How to…manage your time in grad school

Ok, so this is one of those posts specifically tailored to students who are already in graduate school, but perhaps if you’re a college student, you might glean something from this as well.

As a 4th year graduate student I get asked a lot of questions about time management.

How do you balance all your responsibilities in graduate school?
How do you have time to get anything done?!
Research, teaching, classes, oh my! How do you wear so many hats?

As graduate students, we are expected to do a lot. We wear many different hats and can sometimes be a student, teacher, and a mentor all in one day. When you start your doctoral program you’ll feel an avalanche of responsibilities all at once and it can feel overwhelming and completely unmanageable. But, trust me, you can do it! And remember, you were accepted into the program because your professor believed you could handle it!

Here are my tips for managing your time during grad school:

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.

Yes, I know you’ve heard this before. But, its the best advice out there. Most graduate students are balancing teaching or teaching assistant responsibilities with classwork and research goals. It’s a lot, I know. So, simplify it for yourself. Each day, start with 3-4 priorities, and make sure those tasks get done. Make them small, feasible goals. One task can’t be “write master’s thesis.” But something on your list could be, “write 2 paragraphs in discussion section”. Keep it simple and manageable.

Make to-do lists & reward yourself.

Checking things off a to-do list can be so rewarding. Once you make your short and attainable to-do list, cross tasks off when you finish them. You’ll feel like you accomplished something and it will get rid of the aching feeling that you haven’t done anything all day. Yes, we’ve all been there. Then, when you’ve tackled something from the to-do list, reward yourself. Go for a long walk, get some fancy coffee, read a book, or watch TV. Help yourself through the to-do list by patting yourself on the back along the way.

Figure out what time of day works best for you.

This one is key and requires a little self-reflection. Think about whether you’re a morning person or an evening person. If you’re a morning person, make it a point to wake up early and get something done before you head into the office. I know people who wake up hours before their classes start to cross off one thing from their to-do list. Or if you’re a night person, make sure your schedule allows you to sleep in a little bit in the morning, so you can put in those night hours.

The time suck.

Figure out which of your responsibilities take up the majority of your time. For most students, this can be teaching. For other students, this can be class work. Determine what this is for you and then figure out how to make this more efficient. For students who teach or TA, figure out how to lessen the amount of time you spend prepping for class. What is just “good enough”? Can you try and get your teaching prep to under 2 hours? How much time do you really need to spend on school work? It doesn’t need to be perfect. Good is great, but done is better.


Alright, this one is just a general grad school tip. Making exercise a priority will help you feel better, and more energized. This will help you tackle your to-do list and feel charged throughout the day.

Meal prep.

Yeah, yeah, another life tip. Preparing meals for the week during your weekend downtime can save oodles of precious time during the week. Make your lunches grab-n-go so you’re not fumbling in the kitchen every morning trying to piece together something to eat. Make dinner’s ready in a flash, so you’re not wasting time you could be relaxing or bring productive. That is, unless cooking is relaxing for you, in that case, pop open a bottle of wine and kick back.

Grad students out there – how do you manage your time? Any other tips I missed?

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