5 Time Management Habits for Graduate Students

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Updated March 19, 2021

Time Management Habits

  • Use a planner to keep everything straight.
  • Be honest about how you use your time.
  • Work smarter instead of harder.
  • Don't overcommit yourself.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Have you ever wished there were a few extra hours in the day? Attending graduate school isn't easy, and many students find themselves struggling to meet the difficult demands of their degree programs. Add personal and professional obligations to the mix, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. How can you get it all done? Develop these five time management habits, and you'll be better prepared to make each day a productive one.

1. Use a planner to keep everything straight.

Whether you use an app on your smartphone or prefer the old-fashioned paper version, a planner is a useful tool for anyone who needs to organize their time. Using one allows you to see at a glance where you need to be each day, provides a visual reminder of important deadlines and events, and allows you to decide how you can best use your time to accomplish the various tasks on your to-do list. When logging things in your planner, include school assignments, professional obligations and personal tasks.

2. Be honest about how you use your time.

How often does a 10-minute task turn into a two-hour one? While anyone can underestimate the time required to do something once in a while, doing so regularly will leave you perpetually behind schedule. Be honest with yourself about how long it will take you to accomplish something. This will allow you to create an accurate picture of what you can truly get done in a day. Don't forget to account for travel time, breaks and the occasional interruption when you work out your daily schedule.

3. Work smarter instead of harder.

Do you prefer to learn with a visual, auditory or kinesthetic approach? Think about what gets the best results for you and use that knowledge to work smarter. Are you a morning person or a night owl? As The Wall Street Journal reports, research suggests that recognizing the pattern established by your body clock, which affects both your energy level and your ability to focus, will help you identify the time when you can most effectively tackle challenging tasks. Think about when you are typically most productive and use your body's natural rhythm to your advantage. If you're eager to go in the morning but ready to nap after lunch, try to schedule the tasks that take priority in the morning. If your mind is fuzzy in the afternoon but clear as a bell in the evening, save the tough jobs for after dinner.

4. Don't overcommit yourself.

There are only so many hours a day. With the demands of graduate school on your plate, you'll need to use them wisely. Take time to clearly identify your priorities and be prepared to say no to anything that conflicts with them. Do you have trouble saying no when you're asked to do something? It can be tough, but saying no is a life skill that comes in handy even when graduate school is just a fond memory. If you need to refuse a request, don't make excuses because that often encourages people to try to persuade you. Instead, keep your reply simple, clear and polite.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

When people are busy, sleep is often the first thing they sacrifice. Eating healthy meals and exercising are other activities that get cut. Don't fall into this trap. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle actually gives you the energy you need to get things done and helps keep your immune system strong so that it can fend off illnesses. It also improves focus so that you can work more effectively. When using your planner to set up your schedule for the week, be sure to include sufficient time to sleep, eat and exercise.

Cultivating good time management habits will make graduate school a much richer and more pleasant experience. As a bonus, those same habits will also serve you well when you're ready to turn your energies toward your career.

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