Strategies for Executing Your Goals

Now that we have taken the time to think about the goals we plan to accomplish for the semester, how do we lay them out strategically to ensure they are successfully executed? The most important thing is laying out the path and steps needed to achieve each goal. Look at each goal and determine what needs to be done to get to the end point. This gives a comprehensive view of how tasks for each goal are going to be executed. This method also allows you to see what steps have dependencies and may require sub-tasks or sub-goals in order to move forward. Because your goals are time-boxed or have an achievement date, the outlined steps for each goal should also fall within the timeline, allotting enough time to get each task done. This is where those time management strategies come in to play (visit the post on ‘5 Tips for Time Management’). This may seem like a rigid method, but it still allows for some fluidity as tasks can be moved around; as long as there is an initial plan.

The approach is ideal in also helping to identify any goal blockers you may have. Goal blockers are situations or dependencies that you cannot work around in order to get closer to your goal. In other words, you have to get through that blocker to move ahead. This can be difficult sometimes, especially when it comes to depending on something or someone else to make it happen. But in laying out the plan, you can easily identify these blockers and therefore account for them when you are doing your steps. You may have to come up with an alternate step or allot more time for that particular task or even plan in a way where you can get started on another goal while you wait. Whatever you do, stand firm and do not remove any of your end goals from the plan until absolutely necessary. Readjusting the goals you have that are difficult to accomplish is a whole different ball game that we will touch on next week. Sometimes you have no choice but to alter the goal but when is the right time to do that? Stay tuned to find out.

Successful Goal Setting

So at the end of every semester, we all say, “I need to set my goals for the new semester”. But how do we determine our goals for the semester? What is the strategy? Here are a few tips to helping you set your goals successfully. First, determine what major milestones are going to happen during the upcoming semester. For example, maybe there is the qualifying exam or a proposal due. These are major events that cannot be changed or shifted, therefore you need to set goals to help prepare you for these major events. The goals you set should be focused, achievable and realistic. It should also relate to the bigger picture. What do we mean by the bigger picture? Think of your semester and the things you would like to achieve holistically. In other words, use a systems thinking approach to goal setting. Using a systems thinking mindset allows you to look at your semester wholly and recognize what aspects of the semester depend on each other. It also leads to creativity as you are better able to think outside of the box when you have all the pieces in play.

Once you have the holistic view, you can determine what direction needs to be taken and set specific goals to take you there. The goals should be focused and the outcomes should be clear. The focused goals should also be achievable and realistic. If there is an obvious impediment that is going to prevent you from achieving that goal then the goal is not achievable. Hopes and maybes should never be included in the goals you set. For example: “This semester I will be published in a journal” vs “This semester I will submit to a journal”. The first goal is uncertain because being published depends on reviewer approval but the second goal depends mostly on you and therefore you can take steps (we will talk about strategies for execution next week) to achieve that goal. Although the both goals begin with “This semester”, making them are technically time boxed, drilling down to a more specific date (month) helps set a cadence: “I will submit to a journal by April of this semester”.

Now it’s time to visualize! The best way to visualize your goals is to write them down in a place you will be seeing them regularly as a constant reminder. First we see then we DO. This means that your last goal you should add to your list is “STICK TO GOALS!” The only way to meet a goal successfully is by being consistent.

Next week’s topic will focus on strategies for goal execution and will help with consistency.

End of the Year Reflection

It is easy to reflect on the things that did not work out this year. That one paper that didn’t get published or that exam you thought you would do better in. What about the results were not what you hoped for? We so easily slip into the mindset of “I didn’t” or “I couldn’t” before we think about the accomplishments with the things that we did! Before the end of the year, take a moment to reflect. Reflect on the steps you have taken to succeed this year. Day by day, you worked and with that commitment, you have ended up on the other side of the semester and the year. If it were easy, anybody would do it. If it were easy then graduate school would be a piece of cake. Think about your mindset going into the beginning of the semester and the questions you asked. How am I going to get this all done? How am I going to get through this? What if I fail? But here we are, you got it all done, you got through it and you succeeded. Even if there were small failures along the way, they are lessons learned for the bigger successes.

As you take the time to reflect, also think about not what you would have changed, but how your approach in 2018 can help improve some key setbacks you may have encountered. What are you going to do differently? Are you going to be a better planner? Are you going to take more time for yourself? Are you going to join a study group? Answers from your reflection session should help improve your experience in the following year. Look at these as pre-meditated goals. So before you put the books, research and all tasks down for 2017, set a few goals for next semester. These can be simple goals like the answers to your self-reflection questions, because setting even the simplest goals so soon, allows you to challenge yourself on having the mindset of how you are going to crush 2018!!

In 2017, you:

Rose Up,

Rose Above, 

And Rose Beyond the doubters.

Kudos on a successful year!

