A couple of years ago, I realized I had reached the end of the road at my job. There was no room for advancement; my daily tasks were mundane; I was bored; the position was stagnant; my skills were not being tapped. The job did not provide the intellectual stimulation that I so desperately wanted.
I decided I needed a change.
As I searched the job market, I realized I did not possess the experience, advanced skill set, or platform necessary to obtain the positions I desired in my current field of higher education. Although I had already obtained a graduate degree in management years earlier, I was passionate about higher education and desired to be a transformative leader in the field.
As all signs pointed to a terminal degree. In the abstract, it sounded like a good plan. But in reality, I wondered how I was going to manage a full-time job, plan a wedding, move to another town, and attend a full-time program.
I started Northeastern University’s Doctor of Education program ten months ago, and today I’m happy to say that I still work in a full-time position while I am pursing my degree. I also got married, moved to another town, and I have a soon-to-be-born son on the way. Needless to say, this has been an eventful year.
I expected to work hard. But I didn’t expect to feel that pursuing this degree was one of the best gifts I have ever given myself. My professors provide cerebrally stimulating assignments; my classmates and I engage in thought-provoking discussions; and my intellectual capabilities are being challenged to levels I could have only imagined.
Since there is no turning back at this point, I created a plan to set myself up for success. I have family and work obligations that I cannot neglect, so I know completing this degree program is not going to be an easy task. At the outset of my studies, I decided to employ the following practices and strategies that have allowed me to succeed academically.
1. Create a “To Do” List
I have to admit it: Procrastination is my weakness, and I need to develop strategies to help me combat this issue. Creating a “to do” list has helped me identify my projects and tasks and prioritize them accordingly. As I check off tasks on my list, it provides a sense of accomplishment, no matter how big or small the undertaking. This is a strategy that has served me well and I continue to utilize it on a daily basis.
2. Be Time Conscious
It is essential to be conscious of your schedule, the amount of work you have in a given week, and the times of the day when you are highly productive. Since I know I am most productive in the morning and late at night, I block off times during these periods to get my schoolwork done. I also know this is the time I am interrupted the least, which is imperative during times of writing and research.
3. Avoid Burnout
It is OK to say “no.” When you have too much to do and not enough hours to complete it, you absolutely need to turn down frivolous tasks and unnecessary obligations. As you develop your “to do” list you will learn to prioritize your obligations in ways that will work for you. You will learn to be flexible relative to commitments and place inconsequential tasks on the backburner. For me, this can mean missing events with friends, not going out with colleagues after work, or sacrificing a nice weekend day outside in lieu of study. This provides more time and energy to focus on paramount tasks such as studying and taking care of my family.
4. Create a Support System
One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to create a support system. It is important to surround yourself with people who are supportive and who genuinely want to see you succeed. This can be your family, spouse, friends, or a mentor. I learned early on that it is important to have a support system to lean on when I lose motivation, run into difficulty with an assignment, require help with family obligations, or simply need someone to talk to about the work. My support system has been my saving grace during this venture.
I’ve found those four strategies – along with commitment and motivation – have been the most helpful in my wonderful journey to earning my doctoral degree. What strategies do you find work best for you?