A Doctoral Student’s Tips for Life Balance

Blog A Doc Student's Tips for Life Balance

An exceptionally challenging part of my life as a Walden student has been maintaining a healthy balance between school and career.  Like many Walden students, I have work and family obligations, and I must carefully structure my daily routine to accomplish the sometimes overwhelming amount of work and study.  Let me share four time-saving strategies I use to maintain a healthy balance.

Organize Space to Stay Focused
I’ve found that having a specific space set aside for my course studies works well.  While most of us don’t have the luxury of having a personal office and a work or school office, there is a trick I use to make it seem like two offices.  I have a folded sign that reminds me of my end goal of earning my doctorate, which is located next to my computer monitor.  When it’s time to study, I stand up my sign with “Dr.” in front of my name; when I’m at my desk working on non-academic projects, I fold it down.  This simple step serves as a powerful reminder of why I’m studying so hard and helps me stay focused on achieving my long-term goal.

Manage Time Wisely
Focusing on the here and now is the most important habit I’ve cultivated.  Some call it mindfulness, a habit of disciplining the mind to focus on what is in front of you, not the past or the future.  This takes practice!  One tool to help with this task is the Pomodoro technique, a popular way to give yourself a break and refresh your focus.  While it’s common to use 25 minutes of study and breaking for 5, you can experiment to find what works best for you.  On days when I feel sharp and on my game, I like to study for 30 and take 5.  On days when I feel sluggish, I may go 20 and 10.  Learn how to get started with Pomodoro to save time and get more done.

Maximize Technology Tools
Technology provides many great tools to assist with time management.  I prefer to use Evernote to organize my research, and Nozbe to manage my busy schedule.  Learn more about these tools to determine if they are right for you!  I have also found that using technology effectively requires personal habits that reinforce the strategies.  In other words, these tools will work only if you stay truly committed to your goals.

Say “No” or “Later”
I also consider a part of staying focused is being willing to say no when necessary.  If a friend wants to go out on Saturday night when you have a big paper due on Sunday, you may have to politely decline.  You can always tell her another Saturday night will work, but you need plenty of notice to organize your week in advance.  This approach will enlist your friend as part of your support group, an important strategy to help leverage your efforts.  Rewards, whether a night out with friends or a piece of chocolate for a great study day, are also great motivators to keep you energized.

I have discussed time management and technological tools to assist you in creating a productive space, rewarding yourself for work well done, and enlisting your support network for leverage.  Whether you are balancing your academic work, professional career, busy personal or family life; or a combination of all these factors, these tools can help you stay on track for long-term success. My final recommendation follows from the successful implementation of these ideas: enjoy the process!  Learning is a joyful experience, like feeling the excitement grow every day as you take small steps toward the finish line.  Deploy the strategies, enjoy the journey, and success will follow!

Written by Technology Graduate Assistant, Martin Culberson
Martin Culberson

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