Written by Priyanjana Pramanik, Economics M.S. 2018
Having been a Jumbo now for one semester, I now feel entirely qualified to pass on the wisdom I have learned since arriving at Tufts in September. During orientation week, one of the pieces of advice I heard a lot were ‘You’re going to have to learn how to manage small amounts of time’. Another was this: ‘No matter what, try to maintain some semblance of work-life balance’. And I thought, ‘Piece of cake.’ As you can imagine, I was very, very wrong. In grad school, the workload creeps up on you: it is very reasonable and completely manageable, but you have to stay on top of it, all the time.
It’s Monday. You have an assignment due Thursday, and you think you have lots of time, because you do. You can’t get to it until Wednesday, but that should be okay, right? Except that on Wednesday, you receive a stack of papers to grade, plus there’s a recitation section you have to teach immediately after class, and now there’s a paper you have to read for Friday’s class. You wanted to go to office hours before your Thursday class, but now you won’t have time because of everything you need to do. And you need to do the dishes. And laundry.
Oh yeah, and next week, you have a project due, and your partner for it tells you he’s leaving town tonight and won’t be back until the day before.
That kind of snowballing kept happening to me towards the beginning. So I ended up staying up late to grade, waking up ridiculously early to finish assignments and generally turning into a sleep-deprived mess. I felt like I was working all the time, but was never getting on top of my work. I’m pretty sure this is a pretty common problem in grad school, but when it happens to me I feel like I’m out of control and everyone else has it all figured out, which is probably not true.
Anyway, while I haven’t figured everything out (I’m writing this at 7 a.m., think what you will), things are definitely better. I set a few rules for myself, and since I started making an effort to follow them, my workload hasn’t been quite as overwhelming.
- I take sleep very, very seriously, and would probably spend more than sixteen hours a day at it if I could. One thing I’ve learned is that the less you sleep, the less you get done.
- Do things before you need to do them. In my admittedly limited experience of grad school, there are times when you have a mountain of work and times when you have none, at not too many in between. Get things over with long before they’re due, and you can stop worrying about them.
- Make notes on everything you need to get done. Until I got here, I’d never had a planner, or used the calendar app on my phone. Now, I use both. I schedule obsessively.
- If things are already overwhelming, get a handle on it before you take on more. If you feel like you’re completely swamped, communicate. If you’re behind on your grading, or struggling with an assignment, talk to the professor you TA for, or your course instructor.
Problems with time management take away from how much rewarding and enjoyable graduate school really is, exhausting as it might be. And it’s okay not to have things completely under control from the beginning: we’re all learning as we go along.