One of the great attractions of any online MBA program is convenience. An online degree program relieves you of commuting to and from a university campus. All you need to attend class and complete your coursework is a computer and an internet connection. The self-paced learning environment of an online program allows you to keep your regular job while increasing your prospects for career advancement.
But choosing to pursue your MBA online isn’t any different from choosing to pursue an on-campus MBA in one key respect: As a student at the graduate level, you are the one responsible for your education. While your instructors and colleagues offer support, encouragement and inspiration, your deadlines are ultimately your own. To attain the greatest return on investment in your online MBA, you’ll need to plan and know how to navigate the unexpected complications that will undoubtedly crop up in your busy work-life-school schedule. Managing your time effectively will be critical to achieving your academic aims.
What time management strategies can you employ to make sure that your online MBA experience is a success? Miranda Brookins, author of “Time Management Skills for Leaders” published in the Houston Chronicle, suggests thinking like an executive. All business leaders, no matter how small or large their company, practice effective time management. Your online MBA — and the time management challenges it presents — creates opportunities for you to practice these leadership skills.
To-do lists are a start. But we all know how quickly they can pile up, and how they can tempt us to rush through our obligations without being as mindful about them as we might be. Creating a master study calendar and committing to that calendar is a great way to situate your tasks within a broader context.
Build regular and brief overviews of the coming weeks and months into your study calendar. Doing so will help you visualize how all your various assignments and appointments fit together and overlap. Where, when and how does your accounting course touch your finance course? Can you apply concepts and transfer skills from one to the other? Can you quantify the actual hours you will need to budget for your semester and track how well your allocations meet projections?
Of course, keeping a master study calendar also allows you to make any necessary adjustments to your schedule well in advance. A study calendar allows you to be proactive and to reach out to your instructors and/or fellow students before an inconvenience becomes a crisis.
Working on a computer, much less working online, means that you can lose focus with the click of a button. Searching for a specific nugget of information can degenerate into mindless browsing, and momentary breaks to check in on social media can quickly accumulate and stretch into hours. As more and more online MBA programs build their technological base and allow for class-related interactions via smart devices (phones and tablets), these temptations become even greater.
Remember that your attention is limited, and therefore a very valuable resource. Don’t fatigue your attention by staring too long at your screen. If you do need to take a break, make it a break away from the computer entirely. Set timers that will alert you when you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time focusing on your work (not engaging in leisure activities), and give yourself time to take a deep breath and recharge. Developers have created a whole host of browser extensions, apps and virtual executive tools to boost your concentration and meticulously measure how you are utilizing your time. Take advantage of this (often free) functionality, especially if it interfaces with your online MBA program’s courseware.
Today’s digital technology is incredibly sophisticated and remarkably reliable; however, we’ve all had an experience in which technology stopped working for us at the very moment we needed it most. By its very nature, your online MBA experience is susceptible to interruptions of service. Prevent the worst consequences of being temporarily unable to access your classes, assignments, group discussion or emails. Make multiple backups of your work files and distribute them across a range of devices (portable flash drives, cloud storage services, etc.) Maximize your computer’s ability to generate system backups automatically. Run those backups daily and at a time when your computer is otherwise idle.
Further, do not neglect the failsafe potential of analog media. If a reading, handout or other resource shared by your instructor is of particular importance, print it out. Record important information by hand in a notebook. If you want to reduce the amount of paper you use, the voice memo function on your smartphone can come in handy for recording vital information.
Remember That Time Is More Than Money
CEO and executive coach Henna Inam advises anyone looking to better manage their time to remember an ancient distinction detailed in a Forbes article titled “Time Management 101: Stop Managing Time.” In Classical Greece, time was both an objective reality (chronos, from which we derive the term chronological) and a subjective experience, or kairos. Kairos translates, roughly, as “the present,” or “now” as we perceive that phenomenon. But kairos also means something akin to the Roman adage carpe diem, or “seize the day.” The kairos is also the perfect moment to take decisive action. For Inam, effective time management entails being attuned to the kairos — consider time in terms of its quality.
For example, Inam advocates that, in meetings, while it is important to stick to the agenda, it is also vital that participants actually listen and respond to each other in a considered way. She writes, “Being present to what is going on right now with people (teammates, customers or bosses) allows us to connect at a deeper level with their motivations. Our ability to connect and influence others is a key driver of our leadership.” By remaining sensitive to kairos, we can think more imaginatively — and more productively — about what efficiency means and what it can accomplish.
Enlist the Support of Your Family
With Inam’s advice in mind, give your family a voice in your decision to go back to school. Have a meeting with your spouse, children and any other family members likely to be affected by your new time commitments and let them know what to anticipate. Be clear and candid with your loved ones. Set your expectations, and come prepared with a plan that can serve as a starting place for discussing how responsibilities in your household will shift now that you are going back to school.
Most importantly, give everyone a stake and a role in the mutual support system that is unique to your household. Make it your goal to emerge from this meeting with an agreement that sets boundaries and grants you the time you’ll need to excel in your studies. Be prepared, too, to make these meetings a regular feature of family life. Maintaining transparency and accountability and working together in support of a common goal can help mitigate the kind of stress that can cause your time management efforts to unravel.
Time management is a commitment in more ways than one. Time management requires discipline. It also requires a certain amount of self-knowledge — from understanding which learning style is the best fit for you to being able to sort your habits from your proclivities. The Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi curriculum takes a smart approach to the online MBA experience. Not only can you complete your degree in as few as 12 months, but TAMU-CC’s classes, leadership seminars and capstone project in administrative strategy and policy have also been designed to hone your time management capabilities.
Learn more about TAMU-CC’s online MBA program.
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