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Managing your time as a graduate

GradAustralia

GradAustralia's advice on how to adjust from university life to working longer hours, how to set boundaries and manage your time.

Graduates often joke that when they are university students, they have all the time in the world and no money; by contrast, as graduates, they have more money but very little time. Starting a full-time job can be a real adjustment. Even just getting up at the same time every day (and often much earlier than when you were at university) can be a shock to the system. Plus, there’s the whole actually learning – and knowing – how to do your job thing.

If you work in professional services, you are typically required to log your hours and meet billable targets. These targets represent the amount of time each week that you charge to clients and they can be especially daunting for graduates who are still learning the ropes.

So, as a graduate, you may suddenly realise you have to log your hours, you have to bill your hours, maybe you have to work (really) long hours (depending on your specialisation), plus you have to get up earlier than you probably did at uni. No wonder then, time management can seem so overwhelming.

But it’s doesn’t have to be this way. The trick is knowing how to prioritise the most important work and how to set boundaries so that you can do it. Now, we know sometimes that things don’t always go to plan but as much as possible, we suggest creating a time management system to support your work (and you can even apply it to your life admin too!).

Here are some time management tips that can help you stay on top of things with minimal stress:

  • Keep an up-to-date to-do list. There are various productivity tools you can try, from the Pomodoro Technique to the Eisenhower Matrix, as well as various apps and websites (such as Trello and Todoist) dedicated to task management. Beyond to-do lists, there are also tools for managing your calendar and remaining productive throughout the day.
  • Prioritise urgent tasks. There are various ways to do this for maximum efficiency. One approach involves ranking each task by ‘importance’ and ‘urgency’ before focusing primarily on tasks that are both important and urgent.
  • Eat the frog. Mark Twain once said, ‘If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.’ The frog is essentially the thing that causes you the most anxiety and stress but also the one that you are most likely to procrastinate on. Eating the frog means to just do it and get it over and done with – which means the rest of your day will seem like a breeze in comparison.
  • Remember to keep a diary of all critical dates set up with reminders so that you are consistently punctual and on top of your schedule. You can use various tools (such as Microsoft Outlook) to share these appointments with other stakeholders, set up phone calls, distribute any preparatory material and book meeting rooms.
  • Learn how to say ‘no’. Don’t take on further work if you know you won’t be able to complete it and be upfront about what you can reasonably achieve.
  • Delegate tasks wherever possible and appropriate. Remember though, this means not delegating tasks for which you ought to be personally responsible.
  • Update your timesheet whenever you complete a task. Avoid postponing this until the end of the day or week – it can be difficult to enter time accurately when you must first reconstruct your week in retrospect.
  • Take regular breaks to help you stay energised and focused. Sometimes it’s easier to concentrate if you shift gears. Take time to clear your head if you feel like you’re hitting a wall and come back to your task refreshed!
  • Work on complex tasks when you are at your most productive. Always have an attack plan – know how you will break a large or complex project up into discrete, achievable subtasks before you start working.

For more tips on surviving and thriving in your graduate program, check out GradAustralia’s article about managing your mental health.