Grad student tips for low burnout and high productivity

Right off the bat, it is crucial to mention that going to graduate school means setting apart a large amount of your time to prioritize post-graduate school work. But it is also crucial to mention that it is more than worth it as the feeling of earning a post-graduate degree is unmatched. 

To thrive as a graduate student requires the blossoming of a healthy study-life balance to avoid chronic burnout. You already know how strenuous 40 hours a week of work (I.e. writing countless papers, making presentations, writing funding or grant proposals, library research, TA tasks, etc.) can be on your psychological and physical wellbeing.  

Hence, in this article, we give some helpful tips on how to avoid said burnout to achieve optimum productivity while working hard all throughout the year. 

1. Time Management 


Avoid procrastination! Students who prepare in advance for any task such as assignments or TA work experience less burnout. It also allows you to spread out your workload more evenly. And a good way to do this is by keeping track of things with a calendar (preferably digital ones which send you notifications closer to deadlines). 

Pareto Analysis Method

For more specific techniques, another option is the Pareto analysis method. It’s an 80/20 rule created by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto that entails 20% of actions are responsible for 80% of outcomes. Utilizing the Pareto analysis method allows you to prioritize tasks that are most effective at solving problems.

Pomodoro Method

You can try the Pomodoro method as well. Created by entrepreneur and author Francesco Cirillo, this time management method requires some sort of timer to divide work into intervals. Every interval is referred to as a Pomodoro, named after a timer that Cirillo made. 

For more information on the techniques above and some others to try out, check out this article: 9 Proven Time Management Techniques and Tools.

2. Set Reasonable Goals  

Stress often leads to full blown burnout. And students who set unrealistic vague goals constantly find themselves drowning in a workload far more than they can handle, leading to high stress and the urge to give up entirely. Make sure you never take on more than you can handle and always communicate with people like employers or lecturers if you feel overburdened.  

SMART Method

A very helpful way of doing this is by making sure each of your goals adhere to the SMART method:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic, results-based).
  • Time-based (time limited, time/cost sensitive).

Now we all know what a SMART goal is, but what makes a good SMART goal?

Keep in mind that while setting goals, you can’t cheat. The easier your goal is, the less you’ll put in an extensive effort to do it. If you set difficult and vague goals, you’ll have to put in the most effort. So think deeply about what you truly want.

It’s important to make sure your goal is as specific and well-suited to you as possible. For instance, most people have the intent to study more. But their intention isn’t as well fleshed out or as specific as it could be in order to actually achieve them. Instead, they could say they want to “study for 30 minutes a day to get a 30% increase in their grade by the term’s end.”

When you finalize that, use the SMART method to double-check if it is suitable. If it is, the next step is to write the goal down. Having it right in front of you to read rather than floating around in your mind will always keep you on track.

Next, formulate an action plan. How exactly will you achieve the goal? What necessary steps do you need to take to get to where you want to?

It might also help to keep some sort of timeline where you note the steps you took; any that worked and any that didn’t, until you finally achieve the goal.

To learn more on how to use the SMART method and make your goals achievable, check out this article: The Ultimate Goal Setting Process: 7 Steps to Creating Better Goals.

3. Maintain Good Health  

It may sound obvious but many students neglect their health due to how tasking graduate studies can be. Avoid the temptation of eating inexpensive take out or staying indoors around the clock. Fast food has high sodium and an immobile lifestyle contributes to stress, so it’s ideal to cook your own meals and find stress-reducing activities such as taking regular walks, swimming or yoga.

To make these sorts of healthier choices more commonplace, try figuring out a way of implementing them as a part of your personal lifestyle and making them better suited to you. For instance, if you personally eat large quantities of food and find that you have a lot of energy in the evenings but hate extremely long exercise sessions, a healthy choice you can make specifically suited for you is to have only 30% of each meal (no matter the quantity) as carbohydrates and processed fats. Additionally, you can spread out your exercise sessions in the week, making each one less than 30 minutes, and only do them in the evenings.

4. Turn Off Your Social Media 

Social media updates are endless and this ultimately overwhelms students. So, it’s key that we understand these updates can wait, especially when it’s time to go to sleep. Besides constant updates, light from screens can keep people awake and ruin body clocks. A helpful trick to overcoming this is at least one hour before going to sleep, turn off your gadgets or put it on airplane mode. 

The Graduate Student Society (GSS) is run by and for the 10,000 graduate students at UBC Vancouver. We promote and protect our members’ academic, social and cultural interests.

Thea Koerner House, the home of the Society, has been the centre of graduate student life on campus since it was opened in 1962.


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