In the spirit of the conversation here for the last few weeks (and given the fact that the summer is almost over) I thought it would be timely to post a few more ideas about how to spend your time in between semesters. Granted, my perspective is probably a little bit different – but this is a good thing. Like all of you, school isn’t the only thing I do; I also work full time, and I’m a husband and father. That being said, my academic life is very important to me – that’s why I’ve started writing here. I’m spending my summer preparing for my first semester of graduate studies. I’ve essentially broken this prep-work down into four categories that are useful no matter what your circumstances: administrative, financial, physical, and mental.
- Administrative Preparation:
By administrative preparation, I’m referring mostly to paperwork: immunization records, registration records, transcripts, resume updates, etc. These are all things that my new school will require and since schoolwork isn’t occupying most of my spare time the summer is a great time to pull all these things together. For me this is mostly a matter of locating everything and making sure it is up to date and checking with my school to make sure all the required paperwork is submitted. Taking care of things like this now can prevent a lot of headaches when the semester starts and will allow you to keep your focus where it belongs – on your work.
- Financial Preparation:
Taking a little time away from the beach, road trips, or whatever other plans you may have to make sure all of your financial aid paperwork is in order is sure to save you lots of hassle once things pick up and tuition bills are due. This is also a good time to review your finances overall and make the big decisions that will dictate your school year (will I have to work? How much do I have saved? Etc.). I’ve pulled a free copy of my credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies (start at annualcreditreport.com) and am in the process of reviewing these for inaccuracies and reporting any discrepancies. The summer is also a great time to earn money and/or valuable work experience. Work to save spending money, or even look for volunteer opportunities in an industry that you’re interested in. Either way, future employers will see this in a positive light as it shows that you have initiative and are responsible.
- Physical Preparation:
Moonlighting as a student isn’t always the easiest thing. Sometimes after a full day of work the very last thing I want to do is sit in class for several hours and cap off the evening with a drive home and some reading… but I don’t really have much choice. My circumstances require this so I deal with it. One way to make the burden a bit easier to shoulder is to maintain my health. The stress from school and other commitments, the long hours, the mental work involved – these are all easier to handle when your body is equipped. I’m using the summer to refine a fitness routine so by the time the semester starts I’ll be in tip-top shape.
- Mental Preparation:
Finally, I am preparing myself mentally for an enhanced workload and dramatic change in lifestyle. There are lots of ways to do this; I’m focusing mostly on organization. Most of you are probably familiar with GTD, I’m spending the summer re-reading the book and fine-tuning my organization system (things to explore in future posts). I’m also getting in some leisure reading (something I rarely have the time for when class is in session) and generally relaxing in order to rest up for what’s ahead. It’s just as important to keep your brain fit as it is to keep your body fit. This will keep you from getting burned out but allow you to stay sharp and focused once classes start up again. By honing my organization and workflow system I’m gaining not only time and efficiency, but the confidence that comes along with being prepared. Doing this now ensures that I’ll have a good system in place when the semester starts and it will only be a matter of enveloping some new responsibilities to make sure that it serves me well.
So, a quick recap: spend some time this summer relaxing, but don’t let the time slip idly by. Make sure you’re ready for the school year, focus on your goals, and do what you can to move them forward. Advance preparation will save lots of time and trouble down the road.