How Grad School Made Me Lazy and How I Rationalized It Away (And How You Can Too)

This guest post is by MBA candidate Nate Nead.

Graduate school has made me lazy.

When I was an undergraduate, I was obsessive about my grades. I rigorously fought for every point, knowing that being anal could prove beneficial when the final tally was summed. I knew the eventuality of a grad school application meant my grades mattered. Otherwise, as the saying goes, “C’s get degrees.” 

Since entering grad school, however, I’ve cared more about the well-roundedness of my life and less about the mindless minutiae of the latest assignment, quiz or exam. I’ve replaced minutiae with meaning. I’ve hiked with my wife, been waterskiing with old friends, spent time with new friends, advanced various causes, found outside work projects and generally been more happy than I ever was as an undergraduate student. Yes, grad school has made lazier, but how I feel busier now than I ever was at 21.

Regardless of one’s graduate work, time management can be a constant struggle. Unlike other graduate students, you would think MBAs should have the whole managerial part of their lives under control. Regardless of how many times I may have read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or other manager-centric novels, I still struggle with simple principles like putting first things first. I admit certain disciplines have become heightened. Others have turned to wayside meals for the time-wasting birds.

Say “Adios” to Schedules

Previous to my MBA, the scheduler ruled me. I even utilized the management technique of focusing on and optimizing constraints within my various tasks. No longer. Since I am well aware of my class schedule, I rarely check it. Not much changes, except for regular group meetings, which also occur at fairly regular interims.

image source: flickr

After all but ditching my regular schedule, I realized I was in good company when I found out investing magnate Warren Buffett kept his schedule open in a similar fashion. Warren Buffett doesn’t “work” for his money, like many others, but he probably wouldn’t be considered lazy. Some of laziest people I personally know don’t keep a schedule at all, apparently so do some of the most successful among us. Because I’m sure Mr. Buffett is not lazy, here are some ways to free up your schedule and be underwhelmed.

  1. Only use your digital or print calendar for absolute essentials. Other pieces (like work on XYZ project) will be done during filler time. This does a couple of things. First, it frees up your time and second it frees up your mental time. I feel less stressed when I oversimplify. I oversimplify by under-scheduling.
  2. Include family in the schedule. This may seem more lazy, but it should be on the important list. And, as we all know, if it’s not written down, it has a greater chance of not getting accomplished.
  3. Memorize as much as possible. Put as much of your schedule to memory as possible. This will put you into autopilot, freeing up time for ancillary tasks and giving you what I like to call, free head space. You can also avoid checking your smartphone too much to see just what’s next.

The News/Sports Vacuum

News and sports sites, including the commentating blogosphere have become a proverbial Black Hole, a time-suck

image from twitter

indeed. I now rigorously follow the markets, the political cycles, the latest sports scores and the commentary in between. I follow both sides of the spectrum including the good, the bad and the crazy. I’ve learned to love the WSJ and The Economist although I reluctantly paid the subscription, at first, I wouldn’t give them up now. I’m addicted. Here are some ways to rationalize your news/sports binges.

  1. Fit them into your simplified schedule. See above for more info
  2. Resolve to and stick with time limits. This allows you to be lazy and read for leisure, but also keeps you on track to move to the next task.
  3. Rotate through various options. Don’t feel you have to read every pundit or commentator on your list daily, but allot time for them on weekly interviews. Rotating through helps to limit the time spent, but can also get you excited to read particular sites, commentators you’ve not spent time with in a couple of days.
  4. Use your information binge moments as positive leisure time once you complete tasks and projects.

More Family

As a married grad student with a young daughter, there are more pressures on my time. Certain time is 100% allocated to family. This is not productive in a career sense, but is wholly necessary and completely fulfilling for me. Little time was allocated for play as an undergraduate student. Here are some ways to rationalize family time.

  1. For me, family time is important enough to schedule (see above)
  2. I’m active during family time, which makes it at least feel like I’m not lazy.
  3. If you don’t have family yet, you can even rationalize other extracurricular time as “time I used to help me in the process to eventually find a significant other –and have a family…”

Blogging is the New Studying

Twitter has its place, so does Facebook. I spend little time with both. Those were for more for my single days. Now I contribute to the online discussion in a way I feel is constructive. Unfortunately, this has cost me valuable time I should have spent studying.

If done incorrectly, blogging can be a huge waste of time. If done properly, it can often be source of education and fulfillment itself. Personally, it has helped me expand my knowledge, take complex ideas, distill them, and figure out ways to explain them in my own words, giving me greater understanding. In short, blogging has taught me a great deal about the topics I’ve been voraciously consuming both in and out of the classroom. The list below includes my top ways of rationalizing away hours spent blogging.

  1. What you read you know, what you interact with, you understand. I learn so much more about topics I blog about than those I do not. It gets me into the material and forces me to learn enough to be able to teach it to someone else.
  2. Blog about your passions and don’t feel bad if they relate to your career. If you blog about something that relates to advancing your career, you are progressing that along and isn’t that one of the biggest reasons you went to grad school in the first place?

More Exercise

I sit more than ever. It makes me antsy. Therefore, I’ve been doing more running and pumping out more pushups. The exercise helps me sleep better. Better sleep feels great. I feel less drowsy during the day, but I use the extra energy to do more news reading and blogging. I rationalize exercise in the following ways:

  1. Exercise can extend your life. What is the time-value of an extra year of your life worth? In my opinion, it’s priceless.
  2. Exercise can release endorphins that enable you to function at a higher level when you’re not exercising (like during those moments at work, school and the latest project).

I’ve certainly discovered a new-found life as a grad student. As I see it, my grad studies represent yet another intense time for learning, but more than in my undergrad, I’m in a very definitive period of discovery. I’m delving into areas I’ve never touched, looking to find interest in new disciplines. I’m discovering what it means to live a much more balanced, enjoyable life. While, to me, I feel lazier than my undergraduate days, I also feel much more fulfilled, energetic, balanced, and aware. In short, I’m learning more than ever before. My friends pursue USC’s Masters in Healthcare Admin Online and I even have more time than them. Finally I am able to learn in areas I enjoy, using the same hardcore disciplines I used as an undergraduate, but enjoying every minute of it. It feels lazier, but perhaps I’ve finally learned what it means to be a life-long learner. It could be paralleled with the old adage in this way: learn something you love and you’ll never study a day in your life.

Nathan Nead is a University of Washington MBA with an emphasis in finance.

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