The Routine That Got Me Through Grad School

Grad school is a far different beast than undergrad.

Time is short, your to-do list is long. Can you party? Sure. Five days a week? Not advisable.

Particularly in business school, you’ve been working for some time before returning to change gears into a new career. But so have your peers, and so you must bring a focus and determination to succeed that is not always existent in undergrad.

You are only on campus for a couple of years (in my case, only one), and so you want to make the most of it. Classes, clubs, networking, social events, job hunting – there is only so much time in the day, and you’re pressed to use it in the best way possible.

For me, I found that you can’t just manage your time. I had to prioritize, and streamline it to my own personality and psychology to make sure I was as effective with my time as possible.

Some people have the ability to freestyle; to take on projects as they go throughout their day, work on multiple projects at once, and still get things done and retire at night in relative peace. I do not count myself among those blessed individuals.

If you are one of the aforementioned freestylers, this is not a post for you. I love routine. As an introvert and an engineer, I’m a proponent of systems. Optimizing my day to reduce mental fatigue and making sure I’m sticking to a plan that I have pre-determined will get me to my end goals.

With the end of grad school approaching, I thought it would be helpful to lay out the daily routine that I developed over the course of my year here. It was very much a trial and error process (tried reading in the middle of the day, ruined my flow), but the result is a system that worked very effectively for me:

Grad Schedule

 

This is just a sample calendar from my last semester, but the key takeaway is that I bookended days with a set routine that I followed every day which allowed for personal time (the green and purple).

I woke up early (for a college student) at 7 am every day to reflect, set my days agenda, read, write – essentially work on my development or whatever project I had going on.

I then ended my days by hitting the gym at 10 pm, hitting the bed by 12:30 or 1 am every night.

There were a couple reasons for this routine:

  1. It helped me switch from being night owl to early riser. I could easily stay up till 4 or 5 am, its just how I’m wired. But once you’ve grown up past eating pizza rolls and Pop-tarts for every meal, this doesn’t fly anymore. So I used this natural energy I had late in the day to fuel my gym sessions, tiring me out enough to go to bed at a decent time and get some good sleep in.
  2. This was also when the gym was most free, so I didn’t have to waste any time waiting on equipment. The other alternative was to go late morning/early afternoon, but this would take up business hours (9-5) when I could get ahold of people for job hunting. So I settled on ending my days with a dose of therapeutic iron.

Most importantly, this schedule allowed me to always make sure I was getting done what I personally wanted. I knew that no matter what happened the rest of the day, I had time to work on my development, and to move my needle a little bit farther so that I was getting better every single day.

It got each morning off to a great start, so I could then go take on the craziness of the day, most of which was dedicated to school and other projects. Whatever else had to happen during that time happened, outside of the two hours I always allotted for job hunting. If people wanted to schedule meetings during any of these set-aside times, I said I was already busy. These were truly for my personal time.

Note that this is only addressing part of the life pie-chart – it would be impossible to talk about my daily routine without addressing the social side. My better half lived in a different city from myself during school, and while the distance was not terribly great, it was enough to relegate much of our daily communication to phone calls and the occasional Skype session. These obviously took precedence and were built into the rest of the schedule (during meals, between meetings, at down time, etc). This is also why the weekends are blank/non-existent. I typically used that time for the other social aspects that I wasn’t always able to do during the week. While this varied, it helped give the balance that is so crucial to a healthy psyche.

——–

This is a process that’s fairly easy to apply to yourself. Things to look at are:

  • What do you want to accomplish every day? What’s important for you? 

In the context of my development/career, this was reading, the gym, and finding a job. And,

  • What are your natural tendencies?

Don’t fight these, work with them. Again, for me it was being a night owl. So I used that energy to go to the gym at night.

The more routine you have, the less stress you will carry. If your day goes to shit for whatever reason, you don’t have to completely lose your mind because you have the comfort of knowing that you’re getting the essentials done no matter what gets thrown at you.

This is how I survived business school.

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