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Time Management in an Online MBA Program

13 Apr

You’re motivated to earn your MBA online. You have a job, a family—a busy life—and one of the many things you’re wondering about graduate school is how to manage your time.

The KU School of Business is here to help. Maura Durkin, MBA ’22 candidate, recently shared some of her insights into time management with us, and we’ve included them in the steps that follow here.

Use one reliable calendar.

While you’re balancing graduate school with your job and home life, you need a failsafe way to keep your schedule. Choose one that’s streamlined and dependable, using a single platform on all devices. Have a backup method ready in case of tech crashes, and if they occur, get all of your notes back to your main calendar as quickly as you can.

Create helpful routines.

Between work, life, and classes, your brain is going to be crammed with information for a while. Give it one less thing to think about by creating routines that support your success: establish when and for how long you’ll study, when you’ll exercise, sleep, be with family, and so on.

With a dependable structure of habits in place (“Most of my schoolwork happens on the weekends,” said Maura), you won’t waste time or energy in repeatedly rescheduling yourself, and your friends and colleagues will know when they can—and can’t—plan to share your time.

Plan your time realistically.

How likely are you to stay focused through a four-hour study marathon or read an entire volume in a weekend? Be careful as you commit your time. By creating your schedule with a calm, realistic eye, you can help prevent burnout. Plan in support of your strengths. If you’re a morning person, late-night reading may not be productive, but an hour before work could be prime time. Include time for breaks (ten minutes of fresh air after fifty minutes of studying can go a long way) and keep your work sessions to manageable lengths.

Make it a meeting.

In a world of work obligations, family playtime, and Netflix, it’s too easy to put off doing schoolwork. Don’t let yourself fall down that hole. Treat study time as you would a work meeting: put it on your calendar, plan around it, show up on time or a little early, and give it your full, professional focus.

Use the power of saying no.

Your new, carefully crafted schedule is one of the most important tools you have. You’re going to need to rely on it and, at times, protect it. People are going to request your time for help with their studies, impromptu socializing, additional ‘opportunities’ at work, and the list can go on. The invitations may be tempting, but if you give away all of your time and energy, you’ll have none left for yourself. Focus on your goals, commit your resources to them, and choose carefully. This will often mean saying no. You can say it politely, but stick to it. In doing so, you’re prioritizing your own success.

Continually look ahead.

Getting caught unprepared is no fun. More importantly, scrambling to catch up costs time and effort, and none of us does our best work in a panic. Keep your cool by staying on top of your schedule and repeatedly checking each class syllabus. Knowing what’s coming helps you prepare for it. Find out every upcoming deadline, put it into your calendar, and schedule more study and prep time than you think you’ll need in order to be ready for it.

The KU online MBA program is structured to support this. As Maura pointed out, “The nice thing about [the Canvas system is that] everything's broken up into modules, so you know exactly what you have to get done.”

Set daily priorities.

Start each day by writing down everything you aim to accomplish. List the component tasks in priority order, and follow that order throughout the day. Use whatever system works best, from high-tech to old-school approaches, for creating and completing your list.

Maura laughingly noted, “I set up Post-it notes in columns that say New, In Progress, Waiting on Team, and Done. I plan out day by day—what am I doing, this is what I'm working on—and I move the sticky notes. I like to have a sense of accomplishment, and it helps me feel like I got something done.”

Make yourself accountable.

Graduate school is a big commitment, and a helpful way to meet it is by making smaller commitments—to classmates for study sessions, friends for workouts, spouses and partners for down-time together. Bringing other people into the equation helps you stay on track, and it’s a healthy, helpful reminder that you’re not in this alone.

It works for Maura. “If I have to work with a team member or a classmate,” she said, “I always make sure that our schedules are synced up. For one of my classes, we had to work with a partner to complete assignments, and we had a set meeting every Wednesday.”

Achieve big things by achieving small ones.

Huge projects can overwhelm us into feeling helpless and freezing up. Keep moving forward by splitting each large task into its small, manageable component parts. Complete them one at a time, and you’ll be delighted at how quickly and smoothly they add up to major accomplishment.

Take an important night off.

Envision this: It’s the night before a paper is due and you are … sleeping peacefully.

Keep your stress levels low and your work quality high by completing assignments ahead of schedule. Last-minute work is never as polished as we think it is at 4 a.m. on deadline day, recovering from all-nighters takes longer than it used to, and you don’t have that kind of time. Give yourself a gift: Avoid this eleventh-hour struggle to the finish. Every part of your work/school/home life will be better for it.

It’s your time. Spend it well at KU.

Fit your coursework around your full-time commitments. As an online MBA student at the top-ranked University of Kansas School of Business, you’ll study with expert faculty in small, immersive classes. On graduation day, as you join the global network of Jayhawk business alumni, you’ll be equipped with the skills and the connections that define a career of success.