How to Manage Competing Priorities

By: Shekeitha L. Jeffries, Assistant Director

An article published in the US News & Report states that saving money is a great thing to do. However, according the article, if we save time, we may also save our health and sanity.

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels.

Graduate students may find it hard to manage their time, school work, as well as other personal commitments.  You may have other obligations in addition to your role as a graduate student – such as being a spouse, a parent, caregiver for a loved, teaching assistant or e-board member within a student/professional organization. These various roles can be very rewarding, yet stressful to manage, as you take on additional responsibilities. However, research shows that learning how to manage your time, activities, and commitments can make your life easier, less stressful, and more meaningful.

Here are 3 strategies to begin managing your priorities:

  • Strategy #1: Create SMART goals. Establishing SMART goals, will help you clarify your ideas and help focus your efforts more succinctly.  Your goals are is your personal road map and will help to ensure that you can accomplish what you want in life. To get started, use the goal setting worksheet and identify your personal, educational and career goals.
  • Strategy #2: Prioritize Commitments/Tasks. To prioritize your commitments and tasks, you must determine which things to tackle first.  In order to stay organized and accomplish all commitments/tasks at hand, you will need to arrange them by urgency and importance. Consider using the Eisenhower method, a task management tool, that will help you categorize your tasks/commitments more efficiently.
  • Strategy #3: Organize Your Digital Calendar. To organize your digital calendar, review your daily activities and break them into categories such as personal, family, school and work. Designate specific colors for each category, so that you can easily identify them in your calendar. By utilizing a digital calendar, you will be able to have access to your schedule at all times. To get started use this calendar template make a list of your reoccurring monthly, weekly, as well as your daily tasks/commitments and begin plugging them directly into your calendar.

Please keep in mind, that no matter which strategies you use, in order to be effective  – consistency is KEY. Don’t wait until you have a meltdown to begin managing your priorities, start TODAY!

Start the Day with a “Productive Mood Anchor”

By Jessica Harrington, Director
Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

One of our doctoral students forwarded me an interesting article. In it, the author explained the concept of a productive mood anchor. Specifically, a productive mood anchor is “a joyful action that primes your brain to tackle the day. It lets you set the mood for your work rather than seeing which mood just happens to pop up.” As someone with competing deadlines, I appreciate how this initiates a pause for me to plan my day in an intentional way while also engaging in self-reflection.  Here are some suggestions to get started: 

  1. Identify small actions that bring you joy, foster a sense of calm and/or optimism. The author suggests focusing on something that is unrelated to work/academics. For me, it’s music and art. It’s often helpful to start my days listening to music and reflecting on a piece of art.
  2. Plan to start with just a few minutes at the beginning of your day (whether your day starts at 6am or noon). For some 5 minutes might be easiest to start with. Try what works for your lifestyle.
  3. Return to your mood anchor throughout the day. The author encourages using this technique as a mental reset when needed.
  4. This isn’t in the article, but for those who crave variety, try focusing on one type of mood anchor for the week and then switching to another the following week.
  5. Last, be patient with yourself. I’ve heard students say they cant remember that last time they did something for pure enjoyment without guilt. This is an invitation to remember other facets of yourself in order to be more productive personally and professionally.  

Find Your Learning Style

 By Jessica Harrington, Director, Student Life

A common challenge for JHSPH students is adjusting their study habits for an eight-week term. What may have worked in other learning environments or during undergraduate studies, may not work as well for the JHSPH term system; but fear not! Below are some insightful study tips.

Learn how you learn. Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (hands on) learner? To find out, take this short quiz by the authors of Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking With People Who Think Differently. Understanding how your mind works is important both for studying alone and when working in groups.

Try new techniques. Consider trying various techniques that complement your learning style. It’s also possible that one’s learning style may vary depending on the kind of material presented or one could prefer a combination of styles. Adjust as needed!

Don’t just reread. Check out this animated summary of Make it Stick (Brown, McDaniel, & Roediger) as presented by Productivity Game. See why the authors (who are cognitive scientists) say rereading alone is an ineffective strategy.

Reflect on your habits. If your study habits didn’t quite produce ideal results in first term, check out the 10 Rules of Studying by Dr. Barbara Oakley. Her Tedx talk is also very inspiring given the amount of academic failure from which she had to rebound.

Be patient with yourself! Learning is a dynamic function of the brain and some subjects are easier/more difficult than others. There is no one “right way” to learn.  Embrace your own style.


Take Control of Your Time

By Jessica Harrington, Director of Student Life

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.

Saint/Mother Teresa

During first term, students often feel overwhelmed by the amount of important items they must complete within a very limited amount of time.  Regardless of degree program, time management is a hurdle most will encounter at some point in the academic year.  Here are some tips to encourage you to take control of your time: 

  1. First recognize it’s YOUR time and you have the power to choose how you will use it!
  2. Most of us don’t have time management issue but a procrastination issue. The Procrastination Cure, by Jeffrey Combs (2011), is available through our online library system.  The author poses that there are several kinds of procrastinators. Your solution may depend on what kind (or kinds) of procrastinator you are (I identified with a few!).
  3. Click the link to download a Weekly Schedule Template to record your actual activities for one week. As the next week begins, review how you spent your time and adjust accordingly.Reflect on the following: 
    • What is my desired outcome?
    • What is my destined outcome if I don’t manage my time differently?
    • What is important to me? Does my time reflect what is most important to me?
    • Am I managing my time in a way that helps me stay healthy?

Time management doesn’t come naturally for all (most!) of us, but with effort and determination, we may actually experience a more balanced sense of well-being. Keep working at it!