Why Is My Schedule a Hot Mess? Part-Timer Time Management:

by on September 13th, 2011

Let’s show the part-time students some love. Life is probably crazy right now. Between work, school, family, social life (if you still have one…just kidding), you’ve got a lot going on, and somehow it all needs to fit into your schedule.

As a part-timer myself, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks along the way. I’d love to say that I’ve perfected my time management, but let’s say it’s a “work-in-progress.” Let’s get right to it:

Assess the situation

You’re a professional who knows how to get things done. You’re working to get your MBA. You’ve got it together. So take control of your schedule the way you would any major project. Assess the current situation to understand what exactly is pulling at your time each day; keep a diary for a week and jot down where your time is spent.

Once you have an idea of everything that takes your time, you can prioritize what is most important. Then, just like the bouncer at that club you used to go to when you had a social life (again, I kid…), you say what stays and what goes. Urgent assignment from your boss? Clearly, that stays. Email from your friend asking to help design matching T-shirts for her bachelorette weekend extravaganza? That can take a rain check or…drop that entirely. (She will thank you later.)

Plan your days

Once you have your priorities in check, plan your days accordingly – your time should be tied to your goals. Plan the important, urgent items as soon as you can (à la Stephen Covey*), and give yourself some cushion time. Things happen…be realistic.

Sometimes I print out my Outlook calendar so I have my meetings and classes that I absolutely cannot move, and literally pencil the rest in: workouts, dinner dates, homework sessions, travel time…you name it. If I have a so-called “hell week” coming up, you can be sure that I’m planning my days to ensure I get the most from every minute.

Also according to Stephen Covey*, there are certain things that are urgent and require immediate attention, that really are not that important – avoid those. If they are not important, don’t waste your time. There are also some things that are neither urgent nor important, but you already know you should avoid those (ex. watching a Jersey Shore marathon all night when you have a statistics final the next day…really?)

Network in class

Networking is the name of the game, right? Don’t build relationships in hopes of being able to call that person in 10 years with your great start-up idea. Use these connections now! Build study groups, work on case studies and homework assignments, and gain from each other’s strengths. Some of the best relationships out of my MBA come from hours spent going over accounting assignments and preparing case studies.

Also, hit up office hours. This does not need to be a major undertaking. Take a second to drop by your professor’s office and introduce yourself; putting a smiling face to a name on a roster is a great idea, and something that some professors really appreciate. If showing up unannounced sounds dumb, bring notes from a previous lecture and ask for clarification. (Note: Put some thought into the question; don’t BS and waste your professor’s time or this whole plan will backfire.)

Own your train time

If you have a commute that sucks up a significant portion of your day, take the reins and own those precious hours. If you have a bumpy ride (literally), doing written homework might not be feasible, but bringing along a deck of flashcards works.

Sometimes you just need to relax… If you record your classes, this is a great time to pop in your earbuds and listen to a lecture or two. I’ve heard people recommend listening to classes at the gym as well; personally, the idea of listening to a macroeconomics lecture while trying to work out and de-stress sounds awful. But, whatever floats your boat.

If you drive or take a cab, this is a great time to make phone calls. Driving in your own car allows you to hook up your hands-free system to make your important appointments and dinner plans. Don’t want to be rude by gabbing away in a taxi? I can speak for NYC when I say that your cabbie does not care. Just do not speak so loudly that he cannot hear his own phone conversation. That would be rude.

Two-time with friends

Double up on your friend time. Instead of one-on-one dinners, plan group outings so you can see more than one friend at once. Sometimes you need that one-on-one time, but with a group, the conversation moves faster, is full of variety and you will still have a great time.

Two-timing with your significant other is a completely different issue. Check out MBAsocial’s “Love & Dating” section for some tips on that whole… situation.

Make technology work for you

Here are some tools I’ve come across to help manage your time. I’m looking for more of these, so be sure to share in the comments.

  • Doodle – I use this to schedule almost anything with a group. Visit Doodle.com and prepare to be amazed by this fairly simple tool.
  • Google Calendar – this calendar comes with any Gmail address, and syncs to what you use: phones, tablets, the website… the calendars are automatically synchronized so there are no missing appointments or redundancies
  • Dropbox – free. online. storage. Share your stuff without having to zip and break things up over 42 email messages. This is a great tool for getting group projects done, working with student organizations and more.

Like I said, I definitely have not yet figured it all out. But I hope I can help someone out and get some new tips from some of you – if you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve on keeping it together, share the wealth!

* If you haven’t already, you need to read Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One professor of mine actually put this book on his syllabus – check it out.

This piece was written for MBAsocial by Jen from MBAchic.com. Jen currently juggles a full-time job and a part-time MBA in NYC. The MBAchic blog is about “keeping it chic in b-school and beyond” and is geared toward MBA ladies, applicants and career women in general (gents are welcome, too!). Read Jen’s tweets here: or follow on Facebook!

(Photos courtesy Anusorn P nachol, Maggie Smith via Photostock)

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