Balancing Work and Life Commitments

IRT’s Associate Director and Manager of Programs Kate Slater shares her insights on time management.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve been working full-time while also enrolled as a full-time doctoral student, and I’ve learned a thing or two about time management over those years. In 2016, it felt like a near-impossible undertaking to be advising a cohort of 45 students at the IRT, going on the road to recruit, and also attending three hour seminars three days a week at the University of New Hampshire. I floundered for a few months as I came to terms with a new piece of my identity, and as a super Type-A human being, it was a profoundly humbling experience to realize that, quite frankly, I couldn’t do it all.

In the course of that first year as a doctoral student, I had to learn some critical time management strategies very quickly in order to make it through.

  1. Be HONEST about your work style and adapt to it, instead of trying to change it. For the first semester, I tried to set aside large chunks of time for writing once a week (3 hours or more), but I found that I was much more efficient when I would do small chunks every single day instead. For me, this meant that I would sometimes take a half hour of my lunch hour to outline a reflection paper, or I’d clock in a quick 45 minutes before I went to sleep. I tried in vain to be the kind of person who could crank out an entire week’s worth of writing in one afternoon, but I would inevitably spend the first hour of that four hour chunk staring at the screen or scrolling mindlessly through Reddit forums. By contrast, when I knew I had a small and finite amount of time, I would crank the work right out. So what’s your work style? Are you a morning person? It might be worth it to wake up an hour earlier to work on your SOP draft if you know that you fire on all cylinders before 10 am. Are you a procrastinator by nature? Stop pretending that you’ll finally, finally be the kind of person who plans things out a week in advance. Instead, make sure that you carve out the entire day before a deadline in order to devote the required amount of time to your work. This might read as controversial advice, but honestly, by the time you get to a grad program, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to magically become a morning person or a radical planner if that runs counter to your natural tendencies. Instead, accept your work style and make sure that you work with it instead of against it to complete your tasks.
  2. Be ruthless about carving out your time. You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy! So when you take the time to complete IRT assignments, revise your SOP, or complete your grad school readings, make sure that you are giving it your full attention. This means that I put my phone on Airplane mode, exit all the tabs in Chrome, remove distractions as much as possible so I can focus. If you need a change of scenery, go to a coffee shop or a library and put on your headphones – in this time of COVID-19, that could even mean just going to a different room in your apartment or moving your laptop so you have a different view. If you need accountability, tap an accountability buddy who can help you log “hours” where you both just read or write in silence together (virtually or in-person). If you need structure, check out the Pomodoro method, which we widely use in the IRT office. Some mornings, Brittany will holler “I’m distracted! Are we Pomodoro-ing?” and the entire staff will Pomodoro for the next two hours to crank out a bunch of work distraction-free.
  3. Be communicative about your goals with your friends and loved ones. As an incredibly social person who loves being around people (I’m an ESFJ, aka the Golden Retriever of the world), it was incredibly challenging for me to reckon with the fact that I just didn’t have as much time to devote to my relationships. But my therapist recommended that, instead of feeling soul-crushing guilt about this over the next four years in my doctoral program, I just… you know… tell the people that I loved that I was dealing with a huge additional time requirement, and that I wanted to figure out how we could maintain our friendships when I would be absent more often. My friends rose to the occasion magnificently when I was proactive about this communication. We made do with phone calls instead of dinners out or coffee dates, and they’d check in often via text or email. Grad school doesn’t mean the end of a social life – in fact, I relied on my relationships more than ever. It just means that your social time might look different.

Whether you are finishing a Masters, in year two of your doctoral program, or just starting your IRT journey, time management is more critical than ever in the time of COVID-19. We likely have significant additional demands on our personal time, and in all likelihood, we’ve lost many of the structures that help keep us accountable or align with our work style (my goodness, do I miss my favorite study coffee shop). Now more than ever, being rigorous about your own time management will do wonders for your mental and emotional well-being over the next year.



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