Coping Toolkit

It’s been 6 months since I’ve started a full-time graduate program on top of my day job.  Despite having several advantages going in, like having an empty nest and a flexible schedule, it still has been a challenge.  Though it’s been busy, I have felt pretty calm and in control after an initial adjustment period, and I feel I’ve been able to enjoy the program without getting too stressed out.  Here are some useful tools in my Coping Toolkit:

  • Get organized and pace yourself – Getting that calendar and overview of scope of work organized was an absolute necessity.  I also like getting things done early, so I work hard on the front end so I don’t feel rushed later.  If something unexpected comes up (like a forgotten assignment), then I have some leeway.
  • Prioritize and shift – The gym routine has completely gone out the window but I’ve substituted it for walking the dogs with Chris when possible.  I’m not in as good of shape but the dogs are and I have a little extra time with my sweetheart.  I’ve also had to prioritize certain social gatherings – my BFFs get first priority and I do the rest as I’m able.  Then I don’t worry about it. Other lower priority items have to go, and if I’m too tired, busy, or feeling overwhelmed, I beg off without (or rather, with minimum) guilt.  My downtime is a priority to make sure I can cope.
  • Satisfice – Satisfice means do just enough to get a really good result.  No perfectionism here.  Just thinking it should be enough doesn’t work:  I had to build this into my routine.  For example, when I think an assignment is good enough, I go ahead and turn it in so I can’t keep editing until it drives me crazy.    I’m also trying not to look at my grades.  Any external evaluation has the potential to drive me nuts, so I avoid it unless necessary.  I can’t please everyone so I try to please myself in terms of the work and work quality.  When I do need others’ feedback, I remind myself that this is for improvement and a useful outside perspective.  Speaking of which…
  • Perspective – This is the most important one.  I am here for my own education and gratification, not to please the grader.  I approach the assignments from what I want to get out of it, not as to whether I’ll get a good grade or not (you may not have that luxury if you’re not in graduate school).  Granted, if you’re trying to balance work and home life, you do have to please your boss and family to some degree.  Make sure you know what those expectations are instead of guessing what they view as acceptable, good or excellent.  Then find a way to balance them both or negotiate to where you can both be satisfied.   Remember that you can’t please everyone, nor is it your job to do so.  Others sometimes just have to learn to deal with disappointment and their own unrealistic expecations!
  • Self-awareness – Implicit in perspective is having self-awareness regarding self-talk and beliefs.  Usually it’s my own self-talk and my counter-productive beliefs about myself and the world that are really my source of stress.  I’m so accustomed to them, I take them for granted as being true.  By putting unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on myself and my performance, I’m actually decreasing my quality of work.  So, what is it that I’m saying to myself all day?  What beliefs do I have that create anxiety, anger, frustration and disappointment? When my buttons get pushed, likely an unhealthy belief system is at play and it needs to be brought to consciousness, understood and contested.

So school has been an education, not only in terms of content but also my ability to successfully manage a huge workload without driving myself and others nuts.  I know I don’t want to maintain this pace forever, but knowing that I have the tools to handle what comes my way makes me feel confident and capable.  What are your most important tools in you coping toolkit?