Tips for maximizing efficiency in the Evening MBA Program

Time is at quite a premium when you’re working full-time and attending graduate school at night. How can you stay on top of it all? In this blog, I’ve gathered a few tips from my time in the program for handling the various demands efficiently.

Be purposeful about self-care. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the to-dos and downplay sleep or exercise, but when you aren’t taking care of yourself, you become less productive and don’t feel as well. It can become a vicious cycle. It’s OK if you can’t do everything — just be purposeful. For example, it might be tempting to try to complete a project in one long session without breaks to “save time,” but you will actually be more productive and efficient if you focus for an hour and then take a 15-minute break. There’s a fine line sometimes between needing to push forward (because, say, you’re overthinking) and needing to rest, so pay close attention to what your body is telling you.

Find an effective system for keeping track of information and documents. Personally, I use the Emory-provided cloud storage, Box, because I like that Box Sync makes it look like a hard drive on my computer and that I can view documents from the app on my phone from wherever I am. There is so much information coming at you from different directions that you’ll get lost quickly without a good way to catalog it all. On a similar note, I would suggest keeping all of your paper files in a single location at home, too.

As soon as you get a syllabus or notification about deadlines for assignments, put the dates your calendar. If you notice two major assignments due on or about the same day, set an “unofficial” deadline for yourself for one of them. You’ll be amazed at how much this reduces the stress level. In general, reading emails and acting on them as soon as I see them is a major survival strategy for me. It’s particularly important not to fall behind because, when you’re this busy, the effects are amplified and can get out of control quickly.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities” (Stephen Covey). For example, if spending time with your family is your top priority, put that on your calendar first and then fill in time for homework and team projects around the family time. That way, you can focus better on each one when the time comes.

Try compartmentalizing work and school. This may not work for everyone, but I have found it helpful. I read an article recently that pointed out the inefficiency (and even harm!) of multitasking, so I try to have defined boundaries in which I finish all school activities the night before class so that I’m only working on work while in the office and only on school after hours. This also makes the day of class more enjoyable by forcing you to plan ahead and thus avoid last-minute stress.

Avoid waiting until the last day to start an assignment, especially for team projects. It’s not only good advice Mom gave you in middle school — the reason this enhances efficiency is that the act of starting the project or assignment will force you to think through additional information or resources you may need from other people, which you can be gathering while you wait for a better time to work on the project.

Get creative. So you don’t have time for your workout and reading the case for class tomorrow? Put your brain in problem-solving mode and I bet you’ll be surprised what you come up with. When faced with this particular issue, I downloaded a PDF reader app and let it read my case out loud to me as I ran. As fun as music? Not exactly. Efficient? You bet.

Set expectations early when working with teams. When midterm time hits, this is not when you want to be addressing basic issues that have blown up. For example, if the team’s communication style isn’t working, or conflict arose because the team failed to set expectations up front, it’s frustrating because you really don’t have time to deal with it once the semester is in full-swing. Addressing potential issues ahead of time is much more efficient (and less painful) than waiting until they get worse.

Above all, enjoy the journey — time passes rather quickly when you’re going nonstop, so remember to appreciate all the wonderful friends, skill building and life lessons before it’s over!

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Ashley Freeman

Ashley Freeman is a class of 2018 Evening MBA student and an independent leadership coach and speaker. In her free time, she loves crocheting, traveling, teaching French, piano and cello lessons, and spending time with her husband and pet bird. Connect with Ashley on Twitter (@AshleyFCoaching), Instagram (@AshleyFreemanCoaching) or on LinkedIn.

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