Rediscovering Your Motivation

Sometimes for reasons unknown to us, we lose our motivation to continue the clock work grind that we have been doing day in and day out. When was the moment I realized I did not want to go into the lab or write another paper? I asked myself this question so many times, and there is going to be a time (if you have not already done so) that you ask yourself the same thing. All this means, is that you are human and some days are going to be harder to find the meaning of it all; more than the other days. Most times, we choose our research topics and questions based on key moments that take place in our lives or we form them based on our passion or a derivative of our passions. This does not mean that in some instances we would not rather learn or discover something else, even if just for a brief moment. When you eat, breathe and sleep the same topic, an underlying feeling of frustration develops, especially when it is not always smooth sailing. So how do we step back and regroup in order to prevent our frustration from evolving to disdain?

The first thing to ask yourself is why did you sign up for this program? At some point, there was a belief that the world can be changed by a novel idea or expanded knowledge. Something someone missed before that you have now uncovered. If that reason is not groundbreaking enough for you then think about the opportunity you have. You are in the minority. More clearly, you are in the very small percentage of folks who have taken the step to get an advanced degree.

Let’s be clear, yes you are doing this for yourself, but you are also doing this for the young black girl who has been observing your journey. You may not know who she is and she may be the most unlikely person you had in mind. But because of your courage, she is now hoping to become you when she grows up.

Never forget about your tribe your tribe will keep you going so let them. When you misstep, they are there to encourage and let you know that you got this. When you succeed in even the small things, they will be there to say they told you that you were magic! Just by their presence, you are going to realize, these people have been on the journey with you and you owe it to them to see it through.

Lastly, it may sound cliché and many of us are afraid to admit it. But God can do anything, and he will do it! I have a praying family and I am not ashamed to say that they prayed for me every single day. In the same breath the question of why am I feeling this way is asked, self-reflect and ask for the guidance and motivation that is needed. Ask for the extra push. It will be provided.

Finding a Tribe

Whether you are introverted, extroverted, shy or friendly, finding a circle in graduate school is extremely important. There are going to be times when you are not able to make it home over the holidays. I remember there were Thanksgiving breaks when I had to make the sacrifice to be in the lab instead of visiting family. During these times, it is depressing enough realizing that you cannot go see the ones you love, but spending it alone should never be an option. I was always able to spend these breaks with others in my circle who were in similar situation, where we all felt as if we were “stuck” in this place together. But how do you find this circle who becomes your family during your graduate tenure, and why is it important?

How to find them?

Get out of your comfort zone by networking and getting involved. Network with professional and academic societies (As a STEM Major, I joined the National Society of Black Engineers and Society of Women Engineers), within your field as well as other social and interest opportunities on your campus or area. It can be as simple as volunteering on the weekend or going to a hosted brunch. This is where you meet and get to know others.

Don’t be afraid to ask a question. Seek out the programs and organizations in your department/school that cater to minority graduate students such as black graduate professional associations or diversity programs offices. If you can’t find them, ask someone in the graduate office. Do not be afraid or feel self-conscious to inquire when it comes to getting the minority support you need.

Begin to surround yourself with individuals who make you feel comfortable enough to be you. You should be able to express frustrations and receive positive and motivating feedback and advice.

Why is it important?

Simple – You cannot get through this phase in your life alone. There are strength in numbers and a tree alone cannot withstand a storm, so surround yourself with your forest.

Not only is every setback, heartbreak and disappointment easier to deal with when there are others rallying around you, but every accomplishment, success and triumph is that much sweeter when those same people have been on the journey with you.

5 Tips for Time Management

One of my biggest challenge has always been managing my time well. I enjoying adding to my plate and volunteering for tasks till I realize that my plate is overflowing and everything is due at the same time. This leads to a stressful dash to get things completed with all-nighters and no sleep. Busy time comes in ebbs and flows, so how do we find a way to find that balance and manage while not feeling overwhelmed with deadlines looming over us? It’s all about planning, prioritizing and managing our time.

Step 1)

Begin with a high level view of everything you have upcoming. From exams to deliverables. What are the milestones and deadlines? Laying out tasks visually allow you to see not just when tasks are due but the time you have between them so you can better plan. If you put something on your radar for 5 weeks out, then you can start working backward on the steps you will have to take to achieve that task. How you visually lay it out is personal preference but I have found printing monthly calendars then taping them to my desk have worked great for me. If you are on the organized side then a planner will also work as an added plus. But the key to having a high level view is to ensure that a constant optical is maintained. A planner is always put away and unless it is opened and flipped through, you are not going to have that constant view. Having a printed view in places that you tend to be (office, bedroom), will give you a constant reminder.

Step 2)

Now that you have laid out the tasks, milestones and deadlines you need to track and create a short road-map for each of them. This is a hybrid road-map that can show you the steps you need to take to get an end goal accomplished. From researching, to writing a paper, to submittal, it is important to list the steps you need to take. From this list, you can then work your way backward from the end task to see when the steps need to be completed. This way, they are strategically placed on the calendar.  It will take some practice to arrive at the optimal road-map but this is a great start when it comes to time management.

