For MBA students, time management is essential to getting the most out of the business school experience. Pursuing a diverse range of opportunities, students can thrive as they deepen their professional expertise. Many times, they may also unknowingly take on too much without realizing that they have overextended themselves. In the end, their personal health and the quality of their work suffers. For this reason, finding a delicate balance between optimizing productivity and carving out downtime can be critical to fostering a successful business school experience.
Often, this balance is personalized to each individual. As I progressed in my business studies, I found the management of time almost allegorical to the management of capital. In both, you are hoping to allocate your time for the best returns on investment. While there is plenty of time management advice out there, each person needs to find a “portfolio” that works for them. This is what has worked best for me as an MBA.
FIND THE TOOLS THAT WORK FOR YOU, AND IF YOU CAN’T — BUILD IT YOURSELF
Everyone uses different tools when it comes to efficiently allocating their time. One classic example is the calendar. For me, my Outlook calendar is the main tool for scheduling classes, meetings, and personal time. As someone who follows their calendar religiously, I minimize awkward incidents where I double book myself or miss a meeting. Beyond the raw task of scheduling, taking a look at the monthly overview lets me look at the big picture when it comes to how I am using your time. As you take a step back, ask yourself whether you’re doing too much or enjoy the space to do more. This will help guide you in making decisions to better balance your time “portfolio” to fit your personal needs.
To monitor and track the progression of projects and schoolwork, I needed to find another tool. For years, I would buy a journal and write things down. I enjoyed the customization that came with writing by hand. However, I became frustrated with having to scratch things out, trying to find the right page with the right information, or transcribing by hand information that was already typed out online. I soon realized that a notebook was far better for personal journaling instead.
I tried a few apps and online tools that track project progression. But none of them seemed to work just right for me. That’s where business school teachings came into play. During my summer MBA bootcamp, one of the core courses was on how to personalize the use of Microsoft Excel. I use an Excel file I configured for my own use to manage deadlines and project lists. It would track my deadlines, how far along I am on a project, and the success rate of the projects I’ve taken on.
LEARNING TO PASS
When I was nearing the end of my first year of undergraduate studies, I remember sending out dozens of emails to lab supervisors across the campus with the hopes of finding a volunteer research position. Later, I would realize that some students had sent more than a hundred. Being wide-eyed and freshly exposed to higher education topics, I was willing to say yes to everything that I felt was interesting.
By the time I was wrapping up my PharmD, I was juggling between managing my hospital rotations, supporting my students, giving lectures, serving on-call nights as a Residence Don, and making sure my experiments were running properly in the lab. Knowing that my combined MBA program will soon overlap with an intense curriculum of 5 courses every 6 weeks, I realized that I would need to learn how to pass on incoming opportunities.
Throughout this process I worried that I was missing out. There was no shortage of interesting projects, club activities, fellowships, and case competitions. When I finished my first year of the MBA, I was asked whether I was interested in the leadership of one of the student clubs where I was a member. Serving in leadership was something that I actually wanted to do, but I knew I had already taken on a substantial number of commitments for the year. When I declined, there was a sense that I had let someone down who believed in my leadership.
I was distressed by that feeling of missing out or the guilt that came with declining opportunities. Still, I like to frame this portfolio decision as a “pass”. You are merely passing this opportunity on to someone else who will be able to enjoy this experience and give it the attention that you may not be able to give. Learning how to “pass” keeps your time portfolio balanced. Even more, it is a necessary strategy in making sure you’re not stretched to the point where your commitments will compromise schoolwork or personal health.
TAKE SELF-CARE SERIOUSLY
The strategies mentioned so far make time management appear measured and calculated. And there was a point in time as a student where I was also enchanted with this perspective. Back then, I believed the investments of my time must be precisely defined by career-oriented objectives such as studying or seeking internships. But I no longer agree with this approach to time management as it is neither sustainable nor healthy.
Instead, rest and leisure activities are essential components of the schedule. They support both your mental health and personal fulfillment. While achievers tend to measure success through the output of their time, overworking leads to a loss of sleep and an accumulation of stress. Both outcomes can cause burnout, where the output from this work may be ultimately lost. This defeats the entire purpose of this endeavour. Additionally, it can put a strain on your mental and physical health.
I experienced this in the midst of my final exams and research deliverables. I had taken on too much and found myself routinely suffering from insomnia. This later worsened into anxiety as I worried about the impact from the lost sleep on my grades. For me, this was an important lesson demonstrating the consequences of overwork. And it’s not worth it. Even for the most hardcore performance optimizers who may disagree, I would argue that even at a young age, personal health is the smartest investment you could make for your long-term success.
For myself, I enjoy blocking off parts of my calendar for personal time. I tend to use it to spend time with my family, see friends, exercise, or to explore the outdoors. All of these bring me immense happiness, which in my mind transcends the importance of productivity.
In conclusion, it is important as a business student to form a healthy relationship with time. There are things you have set out to accomplish in school, but infinite ways to get there. By using the time management tools that work for you and filling your time portfolio with a personalized balance of work and play, you will develop long-lasting habits to propel you into success both within and beyond business school.
Dr. Peter Zhang, PharmD is an MBA candidate at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Through the unique combined Doctor of Pharmacy/MBA degree program, he has explored the intersection between life sciences and commercial strategy. Additionally, he has published research works in peer-reviewed academic journals and opinions in national media outlets in Canada.