Life + Work + School— How Can I Get it All Done?

Published: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 by Allison Randall Gatt

Family, work, the laundry, dinner, balancing the bank account…and now, school. It can be a lot to juggle, even if they don’t all apply to you. How can you get it all done and keep your sanity? I ask myself this question nearly every day. So here are a few things I’ve learned and a few tips from others to help you navigate this new world of Life + Graduate School.

Start Early
The last minute is a terrible time to do anything. I scan my upcoming assignments as soon as I turn in the last one. In fact, the best way to plan ahead is to read the entire syllabus, course outline and schedule of assignments within the first week of class. I make lists every week or every few days for every task that needs to be done. ‘Reading,’ for example is too broad a task; ‘read chapter 11’ is much more specific as well as manageable. The key to getting a lot of things done is to break them down into smaller, doable tasks.

Get Organized and Stay Organized
Making lists and having a calendar of due dates is great, but it’s only a place to start. The next step is to look at that list and get each item completed. I say this, all while trying to remember what it is that’s due the final week of my class this semester. Nobody’s perfect, but writing it down and being able to refer back to it is a good start to being a good student. Use whatever is most intuitive to you and what you may already use—tagging systems, computer files, old-fashioned printed-out-on-paper or some other application—will do. (And if you want to know more about organizing information and life, LIBR 202 Information Retrieval System Design is really interesting.) It may be difficult to stay on track and do a little bit every day to check off items on your list, especially when HBO has just started the latest season of your favorite show, or your family wants you to come out for pizza night. But a little compromise and discipline will make all the difference if you invest it into your grad school education.

Plan/prioritize/compromise
As you start reading, writing, revising, posting and attending class sessions (though not all sections require synchronous meetings) you’ll find that there are things in your life that you just don’t have time for at the moment. Instead of reading ‘for fun’ year-round, I now make lists of the books I want to read and then wait for a break from school—during which I rapidly devour everything I can until class starts again. Family vacations may require that you sit in the hotel room for an afternoon and do school work instead of seeing the local sights.

Discipline
LIBR 203 peer mentor and current student, Eddy Hamlin, recommends mapping out all your classes’ assignments on a wall calendar. “The calendar should be where everyone can see it, so family members understand that you have a paper or project due or need to attend online event,” Hamlin says. “I also advised my students to do their work at the same time and same place as much as possible so that they get into a routine.”

I work in the evenings when I am (more) guaranteed I won’t be interrupted by the little people (aka kids) in my life. If I really have to get to work without interruption, then I go (where else?!) to the library to study. My family knows that sometimes Mommy has to go to work, and they adjust accordingly. Hamlin’s two most parceled-out bits of advice: “time management and self-discipline and what I call BIC-HONK: butt in chair-hands on keyboard.” When the going gets tough—remember BIC-HONK.

Take care of yourself
This may seem obvious, but when you have a discussion post due tomorrow at midnight, and you still have to read twenty pages before you have anything informed to say about it, the first impulse may be to stay up all night tonight and drag your tired self into work tomorrow—exhausted but well-read. Remember that sleep will help you think better. Putting stress on your loved ones will only in turn make your life more stressful. I always take one day off a week when I don’t open any Canvas pages or school emails. It is also a day where I don’t work. It is a day for rest and rejuvenation, so that I can approach my schoolwork (which is really interesting most of the time, and which I do feel passionate about) with a less cluttered mind.

Don’t Be Afraid
Yes, it takes a lot of hard work and discipline, but SJSU’s information school’s curriculum and instructors are there to help. If you have a question, ask it, and ask early. Amy Cote, who was a peer mentor for LIBR 203 and a recent graduate says, “The 203 program gives new students a gauge of how well they will be able to motivate themselves in the normal semester, as well as arms them with the tools necessary to succeed.” Your very first class is designed to make you a successful student in the program.

Oh, and even though it’s a lot of work– remember to enjoy yourself. You’re in grad school to follow your passion!

What are your best strategies for being organized and disciplined? How do you hope to apply these skills to your life as you begin graduate school?

Other related articles with great ideas about how to do graduate school while working:

Finding a Balance Between Work and School

Online Learning—How do I talk to People?

Tips for a Smooth Transition to Graduate School

Image courtesy of digitalart

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