five weeks ago I became the proud owner of a graduate student ID. During my undergraduate years, I was a full-time student, so learning an effective balance between work and school work has been challenging to navigate.  Not to mention making time for friends, writing, and my physical activities. For me, this chapter of my life is not about having the time, it is about making the time (within reason). Many of my peers have commented on how well I manage my work, school, and extracurricular endeavors, so I figured that I would share what I have learned on my journey thus far:

1. Make a commitment to yourself and the things you love. There is one yoga class that means more to the success of my mental and physical well-being than any other, hot yinyasa taught by Justine Bacon. I describe it as “yummy” to my friends because it is tailored to the energy in the room and the students' desires. The perfect combination of work and release. Although originally designed for cyclists and runners, anyone is welcome.  One of my online classes requires that I meet with my partner and small group once during the week. Tuesday at 5:45 PM at Priya Hot Yoga is my non-negotiable meeting time with myself and my mat. I schedule it like a meeting because it is one. I believe that the meetings we hold with ourselves are just as important as the meetings we attend at work and school.    

2. Plan to keep your diet and nutrition in check. I love the limited edition Oreos as much as the next Instagram foodie, but they are not the foundation of my food pyramid. Normally, I prepare my meals on Sunday for the week ahead, however, I knew that after seventeen hours of class, coming home to cook on a Sunday night would be the last thing I wanted to do (Hint: I was right). So on weeks when I have been in class, or have had heavy workloads, I order my meals ahead of time through a meal prep company. There is no substitute for cooking for yourself,  but I would rather spend a little extra cash to earn a little extra time. Not necessary by any means, nor is it financially sound for all, but my current chaos of a schedule interrupts my preparation of healthy choices, which is essential to my success.   

3. There is no such thing as dead time; Make the most of it. Lately I have been doing laundry at 5AM, or 9PM, there has been little in-between or consistency where my clothes are concerned. I find that my school reading often accompanies my loads of laundry. My goal is to complete my coursework one week before its intended deadline (to an extent). Clearly I cannot have my Week 5 group meeting during Week 4, but I can complete readings, papers, and research ahead of schedule. By creating false deadlines for myself, I have grown an appreciation for, and even added to, my free time. For a previous procrastinator, and someone who began this semester procrastinating, this is a significant change, and one that I hope to maintain throughout the duration of my graduate studies.

4. Know that you’re going to fall off track. Be flexible, have a back-up plan. This summer I experienced an injury that threw me out of the activities I love—yoga, weight lifting, spinning, and hiking—for roughly two months. I slowly managed to get back into pieces of my routine, but much of it is still interrupted. A late night hiking adventure led to a longer night’s sleep, a long weekend of class between workdays left me needing more me-time. Some days I will set an alarm at 4:30 with the intent of waking up and walking to the gym, but most of those days I end up pressing snooze. My injury showed me that my body needed and deserved more rest. Instead of looking at these moments as failures, I honor my body and its needs, but I still make an effort to accomplish what I can. Whether that's a quick workout in my apartment or a walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge, I make sure that something gets done before my workday begins.   

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5. Write things down. At present, I have about five floating to-do lists. One on my work desk, one in my planner, some on my phone, and several others in notebooks. Although my planning has much improved, I am still trying to find one organizational method to keep track of my projects, deadlines, and personal goals. I find that I am more likely to complete a task if it is written down, but I also know that I rely on my phone's calendar for most life events.

Considering that this is my first semester balancing work and school, Ithink I am doing the best that I can. Time management and prioritizing varies for each person, and what may work for me might not work for you. I need time alone to recharge. I work well in routine. I am someone who accomplishes more when I am busy, versus when I have all of the time in the world. Although I thrive in busy, there are still some skills that need improvement, and I hope that my current place in life will offer the opportunities needed to teach me.