by Maggie Helmick, MTS ’24
Editor’s Note: Now in her final semester at HDS, second-year MTS and Admissions Graduate Assistant, Maggie Helmick, reflects on how she’s learned to manage her schedule as a full-time student with work, family, and social obligations.
Whether you are an incoming student hoping to start off on the right foot or a current student looking to strengthen your time management and organization, there is never a bad time to explore ways to manage your workload at HDS. While enrolled as full-time students, our school work takes up a significant portion of our lives but we all have other obligations and responsibilities to attend to on top of it. Figuring out what works best for you will come with time but the tips below are meant to help you jumpstart the process.
A great first step to managing your HDS workload is to become aware of the obligations outside of school that you can expect to have and to take inventory of the time they will require of you. This means considering the time you must devote to any jobs you will have while enrolled in classes. If you commute to school via a means that requires your attention (like driving, biking, or walking), you should account for the time your commute takes, as well. If you have obligations related to any children, pets, or partners that require your time, you’ll need to consider them too. Beyond these major categories, it can also be helpful to sketch out the time you want to reserve for activities, or “soft” obligations, that are important to you, or, similarly, to include in your considerations the time you want to dedicate to not doing school related work. Designating time for exercising, socializing, pursuing hobbies, volunteering, or whatever it is you love to do can help you maintain greater balance in your life which absolutely has a positive impact on your academic performance.
Gaining this overview of what your responsibilities outside of school will demand of you will be a huge help in choosing your classes wisely. When it comes to scheduling for the semester, it is so important to recognize that every class will require different amounts of engagement from you. While you sift through the course catalog, be sure to check out the syllabus for each class you are interested in. What does the amount of reading per week look like? How many assignments are required for the course? How long or intensive are those assignments? How are they distributed throughout the semester? At the same time, you’ll want to consider how long it takes you to read and write academic works. Considering the workloads of the classes you are interested in together with how long it may take you to complete them will allow you to map out the time a certain class or schedule may require of you. This is not an exact science; it is simply about giving yourself the most information possible to support your success.
Once you have worked out the general amounts of time that you will need to dedicate to your personal, professional, and HDS workloads, you can start to create some schedules. On a macro scale, I like to keep a monthly calendar of bigger events or assignments that are not part of my regular schedule, like midterms and finals as well as any personal or professional events. This helps me to better orient myself to any changes I may need to plan for and any accommodations to my normal schedule I will need to make. Regarding school in particular, it can be really useful to know the timespan between large assignments so that you can allot time to them accordingly.
Keeping a highly detailed weekly schedule that includes all my responsibilities for the week, like class meeting times and work shifts, laid out by day but with the whole week visible at once, is essential to managing my workload at HDS. Once I’ve scheduled the fixed items, I make a list of all of the readings and assignments I need to complete that week and pencil them into my days where I think they will fit best according to the amount of time each will require and my preference for when in the day I like to do them. I also include any “soft” obligations I want to make time for. Keeping a weekly schedule makes creating my daily schedule super simple, as I can basically just copy over exactly what was on the weekly version. I like to organize my daily to-do lists chronologically with as much detail as possible and I keep my daily to-do list in a highly accessible place – for me, the Notes app on my phone is perfect.
Finally, while becoming aware of all your time-consuming obligations and consistently scheduling your time will undoubtedly help you to manage your HDS workload, it is so important to recognize that despite your best efforts, it will not always work out as you have planned. Sometimes, there are truly just not enough hours in the day, and you cannot expect to be functioning at your highest capacity 100% of the time. Being realistic about what you can accomplish and being gentle with yourself when you cannot complete every single thing you had hoped to do is essential. This guide is meant to help you make the most of your time at HDS and to help keep you from becoming overwhelmed by the multitude of responsibilities on your plate as a student, but that purpose is not meant to only serve your academic success, it is meant, more than anything, to serve your wellbeing and happiness. All you can do is your best, and that not only means your best in your classes but also your best for yourself.