Managing Time and Stress

Work/Life Balance

Graduate students have to balance multiple responsibilities such as research activities, jobs, family obligations, social lives, and more. Because of this, learning how to effectively manage your time and rank your priorities is crucial to your success as a student. Work/life balance is the successful management of work, personal relationships, and leisure time. Although not always feasible, adjusting your work/life balance can help you manage a demanding schedule and excel academically.

Time Management

Time management is key to meeting your academic and professional expectations while making time for your mental, physical, and emotional health. Below are a few time management tips for graduate school:

  • Keep a weekly planner and a to-do list. These tools will help you keep track of deadlines and plan your days, weeks, and months throughout the semester. You can use a simple notepad or a productivity management app; use the tools that work best for you.
  • Set realistic and manageable goals each day. Be honest with yourself about how long it takes you to complete a task, and give yourself extra time to complete it; this is especially true of writing assignments.
  • Break down large assignments into smaller parts to help reduce the overwhelming feelings that can potentially come with starting a big project.
  • Read strategically. Most graduate courses involve a significant amount of reading. Take notes in the margins, summarize the main points of paragraphs in just a few words, and write questions for in-class discussion.
  • There are several strategies to help you develop efficient study habits. Remember to schedule time to work on projects in a distraction-free environment, like your local library, to increase your productivity.
  • Schedule time each week to do what makes you happy! Good time management requires that you recharge and focus on your health and wellness.

Stress in Graduate School

With the responsibilities of school, work, research, internships, and maintaining personal and professional relationships, many graduate students are often faced with high levels of stress. Stress can be positive or negative. Positive stress motivates you to complete your assignments on time, find opportunities for professional and academic growth, and focus your energy on achieving goals. Negative stress overwhelms you with the very thought of your responsibilities—it can cause anxiety and hinder academic and professional performance. Over the long term, negative stress can also harm your physical health; some symptoms of negative stress include anxiety, problems with sleep, depression, headaches, high blood pressure, or worse.

Anxiety in Graduate School

In graduate school, it is common to experience feelings of anxiety. Anxiety can be identified by persistent feelings of fear or worry about a future event, such as taking an exam, moving to a different city, or interviewing for a job. These feelings, while normal and even expected in many situations, can begin to interfere with your academic and professional responsibilities if they are continuous or overwhelming. Research has shown that feelings of anxiety are far more common in graduate students than in the general population. Transitioning into a graduate program and adapting to a new set of expectations and demands can cause graduate students to experience feelings of anxiety. Other reasons include experiencing high expectations from yourself or others, being the first in your family to go to graduate school, and having other personal or professional issues that can interfere with graduate school.

Managing Stress & Anxiety

Fortunately, you have many options for reducing negative stress and anxiety that can help you achieve work/life balance.

  • Dedicate time every day to self-care. Self-care involves identifying your needs, knowing your limits, and engaging in activities that will nurture you. This could include anything that makes you feel good—exercising, meditating, cooking, or taking a long bath.
  • Avoid perfectionism. Perfection does not exist, and seeking it has been linked to decreased productivity. Strive for excellence instead, which involves meeting high standards that are within reach.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can boost your energy and concentration throughout the day. The fitness equipment and group instruction at the Student Wellness & Recreation Center are free to CSULB students, and the Health Resource Center offers nutrition counseling courses for all students.
  • Avoid overworking yourself. Take several breaks in between study sessions. Overworking and over-studying can be counterproductive to your academic achievement.
  • Pay attention to your mental wellbeing and don’t be afraid to seek help if your feelings become unmanageable. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers stress management workshops, as well as individual and group counseling sessions, to provide emotional support to distressed students.  
  • Make time for the relationships that matter to you. Show appreciation for the friends and family that support your graduate studies.
  • Set boundaries by saying “no.” Graduate school offers many opportunities—prioritize the opportunities that align with your long-term goals so that you can focus on accomplishing them well.
  • Celebrate wins along the way! Whether you finish an assignment, complete a section of your thesis, or just get through a demanding week, celebrate the small victories as you approach the big ones.