What Can You Do Differently?

Thanks to Leo Reynolds for making this image available!

Thanks to Leo Reynolds for making this image available!

When adults come to or come back to college, I think many advisors and friends ask them this question:

So what will you give up?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this because I am working with a group of students this term who have been asked this very question and are trying to figure it all out.

Having entered my doctoral program as an adult (I was 34, had a full-time job, family and community responsibilities and activities, and 2 cats and 1 dog, though at that time no kid), I asked myself the same question:

What will I need to give up in order to fit this educational work into my already busy life?

At some point, after experimenting with my schedule and, in fact, being sad about giving things up that I didn’t want to give up, I realized that the answer was nothing.


How great is that?

I truly believe that you don’t need to give up anything. What you DO need to do is think about what you can do differently.

My top three examples:

1) Instead of spending several nights a week trying to cook an interesting and healthy dinner for my family (something I truly enjoy doing), I decided that I could do this differently. So instead, I did this only on Sunday nights, and the rest of the week we improvised and pieced together meals. My husband still says: “A 2 burrito day is a good day indeed.” Tortillas, rice, beans, and some salsa can go a long way toward a quick and healthy meal.

2) I wanted to spend time with my husband and friends, but at first, I kept to my old schedule and then devoted all weekend to school work. After a while, I realized that wasn’t working so well, so instead of sacrificing an entire weekend to my studies, I got up 2 hours early every weekday morning to do school-related work before going to my job. By the end of the day I was tired anyway, so I spent that time with family and friends to refresh and reconnect (and go to bed early). I gave most of one weekend day to school work, but then allowed myself one full weekend day without. I still had plenty of time for family and friends and activities I wanted to do, and I managed to get my school work done as well. I figured out how to do “school time” differently.

3) Integration, to me, seems key. Instead of trying to separate tasks into time slots, I tried to integrate things. Instead of eating lunch at my desk, I walked or did yoga during my lunch time to integrate exercise into my work day. I also integrated my learning into my work — it was, after all, related. If I had a learning project to do, or a work project to do, I intentionally found a way to make them “learning/work” projects. Though I am not fond of metaphors that promote violence, I always tried to kill 2-3 birds with one stone (sorry, birds!). In my mind, this is different than multi-tasking; integrating is bringing disparate things together and finding connections. (It also made learning that much more meaningful — as I wrote about here.)

Do any of you have examples of doing things differently so you can, in fact, do it all? If so, I’d love to hear them!


5 thoughts on “What Can You Do Differently?

  1. Hi, Melanie,
    Good thoughts! I graduated the first time (UO) at the age of 31 as a single parent; and the second time at the age of 58 (Syracuse) while running my own business, and as a grandparent. Here are a few quick tips on how I managed:
    1. Study in blocks of time, not in 10-minute increments. There were so many demands on my time for both degrees that if I tried to study on the run, I couldn’t retain anything.
    2. Consider slowing down your class schedule. I did that at Syracuse, unwilling to give up too much time with my grandchildren – so took an additional year to graduate.
    3. Learn how to learn/learn how to speed read. Being able to take the basic bones of a class and understand where it was going made all the difference. And, when an undergraduate, I learned how to read a chapter just once and retain the basics, because I didn’t have the time to go over it again. Take good notes.
    4. Don’t hesitate to negotiate with your professors if there is a genuine need. Most of us try to be flexible within the structure of the class.
    5. Never, ever remodel your house while going to school! Not even a little bit!

    – Kathy Hubbell, Adjunct Prof., Communications

  2. love this post. I am sitting her nauseous not sure if it is because I am sick or stressed or what and wondering how I can keep all the pieces together. Working full time, volunteering 10 plus hours per week, going to grad school, making art and running my etsy shop, oh and trying to prepare for the next step. Hearing this gave me some small piece of hope that I would be able to manage and not give something up.

  3. Melanie, this is an excellent post applicable to any new venture that occurs in our very busy adult life. I find that changing my language from “giving up” to making choices helps me to choose the things in the moment that fit.

  4. Melanie, I am SO glad to see that you have a blog. Your thoughts and wisdom are so insightful, timely, and it makes one think about things on a deeper level. Speaking as one of your former students, I remember broaching this topic when I first started PLA. Time management was one of the first topics we covered during our first class.

    It was during this time that I realized that school had to be a priority and that I had to manage my time wisely so that I could fit everything I wanted to do in my life without sacrificing anything. The lessons learned in that first class remain with me today.

    Thank you so much for touching our lives with your gift of knowledge and life experience, and thank you for being such a positive force during the time I was in your class.

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