Can summer really be practically over? Maybe it’s because our summer has been insane with moving states, wrapping up jobs, saying lots of good byes, and making one transition after another, but it has certainly been a whirlwind! And in just a couple more weeks, my fifth year of graduate school will begin – fifth and last year might I add!
It’s been a long five years of trying to balance work, school, and other life commitments and relationships. I am so thankful for the experiences I’ve had, people I’ve met, and knowledge I’ve gained over the past several years and while it hasn’t always been perfect and has come with it’s own fill of stresses and challenges, there are a couple of things I try and do every fall to really set up my school year for success.
COUNT THE COST
One of the most helpful things for me to do before each quarter is to remind myself of what I’m doing. Friends, graduate school is a lot of work! It takes a lot out of you, emotionally, financially, physically. But it’s also really worth it and I love the experiences I’ve gained. But even knowing all of that, I have to count the cost every year, reminding myself in grace that I can NOT say yes to everything. It is impossible to maintain everything and some things have to give. I have to amp myself up for school by also reminding myself that this is requires sacrifice. Just like marathon runners don’t just show up on race day unprepared or not stretched, preparing for graduate school requires some mental preparation, acknowledgement of what you’re going to do, and brainstorm some things in your current schedule that you can give up. Know the expectations beforehand – how much time is required? How many days will you be on campus? How many cups of coffee will be needed to get through the reading? Also, how much of the reading do you need to do?
Some things to consider: How much time will be required for school? (The general consensus is to expect for every hour you are in class, to spend two hours outside of class studying/reading/writing/etc. So if you have 8 hours of classwork a week, you can expect to be studying an additional 16 hours, meaning school takes up 24 hours of your week.) How many days will you be on campus? How many cups of coffee will be needed to get through the reading? Also, how much reading do you need to do? What social events or other responsibilities will you be saying no to this semester to make school a priority?
BUT DON’T GIVE EVERYTHING UP…
You need a break. You need to walk or exercise or do yoga. You need to consume a beverage other than coffee. You need friends who bring encouragement and laughter and a shopping outing. For me, while I can’t hang out with friends every day of the week while I’m in school, I try and intentionally schedule lunch or coffee with a friend once a week. There’s a small, local theater in our new town of Colorado Springs and on Tuesdays they show movies for $1. I’m so excited because we are intentionally going to schedule some date nights on Tuesdays, a perfect excuse to get out of the house, shut off school brain, and enjoy a really inexpensive movie.
Some things to consider: What gives you life? If you’re an extrovert who ends up spending a ton of time in the library, then make sure and block in time for group study sessions or schedule nights out with friends. If you’re an introvert who spends way too much time in class around people, maybe one night off a week where you take a warm bath, read a fun book, and relax is what is needed.
ORGANIZE YOUR WORK AND STAY ON TOP OF IT
You literally could work on school non-stop. And most professors know this, they know they assign way too much reading to ever be achievable. My biggest tip for preparing for graduate school is learn some time management. Figure out your reading pattern. I certainly suggest trying the Pomodoro technique, where you set your timer for 20 or 25 minutes and focus on only one set of reading – no distractions, social media, email checking, nothing – and then when the timer goes off you get a 5 minute break. Set boundaries around when you’ll be working on school work and when you won’t be. Will you work in the mornings before work? A couple evenings a week? What day will you take off to rest and Sabbath?
Keep track of your syllabi, assignments and readings most definitely included. Just do it. Oh and don’t procrastinate. Even if you think it won’t, your work will suffer.
Create a “I Do Not Do List” – maybe it’s I do not work on Saturdays or I do not do all the grocery shopping (obviously, including spouses/family members/children/etc in this conversation is important.) Maybe, I do not make coffee from home on Fridays and that is a treat day where you get to go work at the local coffee shop.
TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME
Grace, grace, grace. So many times I have to ask myself, “What is the next best thing I can do right now?” It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the assignments or amount of reading. So you just take it one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. You take a deep breath and do whatever is right in front of you, trying to not worry about that 20 page term paper coming up in 14 weeks. It’ll get to you soon enough, but the reason it’s at the end of the semester? You may actually need to finish the current reading and assignments to be prepared for the paper. It’s amazing the amount of times I have been stressed and freaking out about a final assignment only to get to the time to work on it and realizing it’s not nearly as intimidating as it was 10 weeks prior. One day at a time. You’ll do great!
// What are some of your favorite ways to stay on top of school work or find space to breath in the midst of crazy?