Class lectures, coursework, group-projects, working as a graduate assistant, extra-curricular activities, and social activities occupy a majority of the 24 hours given to us each and every day. On any given week, Monday through Thursday contains an estimated 3-5 hours of class lectures. Readings, studying and group projects can add another 2-5 hours per day. Working, extra-curricular activities and social activities can add another 3-6 hours per day. As you can see, the range of work and the activities can vary from 8-16 hours per day if you do not balance your activities well. Balancing your activities can be a challenge but it is a life skill, that once learned, can help you forever.
Organization and organizational tools are key components in helping students to manage a good work-life balance. I may be an extremely rare case, but for the most part I am able to internalize the dates of all my homework assignment due dates, class schedules, and working times. But I do have a backup schedule that I keep with me just in case I am unsure of my activities. I use two tools, Google Calendar, and the post-it note application that can be downloaded onto an IPad or IPhone. I use Google Calendar for when I need be somewhere, such as class, and I use the post-it note application for when I need to finish coursework, studying as well as daily tasks I need accomplished such as paying bills.
Once you have your organizational tools in place, you need to be able to forecast all of the work that you will have due, and categorize that as individual or group work. Individual work can be done at your own pace and in your own time. The key is to get your group-work done first because finding time to meet can be difficult. Meeting a week in advance is ideal for your mini projects and 4-5 weeks early for your semester-long projects. Meeting before spring break and Thanksgiving break can be key to help organize thoughts and distribute work.
Persuading your group to meet early to complete a project can be difficult. However the earlier you can schedule a meeting, the easier it will be to find a time that meets with all of your group members. You can then finish your individual work around the times you have scheduled for your group meetings.
Group meetings are easiest to schedule during the weekend, but many students want to travel and having activities on the weekend so, it can be difficult to schedule it this way. If this happens ALWAYS schedule the meeting before the weekend rather than after it. There is nothing wrong with getting work done early, and in graduate school, it is much better to get things done early rather than waiting for the last minute because it is much less stressful.
Completing tasks early will help to facilitate your social life as well and your work life, if you are a graduate student. I work 10 hours each week after class as a graduate assistant, and roughly 12 hours of extra-curriculars each week. This semester my Mondays and Wednesdays start at 11am (arrive at class) and end at 10pm (finishing my extra-curricular). These times do not include when I get up or when I finally come home to my apartment. I also do not go home from when I arrive at in class at 11am. In contrast, On Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, I start class at 9:30 am and finish class at 3:30pm, going home right after class.
In order to be successful with this schedule, I go to the library on Saturday and Sunday for 3-4 hours each day to finish homework and to get a head start on upcoming projects. I will use Friday as my relaxation day, one that is free of work, unless a group project is scheduled. Sundays can also be used as a relaxation day if all of your work can be completed on Saturday. All in all, I finish a lot of homework on the weekends and I have long days in order to participate in all of the activities I want to participate in. Finishing group work early, will allow for you to complete your individual work at your own convenience, making your life less stressful. Overall Graduate School, particularly the MSTM program, can be very demanding, but with the right management skills, it is manageable and very rewarding!