The MFA & Time Management

by Larissa Lacy

During my first semester as a graduate student at Chapman University, I had trouble with time management. More specifically, one of the biggest problems I faced was putting my school work on the back burner to spend time with friends or my significant other. At the beginning of the semester, I made a schedule for myself that set aside specific days for school work.

This took into account my current job schedule. Yes, many of us work while studying in the MFA in Creative Writing Program because classes are scheduled at 4pm and later. My plan also took into account my desire to have days devoted to relaxing or going out with friends. Although I had this schedule in mind, I noticed that sometimes I ran into a major dilemma.

I faced moments where on days that I should’ve devoted time to school work, I instead agreed to spend time with a friend. As a result, I would procrastinate on homework and end up doing it very late at night or cramming it into one day. I could see that my work wasn’t the best it could be or that I was too exhausted to really focus on what I was reading. Sometimes, I did not have enough time to do everything, so I had to skip certain reading assignments altogether and prioritize what I thought was most important. I was starting to notice a trend— I have a hard time saying “no” to people.

That meant that, even though I had a mental roadmap of my week and even when assignments needed to be completed to avoid procrastination, I would agree to last-minute plans during times that were supposed to be set aside for reading or writing. I would tell myself that I could do the work later or that I would be okay doing all the work in a shorter span of time, but I quickly learned that wasn’t the case. Procrastinating was affecting the quality of my work, and even though I was having fun in the moment, I was getting stressed later.

Something had to change. I wanted to be successful in this MFA program while maintaining a job, keeping up with the reading and writing for my classes, and enjoying a social life.

First, I had to set boundaries. I had to teach myself to say “no.” I have three designated days and times that I spend on school work, so if somebody wants to make plans with me on those days, I tell them no and explain that these days are necessary for getting homework done. Although it was really hard and I suffered from the fear of missing out (FOMO), I knew that I would thank myself later when I didn’t have to stress about work being done too last minute. After a while, I saw the positive results of sticking to my schedule and being firmer with people about when I could and could not hang out.

The other thing I found really important was to surround myself with people who respect and encourage my productivity rather than hinder it. Some of my friends or people I’ve dated do not prioritize school themselves, so they could not understand why it was so important for me to stick to my schedule. I noticed that, although these people were aware of the work I needed to do, they persistently tried to convince me to break my schedule and make plans with them. While it is up to me to be strict with my boundaries and schedule, it is also helpful when people acknowledge that my MFA program is important.

My advice for any new graduate student: learn to be strong-willed and to say “no” to things that distract you from your goals or that act as obstacles to your success. Surrounding myself with people who encourage me to be successful in school and who understand how important writing is to me has helped me stay motivated and on track in the MFA program.