How can you enjoy life while being a graduate student? How can you find the time to do the fun things like attend concerts or have pizza with friends when all you think about is “I need to be studying or writing that thesis/dissertation”? Easy – you have all the time you need right now.
Prioritize tasks. It’s not a matter of having more time. We all have the same number of hours in a day/week/month/year. It’s what we do with or how we use the time we have that matters and makes a difference.
First things first. Prioritize your tasks. Make a list for your tasks for the next 2 weeks and include in that list a time to socialize or time to exercise/hike/bike/watch movies/listen to music.
Next, you’ve heard this before and it’s important. Prioritize that list. What’s the most important task to reach your goal? Mark that with a #1. Continue to the next most important task, and mark that with a #2. Continue until you gone through the list. Don’t forget to prioritize time for social events and exercise as they are important for you to reach your goal. You will find that constant reading emails or texting may be keeping you from what’s really important. Except reading an email from your advisor/chair.
Think of this list as your “frogs”. Now line them up. Find the biggest frog or most important task and put that in front of the line. Now image you have a large jar where you will keep your frogs. It is important that you put the biggest frog first into the jar so there is plenty of room for the big frogs. Now add the next biggest frog. Keep going but make sure you have all the big frogs in first.
Or another way to imagine this is to think of marbles instead of frogs. Some marbles are large and big like the big frogs while others very small almost the size of sand. You will want to put the largest marbles in the jar first because they’re the most important. Continue with the next size. Finally, add in the least important tasks – that’s your sand or your tiny marbles. If you were to add the smallest marbles or sand in first, you wouldn’t have room for many large marbles. It is the large ones that will get you to your goal. I found this a useful tool to help me when working on an important goal.
Focus Your Attention. Now that you have prioritized your list and have your large marbles or frogs identified, notice that what you focus your attention on gets done. You draw your energy to your focused attention. Focus on the large frogs or biggest marbles first, not the small ones that fill the void.
I suggest to my students that they write their goal on 3 cards and place them in key places where they will see them every day. Place one on the frig, one on the bathroom mirror, one on the computer. Each card is a visual reminder of the goal. It’s to remind them to take a tiny step toward their goal every day.
Don’t Procrastinate. This is easier said than done. Not really. By doing the marble exercise and prioritizing your important tasks, focusing your attention on the large marbles, taking a tiny step each day and using a free organizer called www.workflowy.com, you can move closer to your goal each day. You can reduce the tendency to procrastinate.
That’s how I wrote and am writing all my fireside chats. I focus 10 minutes on what I want to write about (tiny step). I take another tiny step and write for 30 minutes. Next, I take another tiny step and type the chat up and edit. These tiny steps don’t need to follow immediately after the previous one. Using www.workflowy.com helps me to organize my week and have a big picture of all my large marbles and some small ones too. I keep taking tiny steps until I am finished with a chat. Each chat is a large marble for me.
I also watch my thoughts. “There’s never enough time for me to write that chat.” The reality is I only need 10 minutes to map one out. Later I can find 30 minutes to write it. You get the picture. You will find that if you take tiny steps you can do it and do it well.
Big Frog. A dear colleague and coach, Ellen Watts once told me a story from Mark Twain about eating a Big Frog. I tried it and it works. Here’s the story and how it works.
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning. Nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Mark Twain.
Here is what Ellen taught me. Sometimes if you line up your frogs (your tasks) and you find you have a big frog (big marble) and you really don’t want to “eat the frog” (procrastination), you will find that if you take a tiny step (10 minutes) working on that large marble (frog) first thing in the morning, you will find the rest of the day gets easier. I did that – I did eat a large Bullfrog one morning while working on forgradstudents.com. Guess what, once I “ate” that frog, everything else was so much easier.
Rewards. As I am writing this chat, I am thinking about my reward. Yes, the chat will be written (during my 30 minutes), but the real reward for me – is a walk on the beach. It is important to plan treats for yourself. Small rewards for finishing a marble. A coffee break, ice cream, a piece of chocolate, or whatever reward makes sense for you. It is important to reward yourself as you move through important marbles.
Okay, now I’m done with time left on my clock. That was easy. Now for my reward. I hope that you will:
- Prioritize your tasks
- Focus your attention
- “Eat” a frog for breakfast
- Reward yourself.
P.S. Once this chat is finished and posted, I will have completed my “Outrageous Goal” that I set for myself over the last 8 weeks. That goal was to write and post 24 fireside chats, and get a website launched for grad students! I have never done any of this before. Yes, I experienced key hurdles and setbacks. However, I kept my focus, had a terrific support group (Butterflies), asked for help along the way, and took tiny steps to reach my goal. If I can do my Outrageous Goal where I went from “fog to focus; confusion to clarity; apathy to action; and overwhelm to over the moon”, you definitely can accomplish your goal!