I love January because it signals a fresh start. The possibilities of a new year motivate me to work hard so I can achieve my goals. I’m in my last semester of library school now, so there are a lot of goals to accomplish, deadlines to meet, and much work to be done. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to manage my time and I think I’ve finally found a great system that works for me. I thought I’d share what I’m doing to keep track of everything as well as general time management tips that I’ve picked up while working full-time and attending graduate school part-time for the past two years.
Find a management system that works for you.
You need a way to manage your time and your life. That’s non-negotiable. But it can take some time to figure out the best management system for you. When I was an undergrad, I usually used the New York Public Library student planners to keep track of my assignments and that worked well, but I got out of the habit after graduating. I just got back into the habit this semester with my new Inkwell Press planner. This one works perfectly for me because it’s a life planner – I can keep track of everything I need for work, school, home, health/fitness, and other priorities, which is crucial to my success as a graduate student. I write absolutely everything down and I bring it with me everywhere. I recognize now that I’m a planner type of person and I won’t stray again!
But, planners aren’t for everyone. You could be the total opposite. My husband loves Google calendar and spreadsheets for tracking everything he needs. He also enjoys carrying around a small notebook a la Hemingway to jot down notes. Whatever works for you, embrace it, because a management system will save your life in graduate school!
Break down goals into smaller pieces.
I’ve always set annual goals and resolutions, but I’ve never quite mastered the art of breaking them down into manageable chunks. This year I’m also setting monthly goals and weekly goals that I hope will make my long-term goals more feasible. I’ve also started doing this with school assignments. This spring I’m taking Capstone, in which we have to conduct a study and write a paper of publishable quality as our final step in our program. It’s a huge task that has to be accomplished in a very short period of time, and we have just three deadlines – submit topic, submit draft, and submit the final paper. I know there is no way I will stay on track without giving myself my own mini goals/deadlines, so I broke down the assignment into several pieces and assigned those pieces to weeks leading up to the draft. When I get feedback on my draft, I will do this again until the final paper is due. Now, the most important paper that I will write as a MLIS student feels a lot more manageable.
We only get 24 hours in one day and 167 hours in one week. That’s it. Time is a limited resource and all the money in the world won’t buy more. So if, say, my goal is to work out 1 hour five times a week, and I currently work out a total of 2 hours a week, I need to factor in where those additional 3 hours will come from. If I want to prioritize something in my life that costs time, I have to detract time from something else in order to achieve balance. Last year, I learned that I just could not balance a full-time job, three graduate classes, an internship, volunteering for INALJ, and committee work. I felt miserable, overwhelmed, and stressed out. I also wasn’t able to give everything on my plate my full attention and time. So, I weighed the pros/cons of all my commitments and ended up ending the internship after completing a project and stepped down as a Head Editor for INALJ. I felt so much better and it really helped renew my energy and passion for the field.
I really think streamlining and simplifying is key to effectively managing time. Make your life easier and work smarter, not harder. Have you heard why President Obama chooses to wear only gray or navy suits? He told Vanity Fair, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” As graduate students, we also have a lot on our plate, and prioritizing is key to success. One way that I like to simplify my life is by eating roughly the same thing for breakfast and lunch everyday. That way, preparing those meals and shopping for what I need is easy and streamlined so I can focus on other, more important tasks.
Give yourself breaks and rewards.
I actually don’t do well with breaks, but for some, they are necessary. I find that if I stop doing something, I’m not as likely to return to the task, so it’s easier for me to just power through. However, I do like to give myself rewards. I’ve learned that I am far less likely to do homework past 8 PM during the week and Fridays are completely homework free for me. I’m just too tired at the end of the day/week and I need that time to recharge. So, I recognize my limits and embrace them, and give myself permission to zone out with a show on Netflix, read a book, or take a bath in the evenings. Since I know that relaxation time is approaching, and I know how badly I need it, I’m more motivated to get my stuff done so I can relax.
Just do it.
Just do it – it sounds so simple, yet it can be so hard. I am a major procrastinator at times, but I have learned that it’s usually easier to just do it than to stress out over my to-do list. One of the tactics that has worked well for me is to simply get started. For example, if I need to write a paper (or a Hack Library School blog post…), I will carve out a block of time (anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the task) and give myself permission to just brain dump, no actual work required. It’s a lot less daunting to jot down ideas, notes, or create an outline than to stare at a word processing document for an hour with nothing to show for it. Then, when I’m ready to begin the actual writing process, it flows much better. Worst case scenario, if all I achieve that day is the brain dump, it’s at least something!
Have any other productivity and time management tips? Share them in the comments!
Categories: Education & Curriculum