Juggling all your roles as a graduate student can be overwhelming at times, but with the proper time-management strategies, you should not have any problems excelling in every area you are tasked with. It is important to remember that leading a balanced life in graduate school is not solely about your academic and professional responsibilities; your health and lifestyle also play a major role in your overall success. In this article, we will highlight just a few strategies that have not only worked for us, but for our peers and advisors.
Return on Investment on Your Time
If you are to consider your time as a valuable commodity, you will quickly notice what activities have low return of investment (ROI) and what activities are high. To better understand this point, consider how much time you spend casually browsing the Internet, reading/writing emails, scheduling and doing other activities. Now consider the amount of time you spend planning research projects, analyzing data and writing up results. If any of the above-mentioned activities are taking up a lot of your time and you feel there should be an easier way, look into ways that you can automate it or use technology to assist you.
Plan Now, Enjoy Later
It would be wonderful if we could do everything for the week in one day, but approaching your responsibilities in this way may leave you feeling more stressed than when you began to plan your week. To get the most out of each day, it is useful to know what tasks take priority over others, and use this to create a daily action plan, working towards a weekly action plan. Start your week by listing everything that needs to be accomplished. Then daily, grab a few items off your weekly action list, and work on them around your class/research schedule. Throughout your day, remind yourself of these tasks and cross them off as you go along. Before you know it, you will be getting more done daily, leaving you more time for other activities.
Budget Time for You
On top of the demands of school, it is important to take care of yourself mentally and physically. Part of organizing your time should include budgeting time for self-care tasks such as exercise, cooking a new healthy meal, socializing with friends, and getting adequate sleep (seven to nine hours a night). These habits can also serve as stress relievers and help you perform at your best. In graduate school, it can be easy to put off exercise, eat poorly and stay up too late, but remember your health should remain a priority.
Technology Can Be Your Friend
As researchers, we often do things as they have worked best in the past, without consideration of other options. With so many options available for making certain research processes more efficient, it is difficult to choose the best one. We will highlight below some of the resources we currently use:
Scheduling Made Easy
Are you often in charge of arranging meetings, or scheduling participants? Doodle and WhenIsGood both do a great job of making scheduling effortless. You create your event, set the parameters and give everyone a link. Once everyone responds, you will immediately have a summary list of everyone's availability.
Open-Source Experiment Building (for Free)
Do you find experiment building to be the most time-consuming part of your research? If so, the following resources are for you. OpenSesame provides you with the tools to create an experiment with no programming knowledge whatsoever, using drag-and-drop tools (although having some helps for custom problems!). PsychoPy has a similar interface for experiment development with drag-and-drop tools, but it also has a scripting engine, based in Python, where you can truly create anything your research requires. It is comparable to MATLAB's PsychToolBox in many respects, but it is free.
Gather Data Effortlessly
If you are still using paper surveys, then this next section is for you. Google Forms is an excellent way to gather data if your university does not have a Qualtrics license. It has the ability to include short-answer and free response questions, Likert scale questions and much more. A huge plus for Google Forms is its output format. All the data are automatically entered into an Excel-style spreadsheet (downloadable in many formats such as .csv and .txt), where you can include formulas for scoring or data validation. This way your data can be collected and analyzed in one quick step.
To extend the utility of Google Forms, one can consider using it to collect data on Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk; if your IRB allows this). You will have live access to your data, viewable from any desktop computer or mobile device. If you are not familiar with MTurk, we encourage you to check out it out to learn all the benefits it offers. It has been validated as a research tool by many independent labs, so this may be a way to go if you are looking to sample a diverse population in a hurry.
Approach Your Adviser
If you ever feel as if your current demands are interfering with your ability to live a balanced life outside of graduate school, do not hesitate to speak with your adviser. It is important to be honest with them and strategize ways to reduce your workload if your time does not allow for completing everything you are tasked with. They were in your shoes and will be understanding if you approach them.
We hope these tips can provide you with helpful hints on leading a more balanced life and prioritizing your time academically and personally.
Nelson Roqueis a graduate student at Florida State University pursuing a PhD in cognitive psychology. His current research interests include visual attention, aging and video game training.
Elizabeth Handingis a graduate student at University of South Florida pursuing a PhD in aging studies. Her research is focused on lifestyle factors as they relate to healthy aging, specifically the influence of nutrition on cognitive functioning.