Headshot of Jane SiggelkoThe Key to Successful Time Management in Graduate School: Avoid Procrastination

Jane Siggelko, Student & Alumni

It’s easy to procrastinate when you’re pursuing an online graduate degree in communications. Sure, you have deadlines, but you are not required to be in class at a particular time or day each week. One of the best things you can do to set yourself up for success is to make a commitment to not procrastinate – even when you think you have a good reason to do so. Note: Convincing yourself that you work better under pressure is not a valid reason.

Despite how much you try to rationalize it, “Procrastination has a large element of irrationality about it. We put off dealing with difficult things because we just cannot be bothered with them now or because we have more interesting things with which to occupy ourselves.”   

So, how do you avoid procrastinating? Here are a few tips:

Pay attention to deadlines.

Create a sense of urgency by identifying deadlines and making them visible. I find it’s best to write deadlines on a calendar at home. If you’re addicted to your phone or tablet, try scheduling your deadlines on your calendar and sync them to multiple devices.

Make a to-do list.

If you already use lists at work or home, this should be easy to integrate into your planning. Adam Savage of the show MythBusters is an avid proponent of lists to execute projects. He explains, “Breaking something into its constituent parts will help you organize your thoughts, but it can also force you to confront the depth of your ignorance or the hugeness of the tasks. That’s OK. The project may be the lion, but the list is your whip.” Don’t let the list intimidate you!

Divide and conquer.

Sometimes referred to as the “salami slice method,” this strategy “breaks a large job into smaller chunks and demolishes one chunk at each sitting.”  By breaking projects into manageable parts, you increase your ability to define short-term goals that align with your long-term project deadline. In my experience, this strategy helps me get started on the project and makes it easier to move to each subsequent phase.

Tackle the big tasks first.

In strategic communication, everything starts with research. You will know when your final project is due on the first day of each class. Be sure to allot plenty of time in the first few weeks for research, as it generally time-intensive. The more research and outlining you can get done, the easier writing the final paper will be.

Make a schedule and stick to it.

All of the courses in the online MS Communication program are setup the same, which allows you to create a weekly schedule and stick to it from class to class. This makes creating a routine easy. Each week you will be expected to generate a thoughtful discussion post based on your readings by Wednesday, and you will also need to respond to your classmates’ posts later in the week. Knowing this, you can schedule days for reading and days for posting. The remainder of the week should be used for working on projects. Don’t forget to give yourself a day or two off to recharge!  

Reward yourself.

Choosing to go back to graduate school is a serious time commitment. You should expect to spend 12-25 hours per week on coursework. That means you won’t make every happy hour, and you will probably spend more than a few weekends inside. Finding small ways to reward yourself throughout the process is an easy way to stay on track.

If you’re considering going back to school, I urge you to go ahead and make the commitment to manage your time wisely. Remember, “Your ability to overcome procrastination and to get the job done on schedule can make all the difference between success and failure.”  


Jones, Lyndon; Loftus, Paul (2009). Time Well Spent: Getting Things Done Through Effective Time Management. London: Kogan Page, 52-3. Retrieved from http://Purdue.eblib.com/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=473887 (accessed July 04, 2016)

Jones, Lyndon; Loftus, Paul (2009). Time Well Spent: Getting Things Done Through Effective Time Management. London: Kogan Page, 57. Retrieved from http://Purdue.eblib.com/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=473887 (accessed July 04, 2016)

Tracy, Brian (2014). Time Management. Saranac Lake, NY, USA: AMACOM Books, 67. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/purdue/detail.action?docID=10821818 (accessed July 04, 2016)

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Jane Siggelko is a student in 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 /comm/masters-in-communication/resources/critical-to-successcrisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

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

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