Earning your graduate degree is a long-term goal that will require years of planning on your part, but you will have other goals during those years that will either coincide or conflict with your long-term goal of earning your graduate degree. Besides earning your graduate degree, your goals may include immediate goals (e.g., reading an article, taking out the trash) or short-term goals (e.g., passing a difficult course, spending time with friends). You will probably have other long-term goals in addition to achieving your degree (e.g., career goals, personal goals). It is easy to think briefly about goals that we would like to achieve and then to move on quickly to something else, never giving our goals another thought. Unfortunately, this method of setting goals does nothing to help us achieve them. To actually achieve the goals we set for ourselves, we must actively plan for and work toward our goals. You can use the following information to help you set and achieve immediate, short-term, and long-term goals.
How to Set Graduate School Goals
To set goals for yourself, you should first identify a few broad categories in which you want to achieve something (i.e., family, finances, career, etc.). After you have identified these categories, you should choose a few specific goals for each category. Now you can organize your goals in each category into immediate, short-term, and long-term goals. Once you have organized your goals in this way, then you can determine deadlines by which you would like to accomplish your goals. Finally, you should determine things that you can do to accomplish each goal and prioritize each activity for each goal.
How to Achieve Graduate School Goals
Now that you have identified and given deadlines to your immediate, short-term, and long-term goals and have developed and prioritized activities to achieve those goals, you can begin planning and scheduling your activities. First, you might want to keep a personal journal in which you record how you spend your time during each day over the course of one week. After a week, you should review your time journal to see how you spend your time each day, when you are most productive (morning, afternoon, or evening), and when you have downtime that you could utilize for something productive. Once you have established how you spend your time each day, you can use a schedule for set activities (perhaps a weekly, monthly, or yearly calendar), a planner with separate sections for different projects, and a to-do list. The following are some things you should remember about using a schedule, planner, and to-do list to maximize your use of time and to achieve your goals:
Schedule time for planning. Review your schedule daily, including your daily goals. Evaluate your schedule weekly, and adjust it when necessary. Your schedule will be useless unless you maintain it and keep it as accurate as possible.
Schedule time for unknowns. Set aside time each day, week, month, and even year for unknown circumstances (transportation problems, missed alarms, family emergencies, etc.). You cannot anticipate with certainty what the unknowns will be exactly, but you can anticipate that unknowns will arise. If you set aside time to deal with unknown circumstances before they arise, then you will be more flexible and better able to adjust your schedule without interrupting important activities that are necessary to achieving yourgraduate school goals.
Learn how to prioritize. Label items on your to-do list as low, medium, or high priority, and address those items accordingly. Keep your to-do list handy at all times. This will allow you to take care of tasks when you have appropriate–and perhaps unexpected–time for those types of tasks. For example, if you have your to-do list handy while you’re waiting at the bus stop, you can see what simple, low-priority task you can use that time for (e.g., returning your mother’s phone calls).
Divide, delegate, and finish tasks. Divide major projects into smaller steps so that you don’t have to do everything at once (e.g., instead of trying to create a 25-slide PowerPoint presentation in one night, you could divide the project across 5 nights, creating 5 slides per night). When possible, delegate whatever tasks you can to other people (e.g., ask your roommate or partner to take out the trash so that you can read your scheduled assignments). Finish one task in its entirety before moving on to the next task.
Schedule time for yourself. Overscheduling and exhausting yourself will get you nowhere. You need personal time to renew your energy and to accomplish your graduate school goals. You must schedule time for your own physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Set aside some time each day and maybe even one whole day each week or month to focus solely on yourself. .
Do not underestimate how much time it will take to write your dissertation. Many graduate students spend much of their valuable time researching and collecting data and put off the arduous task of writing about what they’ve done until the last minute. These students inevitably scramble to synthesize thoughts and ideas on paper, making (what is to most) the already stressful process of writing even more difficult than it has to be because of time constraints. You can avoid the last-minute pressures of writing your dissertation if you set realistic daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly deadlines for yourself in the form of a dissertation schedule. However, you will be the most prepared when it comes time to submit your dissertation to your committee if you commit to keep your dissertation plan in mind every day. The following are things to consider when setting a daily dissertation schedule:
Designate a dissertation buddy to whom you can report your progress every day. There are dissertation boot camps, write-ins, and various other writing gatherings to support graduate students during the writing process. However, most of these groups meet for infrequent periods of time (i.e., once a week or only for a limited time); if you only worked on your dissertation at these groups, even at multiple groups at a time, you may never finish your dissertation. Make yourself more accountable for you dissertation writing on a daily basis by selecting a single individual, perhaps a fellow graduate student, to whom you can quickly report your writing progress every day.
Set a regular daily dissertation schedule for yourself, accounting for class time and personal time (i.e., going to dinner with friends, taking a nap, doing yoga, and relaxing in front of the TV), and stick to it. It may seem extreme to be so rigid with time, but every minute of the day counts when you are in graduate school and when you have so many responsibilities to balance. Amid all your responsibilities, choose a specific block of time for each day that you will dedicate specifically to writing your dissertation. When choosing your daily dissertation schedule, consider what time of day you are most productive (i.e., morning or evening). Also, remember to schedule occasional days off; this will help you recharge your writing battery and be better able to review what you have already written.
Choose a productive writing space. If you know that you cannot productively write from home because pets, children, other household members, or TV shows will distract you, then don’t work from home. Go anywhere—a coffee shop, a library, your dissertation buddy’s house—where you can find an electrical outlet, good internet connection, and anything else you deem is necessary to facilitate your daily writing. However, before you can definitively select a productive daily writing space, you must also consider how you like to write: Are you more productive when you sit and write for long continuous periods of time, or do you prefer to write a little and then move around and ponder? Do you like to work with background noise, or is absolute silence what you need to write your best? The ultimate goal is to select a location where you can consistently go to feel absolutely comfortable writing during your daily dissertation schedule.