Making Time for Professional Development

While Balancing Life, School, and Work

By Mara Da Silva and Jaclyn Walkins

Spring is almost here, which means first-year students have three terms under their belts and older students may be approaching graduation. Professional development is equally important for both groups, but it can be difficult to find the time as students balance life, school, and work.

The key is to manage your time intentionally, for which organization is essential. It’s easy to get caught up in your immediate responsibilities, but planning out your days and sticking to a schedule will allow you time to decompress while looking for professional development opportunities. Pooja Sampathi, a second-year DC evening student, talks about how she keeps herself organized: “I find utilizing a planner is helpful to prepare for the week and semester ahead. I like to see an overview of my schedule – what assignments are due so I can break up homework/readings each night, and what networking or work events are upcoming, etc. The ‘holes’ in my calendar help prioritize other areas of my life.”

To stay organized, create a folder for professional development and treat it like an ongoing project. Fill it with job opportunities, networking contacts, deliverables from the OCS Be Fearless career curriculum, etc. The Office of Career Services (OCS) and Masters Programs Office’s emails contain valuable information about upcoming events and opportunities, so make sure to read them over and add any dates to your folder.

To capitalize on all your newly-gathered information, try setting aside increasing increments of time for professional development and working it into your existing schedule. Adam Shpall, Assistant Director and part-time MBA Career Consultant for OCS, recommends the book Never Eat Alone, describing its message as “if you are eating alone, then you are missing out on the opportunity to connect.” Try eating lunch with someone new every day or week, whatever works for you – it’s an easy way to work networking into your day. Adam also suggests The Kaizen Way for an easy-to-implement method of gradually increased time allocated to an activity, in this case, professional development.

Erika Harrigan, the Baltimore campus OCS Career Consultant, talks to students about “making a habit of starting each week and day with a plan” and paying particular attention to priorities. She suggests periodic check-ins to make sure that your priorities are in line with your daily activities. “When you focus on executing your daily plan and eliminate energy-depleting behaviors,” she says, “you may be surprised how much more efficiently your day can run and may realize that you can find some time to devote to your personal career development if it is not already a priority.” The Harvard Business Review article “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” is a great resource for how to change energy-depleting behaviors.

Finally, don’t neglect your mental health. Lawrence Galloway, another second-year student, talks about the importance of practicing self care saying, “I find it helpful to stay organized and plan ahead – ultimately, find some time in my schedule for me. My “me time” is the gym. It is at 4:00 AM, but it is the sacrifice I make to get a jump start to my day, reflect on my schedule, and just clear my head. I find that I am more peaceful, prepared, and focused throughout the day.” Keeping all areas of your life in perspective and taking a holistic approach can help you stay balanced; Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life is a great resource recommended by Julie Neill, the Shady Grove OCS Career Consultant. Also, lean on your support system, whether it be a mentor, significant other, or friend. These people will remind you that balancing such demanding facets of life is difficult for everyone and help you see things in a more positive light.

With these tips in hand, professional development can become an integral part of your MBA experience. Practice makes perfect!