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Tips on How to Manage the Work / B-School Balance

You’re so excited that you finally made the decision to go to business school. The only problem is that in between the thrilling start to a new learning adventure and where you stand right now is a series of not-so-fun, yet essential activities that you must complete. This includes finding time to study for the GMAT in the midst of your already packed schedule.

Fortunately, as a time coach, I’ve discovered effective ways to overcome your resistance and get more done—with less stress. Here are some of my answers to your top questions about effective time investment before and during business school.

GMAT Time ManagementQ: Most people who study for the GMAT also work full-time jobs and may have other responsibilities like kids or other hobbies. Yet there’s no getting around the 6-10 hours per week of studying that will be required to do well on the GMAT. What’s the best way to juggle this new added responsibility?

It’s highly unlikely that you will ever “feel like” studying for the GMAT, especially after a long day at work. So what I recommend is deciding in advance where it will fit into your schedule and then putting yourself in the right environment for success. For example, some of my time coaching clients have made a commitment to study during their lunch break at work. They then have a natural trigger “the start of lunch” that acts as a reminder to work on studying. Others have rituals in place like going to a local coffee shop or library right after work or on weekend mornings. By putting themselves in a location other than home, they can do a better job of focusing on the important task at hand.

Q: Sometimes people have the best of intentions to buckle down and study for the GMAT but then a “life event” happens. Maybe they get married, get fired, have a death in the family, switch jobs, etc. How do you still stay focused on the GMAT (or should you?) when a major life event intervenes?

I advocate a method that I call Priorities-Based Decision Making, which I cover in detail in Chapter 4 of my book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment. The basic premise behind it is that you should run your time investment decisions through a priorities filter. To make your own filter, list out your priorities from most important to least important from left to right. For example:

Inner World > Family > Friends > Work > Business School

Then you need to look at whether or not you have sufficient time to attend to the priorities that fall higher in your list than business school. If you do, then now is still the time to move ahead with studying for the GMAT. If you don’t, you may want to wait to proceed so that you’re not ending up with insufficient time to invest in other areas of your life.

study for the gmatQ: Is it better to cram on the weekends, when people often have more time, or still try to do a little something each day in terms of preparing for the GMAT?

As a time coach, my most important goal is that you follow through and feel good about what you do and don’t do with your time. If you can find time to prepare for the GMAT multiple times a week, you can utilize the smaller bits of time in your schedule so that you can kick back and enjoy the weekend. However, if you’re completely mentally spent at the end of the day and really don’t have time to study other than on the weekends, admit it. Then commit when you will work on practicing on Saturday and Sunday and stick with it. It’s much better to have realistic expectations and to follow through than to beat yourself up trying to do something that’s impossible.

Q: How will time management be different in business school than it is in the workforce? How can students prepare for that transition?

If you are in a full-time MBA program, your schedule will have much less structure than in the workforce however you will have many more interesting and exciting opportunities. To help yourself prepare for the transition, I recommend laying out a rough schedule for your week at the start of each semester. What this means is that you fill in your class time, study time, personal commitments, and also make sure to leave room for group meetings—they happen all the time in b-school. Once you’ve put the basic structure in place, then it will be easier for you to decide what to do when and when to say, Yes, or, No, to optional activities.

Q: What are some of your key tips and strategies for investing my time more wisely in general?

Realistic GMAT ExpectationsIt really comes down to the three secrets that I share in my book:

  1. Clarify Action-Based Priorities: If you say something is a priority to you, then clarify what it would look like on a practical level to include that priority in your schedule. This helps make sure activities related to self-care and investing in relationships don’t fall off your schedule.
  2. Set Realistic Expectations: How you feel about what you’ve done or haven’t done has less to do with what you’ve done and more to do with what you expected you would get done. To reduce guilt, stress, and anxiety, set expectations that work with the reality of your schedule.
  3. Strengthen Simple Routines: On a day-to-day basis, you can’t always stop to think about your action-based priorities or realistic expectations. However with the right routines, these time investments can happen naturally and easily. The more you have the basics of life like sleeping, exercising, and cleaning down to regular routines, the more time you have to take advantage of fun and interesting opportunities.

If you’re struggling with moving ahead on your GMAT studying, use these tips to achieve more success with less stress.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished through an exclusive Schedule Makeover process. She is an expert on achieving more success with less stress. Real Life E® also increases employee productivity, satisfaction and work/life balance through custom training programs.

McGraw Hill published her first book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Lifehacker, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and the 99U blog on productivity for creative professionals. She was selected as one of the Top 25 Amazing Women of the Year by Stiletto Woman.