Overwhelmed. This common descriptor comes up all the time with MBA students. Too much to do. Not enough time. For mid-career adults, night school adds stress to an already full plate.
During the eight years I spent chipping away at my doctoral degree, I held down a grueling job in a high-powered ad agency. My job required me to cater to the demands of clients and I traveled frequently. In the process, I learned several valuable lessons.
First, I learned that feeling overwhelmed is a state of mind. Regardless of workload, I (and I alone) controlled my reaction to the conditions around me. But, a frenzied reaction to a stressful situation causes twice the suffering. Worry and fret makes things worse. I learned I had a choice to select neither.
Second, I realized that a burdensome workload typically falls into two categories. – volume or complexity. When the overload consists of work I know how to do, I put it in the volume category. This simply means the amount of work supersedes the time available. With one extra day or one extra hour, I could get back on top.
My solution for volume is coffee. I simply need a second wind. I categorize the situation as a surge period and know that for one or two nights I can endure the surge. I make a cup of coffee just as the house goes quiet. The heat soothes me; the caffeine provides focus. In the still of night, with no interruptions, I get in the zone and can work productively. It works for me every time.
When the workload falls into the complexity category, it means the task feels foreign and I doubt my ability to do a good job. In this situation I assemble a posse. Relying on the help of others allows new ideas to emerge. I get tips and tools to manage the work and solutions flow from the process. Two or three heads are better than one.
I encourage new MBAs to form study groups. Add a standing meeting to your weekly schedule. You can always cancel the meeting if you don’t need it. These meetings always prove invaluable and students form bonds that endure past graduation.
Advice like this always seems easily said but more difficult to put into practice. Ultimately, each student discovers a system that works for her or him. Regardless of the tactical solution or tool you come up with it is important to check in with yourself. Steady your mind, reject the drama and let your anxiety drift on by.
Written by Diane Fittipaldi, MBA Professor
“I consider myself a recovering ad exec. I’m a scholar. A researcher. A professor. I believe personal stories inspire change. I spend my time investigating issues of age and gender equality in the workplace, hoping to discover structural solutions to systemic problems. I enjoy my home at St. Kate’s – an organization on that wholeheartedly supports me in these endeavors giving me a platform to affect change.”