Grad School

Routines: How many of us have them?

January 15, 2018

As a student preparing for your comprehensive or qualifying exams, consider routines to be a must. I know they don’t sound terribly exciting or sexy, but they’re an important component of any effective exam prep strategy. Without a routine or schedule you’re left to improvise your day as it happens. This is a bad idea because you can inadvertently waste a lot of time trying to decide what you should be doing instead of just “doing.” 

It’s the difference between knowing its time for your 4 pm study break and thinking, “Hey, it’s 4 pm I feel like I should take a break but I don’t know if I should,” and then proceeding to spend the next two hours partly reading, partly checking in on social media, and partly thinking about taking a study break. Not only do routines structure your days, they also make it much easier to identify when you’ve gotten off track.

In a sense, by creating a routine you get to go on autopilot. Autopilot is good here. The less brainpower you have to devote to mundane tasks, the more you have available to perform the mental feat of crushing your comprehensive or qualifying exams.Creating a Routine

Some general guidelines for creating a routine are to first, make sure that it’s compatible with your lifestyle. In other words, be realistic. Don’t schedule 6 am reading sessions if you’re not a morning person, or schedule 1 am writing sessions if you’re not a night owl. At the same time, allow for some flexibility. If you know that the 6-8pm time slot tends to be a little erratic because that’s when you run errands or spend quality time with your partner, incorporate this “planned” spontaneity into your routines.

Next, something I like to do is front load my days. I tend to schedule the most important stuff for the beginning of my day. As I’m sure you’ve realized by this point, life is unpredictable. Even with a well established routine, you can get a phone call from a distressed friend, have unexpected car troubles, get stuck in a freak snowstorm, etc. By scheduling the most important stuff first, if the rest of your day gets derailed, you’re still able to check the most important item(s) off of your list.

Third, when creating your routine set aside time daily to do something for your health and wellness. This could be anything from cooking for yourself, taking a walk, or talking to your best friend. I’ll talk more about this next week, but it’s so important that you take care of yourself. The easiest way to do this is to incorporate it into your routine so it becomes automatic.

Finally, in creating your routine, don’t schedule work right up until you go to bed. Give yourself some time to unwind. Read a good murder mystery, watch tv, meditate, etc. The reason is twofold. First, if you adhere to my previous recommendation you’ve put the most important things at the top of your schedule. This means that you’ll be working right up until bedtime, only to wake up and be confronted with the most pressing/important items on your agenda. I’m no psychologist but this probably isn’t good for your morale. The second reason is that when you work right up until you go to bed you may inadvertently carry work into your dreams. This happened to me often as a grad student. I don’t want to spend most of my day working on something only to dream about it too. You could also end up waking up prematurely because your brain was so restless since it didn’t properly shut down.

Sleep is sacred. It should be restful and restorative. If it’s not, then your work suffers. As a part of your routine develop a nighttime routine that involves a “winding down work-free period.” In the Crush Comps Guide + Toolkit I share details about all of the considerations to make when creating a study schedule and routine. I also include worksheets to help you create your own!

Do you find yourself dreaming about work often? If so, do you give yourself time to wind down at the end of a long school or work day or do you tend to work straight up until bedtime? Let me know!

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