During graduate school, I had many difficult moments. Sometimes, I didn’t believe I could persevere. If I could turn back the hands of time in my current frame of mind, I’d reassure and remind myself to keep my negative internal dialogue in check. Since I don’t hold the magical abilities to time-travel, I’ll seize the opportunity to share what I learned about staying the course in graduate school with you. More specifically, how to revamp your time management.
1. Ask for help
Be persistent about asking for help. Becoming resourceful and familiarized with the university’s services such as the writing centre or learning specialists helped me learn how to do things more efficiently, such as paper editing strategies and strategic reading. I used to believe I had to read everything in sight, including all recommended readings or literature I found on my own. Learning how to read just enough without panicking that I was missing out on something I hadn’t reviewed was a valuable time-saver. For example, after meeting with the librarian I learned how to critically appraise an article before reading it in its entirety using the PICO and CASP methods. I also learned to better triage the literature I wanted to read based on how often it was cited through indexing sites, which helped me to purposefully study the material rather than overwhelm myself by reading everything.
2. Organize your work space
For those of you who can work anywhere for extended periods at a time, you have an admirable gift. My attention span is short, and I needed to create a space that would encourage continuous focus, position me for success, and limit distractions. Finding an inspirational and comfortable space was immensely helpful. I redecorated my desk by adding plants, lights, motivational books and quotes, which helped me to feel calm, driven, and improved my concentration. Furthermore, with an organized space, I was able to label, file, and arrange things for easy accessibility, that way I was not wasting time looking for where I’d stored things.
3. Determine what makes you productive
Through trial and error, I learned that despite my preference for complete silence, I could also work in a coffee shop with a reasonable amount of ambient sound. Figuring out when I was most productive (e.g., after a good coffee in the morning) or what would get me more productive (e.g., listening to a TED talk) became quite important to me. What about for you? Is it doing a set of burpees, pump-me up music, snuggles from your beloved pet, or meditation?
Understanding what gets you up and running is another excellent time management tool. We know that procrastination is a form of anxiety, however, feelings of anxiety are reinforced the more you avoid something. Sometimes you need that extra push because often, you’re not going to feel like doing the thing you may need to do most. Figure out what you need to just do it.
4. Entourage matters
You don’t have to be alone. When you’ve reached the limits of your tolerance for disappointment, turn to someone you trust for support. Creating a network that can offer you support and vice versa is a protective factor that prevents you from overspending your time wallowing in your failures. When we fall into that inflexible narrative that we have not succeeded, our self-esteem deserts us, which can get in the way of being productive and feeling good. When we get caught up in the shame resulting from our sense of failure, our learning receptors shut down. Chances are you’ll encounter a lot of “I can’ts” or moments of feeling as though you are floundering. Therefore, build a network of supporters to be there for you and to do things with is helpful for your self-confidence and your belief that you can persevere. After all, we tend to be kinder to others than with ourselves, so reach out to someone who is fond of you when your inner-critic surfaces. With that you can reclaim your time and even spend precious moments with someone who will help you cultivate greater compassion.
5. Working through feedback
There is no need to compare your inside to the appearance of someone else’s outside. Don’t let someone’s feedback on your work send you into a shame storm or feelings of inadequacy for more time than necessary. Someone’s disapproval of your work does not warrant beating yourself up. Acknowledge what is being said, get curious about what you can learn from the feedback, and do your best to not allow the evaluation to become a measure of your worth. The internal dialogue I had with myself and my tendency to overgeneralize needed to be re-framed in a more positive light so I could maintain my resilience. Re-language how you talk to yourself will help you reduce the time you spend being hard on yourself.
6. Talking back to your perfectionism
My colleague used to assert that perfectionism may be a prerequisite for graduate school. I suspect this may be because to get into graduate school the standards of measurement are high. Dealing with the consequences of perfectionism is perhaps at the forefront of what I learned in graduate school. You can save a great deal of time and stress being aware of how you talk to yourself. Remember you are in graduate school to learn, not to be perfect. Although perfectionism may serve as a motivation and be adaptive for some things, it becomes maladaptive when you get stuck in the thinking that everything must be done right. Perfectionism is near impossible and to strive for it will interfere with your ability to accept things as is. Don’t allow your perfectionist tendencies get in the way of your opportunities for growth.