First-year student Rohan Rajiv is blogging once a week about important lessons he is learning at Kellogg. Read more of his posts here.
Many of us are in graduate school to learn. There are many interesting things we expect to learn, like how to develop understanding of strategy and marketing, for example, or how learn to work better with teams of diverse people.
I believe the most important thing we are being asked to learn is something we might not have expected: Decision making and trade-offs.
Here’s the context. Every student has six or seven competing priorities:
The rigorous study part that makes sure you have 100 pages of readings and an assignment to turn in every week
- CAREER PLANNING
Thinking about long-term choices, internships and post-school career plans
Student clubs and activities are a great way to meet folks who have similar interests, as well as test your leadership.
There’s a dinner or outing somewhere pretty much every night.
- “ME” / OURSELVES
We need to eat, sleep, exercise and reflect.
For many students, this includes partners and kids on campus. This also includes parents.
- “PAST LIFE”
Think about all those friends we’ve lost touch with once we got here and old projects that we worked on that we definitely have neglected.
As you can tell on first glance, that’s a lot of priorities. In my mind, the most critical of these priorities is “me/ourselves.” If we don’t take of ourselves, the rest of the priorities fall apart. Additionally, it is tempting to give up food, sleep and exercise in our bid to do everything else. But there’s only so much we can do in a day, and not taking care of ourselves can dilute our efforts on the rest.
But, given this context, it is easy to see why this is a lesson in decision making and trade-offs. At any given moment during the day, there are potential ways to spend time on pretty much any of these priorities. I think this is great preparation for life in the future.
For many of us heading into graduate schools, our 20s have largely been about us. We graduated from university, dived into our work lives and gave it our all. We spent extra time on things we enjoyed. Full stop. But, life post school changes quickly. Many of us are contemplating families or are just starting married life. We’re all going to be in careers that, as a general rule, will never ask for less time. We will need to keep learning and growing while also making sure we give back.
In some ways, these competing priorities never go away. The challenges of balancing these never get easier. This is just a fantastic time to fail and, in the process, learn how to do it right. I’d like to share my three biggest lessons from the process:
- MAKE DECISIONS EASY FOR YOURSELF BY BEING CRYSTAL CLEAR ABOUT YOUR CORE PRIORITIES.
If you aren’t clear about the relative importance of your core priorities, you are going to drain your energy every day just thinking about these decisions. Once you get clear on your own priorities, decisions get much easier.
- PRE-DECIDE YOUR DAYS AND WEEKS AS FAR AS POSSIBLE.
Most of the time you have enough information to plan in advance. There’s a high return-on-investment on being brutally organized. Pre-decide by blocking off your time for the week based on your priorities. If you don’t prioritize exercise and sleep, other things will get in the way. Be proactive to drive your own agenda. Or someone else will.
- MAKE TIME TO REFLECT.
The busier things are, the more you need time to reflect. Learning-by-doing is incredibly inefficient if you don’t have enough time to take stock. Again, the return-on-investment on a little reflection time is incredibly high.
Since decision making is a core part of this experience, I’ve been working on more specific tactics that help ease the difficulty level. More on those in the coming weeks.
Rohan Rajiv is a first-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year Program. Prior to Kellogg he worked at a-connect serving clients on consulting projects across 14 countries in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. He blogs a learning every day, including his MBA Learnings series, on www.ALearningaDay.com.