4 Practical Time Management Tips for Grad Students

There's no magic way to learn time management, but you may learn something new from these tips to improve your skills courtesy of another busy grad student.

The concept of time management is different for everyone. I’m not going to say there is a formula for time management due to the fact that everyone is different and has a different way of how they value, allocate, and manage their time. With this piece, I will simply provide my own personal perspective of how I am able to manage my time.

1. Get comfortable with the word “no”

When it comes to managing my time, I have learned to be very comfortable with this word. “No” is my best friend and my worst enemy; sometimes I’ll have tea with it, and other times I’ll give it the cold shoulder completely. “No” is a universal term I use to manage my time. When I am asked to commit or obligate myself to something, I find the courage to say no if I know I won’t be able to exceed expectations and perform all duties given to me. Being the giver and receiver of this word has made my life so much easier with finding a balance between graduate school, my assistantship, three part-time jobs, my fraternities, and my personal relationships with friends, colleagues, and family.

Related: The Importance of Finding Balance as a Graduate Student

2. Determine the “why” and “how” of your time

Before I ever commit to an opportunity, the first thing I do is ask questions appertaining to the “why” and “how”:

  • Why was I specifically offered this opportunity?
  • Why will this be a good use of my time?
  • How will this opportunity benefit others and then myself?
  • How does this align with my goals and aspirations?

While asking other questions, these are the first few I ask before actually agreeing to a commitment. I then move on to ask myself, “Do I truly have time for this on top of other things I have going on?” along with, “Can I contribute enough effort to this just like I do to my other obligations?” While these questions may be difficult to answer at times, I still make sure I am being honest with myself in order to be honest with someone else. I will admit, there have been times I have said no to something I did not want to decline, but I have no regrets because I know it was the right decision at the time.

3. Plan ahead, plan for the worst, and plan some more

I’m a planner! I used to have a paper planner/calendar, but now I have switched everything over to an electronic platform: Google Calendar. I am always updating my Google Calendar, and it conveniently syncs to my smartphone so I am always a step ahead of myself. Each morning I start my day by looking at everything I have scheduled on my calendar just to simply process how much I have to do. I also look ahead throughout the entire week and see what else is coming up that I need to be aware of in case something requires time to prepare for it. Lastly, with each thing on my schedule, I also make a plan for the possibility of when I may need to cancel, reschedule, or know when something may go over the allotted time it indicates on my calendar and overlaps with another commitment. Not everyone may be a meticulous planner—some may just simply goes with the flow—and that’s okay too. Do what works best for you!

4. Be human

Do I sometimes say yes to stuff I should say no to? Yes! Are there times when I jump the gun and don’t ask questions about an opportunity? Of course! Even if I plan out my whole day to the very last second, have there been days where nothing goes according to plan? Most definitely! At the end of the day, I’m still human, and I’m bound to make mistakes. Nonetheless, I take each experience as a learning experience. When I do make mistakes, I make sure I take a lesson out of it; it builds character! My time may be limited and given to multiple things, but I always have a choice of how to spend it. Like everyone else, my time is precious, which is why I manage it well and use it wisely.

Related: 7 Easy Ways to Make Your Semester More Mindful

As I mentioned before, there's no actual one-size-fits-all formula to time management. Only you can decide how to spend your time. Whether it’s your job, your academics, your friends, or even yourself, make the decisions that will contribute to your achievements, not your failures.

Find more articles and advice for preparing and surviving as a grad student in our Graduate School section.

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About Kevin Wright

Kevin Wright is a first-generation graduate student from Las Vegas, Nevada, and earned his master's in Student Affairs Administration from Lewis & Clark College in 2016. Kevin graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2014, where he studied Communication Studies with a minor in Sociology. His hobbies include traveling, networking, going to concerts, and endlessly watching Netflix. Kevin aspires to become a college president so he can advocate for more affordability and accessibility for students wanting to pursue higher education.


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