Business school can be an overwhelmingly busy time, especially for part-time students juggling school and work or for professionals returning to school after many years of working a steady nine-to-five. Classes, networking events, internships and personal life all compete for your attention, and it is hard to know what to prioritize.
Here are five basic tips that will help you manage your communications, develop a schedule and deal with the unexpected demands on your time that so often arise:
Act on Your Email
Many people feel overwhelmed by the daily flow of mail into their inboxes. For students of business, the fact is that far more people want far more of their attention than they can possibly dole out. When you login, read the messages you know are critical, then write the important messages you know you need to write before dealing with other people’s requests. Once your most important business is taken care of, attend to less vital messages if you have the time.
One of the most revolutionary advances in communications in recent memory is also one of the biggest potential time sinks. Social networking can do wonders for your education and your career if used purposefully and efficiently, but there is absolutely no reason to check your Facebook account 27 times a day; there is also no reason to forswear social networking. Clear a brief time-slot in your schedule for social networking once or twice a day, and try to forget about it the rest of the time.
Your Schedule, Your Terms
Often, we fall into the erroneous habit of thinking of a schedule as a set of rigid restrictions imposed from above. But most MBA students have some degree of agency in organizing their own schedules. This gives you an opportunity to figure out how and when you do your best work, then create a schedule that works for you. Marci Alboher writes on the subject in a New York Times blog: “Observe your schedule and notice the patterns you follow on your productive days. Then build a schedule around those patterns.” Remember: This requires asking others to respect your schedule, as well as sticking to it yourself.
One of the most counter-intuitive secrets to productivity is the importance of taking breaks. While it may seem as though keeping your GPA up while hitting all the major networking events requires 16 hours of focused concentration a day, it’s more likely that a good deal of your attention is actually spent on anxiety. If you take short breaks every few hours to clear your head, get a little exercise or just relax, you might be surprised how much more you get done. Build short regular breaks into your schedule, and try to enjoy them without letting them drag on too long.
No matter how meticulous your schedule or how iron-willed your discipline in maintaining it, there will come times when the only thing you can reasonably do is ignore it. In fact, these occasions will probably come often. They do not invalidate your schedule or the time-management strategies you have developed in tandem with it. If anything, these moments are the exceptions that prove the rule. Learn to depart from your schedule and from your other time-management strategies without abandoning them. In the end, you will find that this kind of flexibility increases your ability to manage your time, as long as you stay focused on your goals
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