Tips on Time Management

In Graduate Study for the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), Gregory Colon Semenza notes that “poor time management and inadequate organization skills” often create the major barrier to a successful graduate school experience.  To help you manage your time and your work materials, we’ve summarized some of his suggestions.

Date books may be out of date (or style) but…it’s important to have something that will help you keep track of your appointments and deadlines. Here’s a great tip: create a one-page weekly TO-DO listing of your deadlines, appointments and tasks, and post it somewhere that’s easily accessible.

Use your computer as an organizational tool.  Create a folder for each area of your work: research, teaching, coursework and your academic portfolio.  In your research folder, begin developing your list of references and keep copies of any papers you’ve written for any seminar you’ve taken.  Bookmark important websites and electronic databases like Academic Search Premier available on the UNL Libraries resources page.  In your teaching folder, keep copies of your syllabi and lesson plans for every course you teach. Begin developing your teaching statement and save each draft (you never know when you’ll want to return to an earlier version).  Save future job search materials like your CV and other documentation materials in your academic portfolio folder.  The time you put into organizing these materials now will save you a great deal of time later. 

Establish a routine.  As much as possible try to follow a regular daily schedule so that by the time you are ready to write your dissertation your work habits will be well established.  Doing so will allow you to coordinate your activities with those of your adviser, graduate colleagues, and family and friends, and will alleviate the feeling that someone is always demanding your time.

Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize. In graduate school, you need to be very protective of your research and writing time.  It doesn’t matter when you set aside time to write or plan your next teaching lecture.  It DOES matter that you recognize that these tasks are more important than some of your other tasks, like checking e-mail.  Save the more mundane tasks for low energy times.  If you’re a doctoral or master’s student who is expected to complete a thesis, spend the bulk of your day on research-related activities.  And learn to say “no” — to friends, family, maybe even your graduate adviser J.  Managing your time in one area of your professional life will help you do it in other areas, too.

Having said that, be reasonable about what you can do and when.  If you have to work at night or on weekends, try to choose a time that minimizes disruptions of your personal and family time.  

Use holiday breaks to focus on research.  Stay near the university during the summer.  If you stay on campus and spend time on your research and writing, you’ll have a much better chance of finishing in a timely manner.

Maintain some sort of daily physical activity during graduate school.  Exercise can help you structure your day and release stress, contributes to greater confidence, keeps you healthy and clears a space in your mind for those “aha” moments that help you break through barriers in your thinking. Hobbies are good, too. Go to a UNL basketball game.  Attend a show at the Lied Center.  Learn to knit (yes, there are health benefits to knitting).  Like people who exercise regularly, people who take time to enjoy their favorite hobbies tend to experience less stress.

Begin working on your curriculum vitae now. By building your vita early in your graduate career, you’ll be able to track your accomplishments while noting the gaps in your experience.