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Managing Time in Higher Education

I once heard an analogy about personal time management. Each day of your life can be represented by an empty glass, and the activities of the day are rocks of varying sizes. Some activities are vital; those are the bigger rocks. Other activities are optional; those are smaller rocks or pebbles. When planning your busy day, if you put the pebbles in the glass first, it will be difficult to fit in the larger rocks and important priorities will likely be left undone. A better way to manage time is to put your big rocks in your glass first. Then you can fit in some of the optional activities - the pebbles - around the must-do activities.

Prior to beginning my master’s degree, each day’s “glass” held the important big rocks - career and family. The open spaces in my days were filled in with activities that were meaningful to me. My life was full and busy. But there was a “rock” that was missing, and I was keenly aware of the void. I wanted to earn an advanced degree, both to boost my career opportunities and to fulfill a long-held personal goal.

When I began Purdue’s Masters in Communication in May 2014, I realized that my priorities were going to have to adjust. I was adding a very big rock - my coursework - and all of my smaller rocks and pebbles were no longer going to fit in my glass. I quickly learned three lessons that helped me incorporate coursework into my busy schedule. These lessons were:

Make each moment count

If I were to be successful in the MS in Communication program, I soon found out there could be few idle moments. Lunch hours at work changed from meeting friends to closing my office door and writing discussion board posts or other assignments. Evenings watching television were replaced by reading journal articles. Time was at a premium, and I had to make each moment count.

Make room for change

From the first week of the degree program until I received my diploma 20 months later, my life changed. As a busy full-time employee and student with a family, I had to be flexible and embrace the changes that came from adding that really big rock - school - into my daily glass. Home-cooked meals and weekend trips were replaced by sandwiches and Saturdays in front of the computer. Change was not always easy, but I had to embrace it.

Make time for yourself

Completing my degree was a big rock, but I had to realize it was a long-term goal. It could not be accomplished in a day, so that big rock was going to be in my glass for many days. To stay motivated, it was important that I continued to fit in some of those pebbles that were enjoyable to me before starting the MS in Communication program. For example, I continued to attend my Toastmasters at Purdue club’s weekly meetings. By prioritizing and planning, I continued to make time for myself.

I made it through the online Master of Science in Communication by adjusting my priorities and putting on hold some of my optional activities. In the end, I gained what mattered most, and you can too!

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Jennifer Merzdorf is an alumni of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

About the Author

Jennifer Merzdorf began as Marketing and Communication Specialist in Environmental & Ecological Engineering and Nuclear Engineering at Purdue University in July 2016. In this role, Jennifer is responsible for developing, implementing, and managing a communication plan for both programs, as well as acting as the central point of organized communication for internal and external audiences. Her background is in communication in a variety of settings, from higher education to commercial print production.

Previously in Enrollment Management Communications in the Office of Admissions at Purdue, Jennifer was Production Manager, where she managed and developed production and distribution schedules for undergraduate recruitment communication, including electronic and print formats.

Jennifer completed her M.S. in Communication from the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue in December 2015. She is currently enrolled in the Project Management Essentials course offered through Engineering Professional Education at Purdue.

In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her family, walking the trails around West Lafayette, taking photos, and reading.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.