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  • Writer's pictureJustin Grimes

Balancing Act: 10 Steps to Fit Graduate School into a Busy Life

Updated: Feb 8

You are a human navigating a lot of different responsibilities, and here comes your friend UCANNOT, with nagging thoughts and ideas about you going back to school to get a graduate degree. Let me pronounce their name You-Can-Not. UCANNOT tells you you have a busy work schedule, children, family, friends, social events, volunteer service, exercise, and social media scrolling to consider.

UCANNOT is a spiteful, nagging, unimportant person who doesn’t want what you want. UCANNOT is a friend you unfriend and unfollow, but they still appear on your list of potential people to add, follow, or connect with. UCANNOT is active and occasionally shows up like unwanted tweets and social media posts. UCANNOT doesn’t want you to go on the journey of applying to grad school, but [insert your name] does, and we are about to get your block game strong.

Embarking on the journey of graduate school is undoubtedly a significant decision, but for many, the prospect of adding academic commitments to an already busy life can seem overwhelming. With careful planning and a strategic approach, it's possible to successfully fit graduate school into a hectic schedule. You have evidence that you can manage your time and school if you already completed a bachelor’s degree, so what’s stopping you from pursuing a master’s or doctorate?

Let me guess. You’ve told yourself.

Let’s see what your calendar looks like. Show me your screen usage. Get your best friend on the phone and listen me ask them to share their thoughts about your business. The truth is we make time for things that we consider important and valuable.

Will it be tough adding school to your to-do list?

When UCANOT shows up, not only will you block them, but you will respond with I WILL. The biggest way to find the time for school is to review how you use time, and change your habits and schedule to reflect the goal you want to achieve. The goal in this case is to pursue a graduate degree.

10 Steps to Change Your "I'm Busy" Habits and Find Space to Go to Graduate School

I will make the Time:

Returning to school is an exercise in effective time management. Step 1: Spend a week putting everything you do on a calendar. As you change your habits, you will prioritize tasks, create a schedule, and stick with it. Step 2: Review and identify specific blocks of time where you have tasks and meetings you are going to replace with meetings you will focus on your studies, so you can ensure you balance work, family, school and personal commitments. Find that hour before everyone wakes up or goes to sleep to do your work. Set up app timer usage on your most used apps. Schedule a standing meeting with yourself for 16 weeks, call it UCANOT, and don’t skip the meeting. I'll explain what you will do during this meeting below.

I Will Set Realistic Goals:

Too often, people see the puzzle picture but need to remember you complete the puzzle one piece at a time.

Step 3: Before you meet with UCANOT, establish achievable weekly, quarterly (every 4 weeks), and semester goals. Break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. This makes your workload seem less daunting and provides a sense of accomplishment as you tick off completed tasks. In your phone, create a note and put the headers weekly, quarterly, and semester, and share below what the task will do for each week. Take these task and put them in the notes of your UCANNOT meeting for each week. Ex. Week 1-Search graduate programs. Week 2-Order transcripts. Step 4: Add a goal under Quarterly called “Celebration Day” because you will reward yourself every quarter with getting that one thing that will bring you joy and closer to the finish line (i.e., shoes, ice cream, new bottle of wine, car wash). Pick a date during the quarterly week, and create a meeting called CELEBRATION DAY, where you will go celebrate.

I Will consider an Online and Flexible Graduate Programs:

Attending class at 10 am or 1 pm might not work for you. Step 5: Explore and write down your top 5 graduate programs that offer online or flexible scheduling options (they don’t have to be for-profits like Capella or Grand Canyon University). Many universities understand the demands of adult learners and provide courses that can be completed remotely, allowing you to attend classes at your convenience.

I Will Communicate with MY Support System:

UCANOT encourages isolation while [insert your name] openly communicates with your Big 3 (i.e. family, friends, and employers) about their academic interests. Step 6: Discuss your decision to pursue graduate studies with your Big 3 and make them aware of the potential adjustments to your schedule. Let them help you reorganize your life, delegate tasks, cook, babysit, and more. The Avengers were better together than alone. Having a supportive network can make a significant difference in managing stress and responsibilities.

I Will Incorporate Study Time into Daily Routines:

What you do daily leads to long-term success. Integrate study time into your daily routine. 30 -60 minutes a day can make a difference. Whether during your lunch break, early mornings, or late evenings, find pockets of time to focus on your coursework. Step 6: Put 30-60 minutes on your calendar where you will spend reading articles or information about the field of study you are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in. When you start your program, this will become your study time.

I Will Make the Most of Downtime:

Step 7: Identify periods of downtime in your day, such as commuting or waiting in line, and utilize these moments for reading, listening to podcast, or reviewing course materials. You should talk, text, or voice record your random thoughts and return them to them later. This way, you can maximize your study time without compromising other commitments.

I Will Create My [Insert Your Name] Study spaced:

I tell folks you have to set up a space where you can work. I need a table, access to natural light, water, and some jazz or classical music, and I can get a lot of work done. Step 8: Set up and maintain a well-organized study space and keep track of deadlines for applying to graduate school. This will become your study space after you start your program. Utilize calendars, planners, or productivity apps to stay on top of assignments, exams, and project due dates.

I Will Prioritize Self-Care:

Balancing graduate school with a busy life requires a healthy mind and body. Prioritize self-care activities, such as exercise, relaxation, and adequate sleep. In a 2-for-1, I used to talk to text on the elliptical and stair-master because I had prolific ideas come to me in the gym. Taking care of yourself ensures you remain focused and energized throughout your academic journey. Step 9: Write down the self-care activity you will do 2-3 times a week for 30 minutes. You will keep doing these activities when you start your program.

Apply to Grad SChool:

Incorporating graduate school into a busy life is undoubtedly a challenge, but it's entirely possible with careful planning, effective time management, and a strong support system. Tell UCANOT your relationship is over, and stop telling yourself you don’t have time. Your bank statement shows you have time for some things, so let your time account reflect your investment. Don’t let another month or year go by without applying to graduate school because you have often spoken it aloud. Step 10: Write down the date you will apply to graduate school.

As far as you applying to graduate school

Figure Out Your Next Step

These are all great habits for you to implement and use to make the changes you need to fit graduate school into your busy life. I can't wait to hear more about its impact on you. The next step you need to take is to apply to graduate school. As a busy, working person, you are highly skilled, make many decisions, and self-reliant, and if you don't know the answer, you will find it. Truthfully, you can trust your intuition and skills to get things done. So why do 40-60% of working professionals not get into graduate programs or select programs they still need to finish? Here are two reasons. Reason one is that you are everything I said above, but you last applied for school a few years ago or lack some knowledge of the whole application process. For example, you can get a transcript but must figure out what to say on a personal statement. Reason two: you control a lot in your life, but you can't control the admissions committee's decision, and the unknown decision scares you, so you don't apply.

You don't have to figure this entire process out alone. Here are your next steps.

Step 1: Buy the book here

Step 2: Click here to receive weekly emails with resources and tips on applying to graduate school.

Step 3: Schedule a meeting with Dr. Grimes (click here)

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