Step 3)

Once you have worked your way backward, you are probably going to end up with multiple steps to do for different tasks on the same day or within days of each other. This is where you prioritize and plan, try to avoid placing heavy to-do’s on the same day. It is important to set feasible goals. If stuck to accomplish those tasks within the same sitting or week, then that means Step 2) is not yet optimum. But that is okay! This is where some prioritizing and mini-planning comes into play. Break up the bigger list items into smaller items. This ensures you are not too overwhelmed and trying to do one multi-hour item in one sitting. Which leads me to the next step. (Tip: Try not to have more than two big tasks in one planned sitting/day)

Step 4)

So you have highlighted everything you have to achieve on your visual calendar or board, made your hybrid roadmap/list of steps in getting there and strategically placed these steps on your visual to create a timeline, now, time-blocking. There is no point in doing all this pre-planning if you are still going try to jam everything in at once. This is where prioritizing from step 3) and having dedicated time blocks go hand in hand. When there are multiple steps to be completed in your queue, you can’t afford to only spend time on one thing that only serves a single end goal. It helps to come up with a plan where there is dedicated time spent on each. Just like studying, it is important to break up heavy to-do’s into shorter sittings. Of course some items will take longer to complete than others but this is where your priority and goal placement on the calendar come into play.

Step 5)

Be consistent and dedicated to your plan. The only way to improve time management is to be consistent with your planned flow. There will always be unexpected occurrences but with great structure, you can handle it. As you continue to manage month by month, you will find your rhythm and your style, what works for you and what doesn’t.

What other time management tools work for you?

Feel free to contact or comment for more discussion and tips!

 

8 Steps For Proper Self-Care & Stress-relief: Part II

Choose & Control

Sometimes we cannot choose the situations that inflict stress such as the classes we take or setbacks in research. However, there are other times we overload ourselves with so many activities that we forget we have the choice to control what we take on. Do not over-commit. While it is good to be involved in other activities for stress-relief, without knowing the limits of what we can do, that can sometimes add to our already full plate. Instead of prioritizing in terms of importance, prioritize based on the amount of time you can commit.

Appreciate

You have worked hard and continue to walk a long, sometimes lonely path. Self-care means showing yourself appreciation for all that you have accomplished. Getting the degree is not the accomplishment by itself, but waking up everyday and showing up to a place that may have brought you more misery than joy at times, that is the accomplishment. When you take the time for self-appreciation, you open the mind to the courageous you. The one who says, “I have made it this far, I am ready to take on tomorrow knowing that I can make it to the end! ”

Rest

We spoke about exercising and living together with having a healthy diet. But do not forget, all of this only works if you give your body enough time to rest. Recharging is necessary for your mind to reset. A fresh mind, tends to be sharper and more patient. It is very difficult to get enough sleep in graduate school but you must carve out time to get a good night’s rest, at least 2-3 times a week. Chose a day where you are going to do completely nothing for a few hours. Call it your Relax Saturday or Sunday.

Enjoy

As hard as graduate school is, you are going to have some of your best memories there. Enjoy the moments and take advantage of opportunities. Take advantage of free conference or program trips. Take advantage of the networking and mentorship relationships you form. Also, take the opportunity to meet others outside of your discipline and just enjoy and be elated in other people’s company.

8 Steps For Proper Self-Care & Stress-relief: Part I

Support

Part of self-care is knowing that in the hard moments, the right support system needs to be in your corner. It is important that you have supportive friends that are either surrounding you or in your network. These people should be dependable and should be people you can rely on when you are going through a challenging period. How do you find a support system? We will go into more detail in a later post, but all you need to ask yourself is, if you were to evaluate the people in your network, how many of them can you say would be in your support circle? Although there are many who may be located in your hometown or scattered across the world, you want to make sure that a dependable circle is formed at graduate school. Sometimes tears will come, and it is always great to have someone there to give you that hug and in-person pep talk you need.

Exercise

You are probably asking yourself, when am I going to find time to exercise? Trust me, I know that after a long day, the last thing you want to do is go to the gym or do some type of physical activity. But, being physical helps with your mood and truly releases the stress of the day. It does not have to be a strenuous activity and it does not have to be gym only. It can be something as simple as a short hike or as involved as boxing. The key is to do it as regular as you can. Not only are you ensuring that you stay active and have healthy circulation (we tend to sit all day as graduate students), but you are allowing your mind to have a mental break. This is a time where you do not have to think about anything or the things you think of are irrelevant, which gives you that moment of a free mind.

Live 

You have chosen the graduate life of working hard and achieving some of the greatest accomplishments, but life is also about having the experiences. Remember to take time to truly live. Explore the area you in which you reside. Every place has a list of top 10 things to do, work your way through the list. Plan a trip with friends to somewhere you have always wanted to go. Try new hobbies such as cooking, painting, photography or volunteering. I enjoy volunteering because it puts things in perspective. We sometimes forget that the world and the problems around us are bigger and while we may be frustrated, someone else is in a worse position. Take time to enjoy the fact that you are blessed and this opportunity you have while stressful, is rare.

Food

Feed your body the right type of fuel. What do I mean by the right type of fuel? Remember your body is the source of all your energy and knowledge. It’s like a rechargeable battery. You wouldn’t charge a battery with the wrong cord or put diesel in your only gasoline car, would you? It is the same as your body. Food affects your energy levels and your health. Although it was mentioned earlier that exercising is important, what is the point of exercising if you are treating your battery with the wrong fuel? We all love to indulge, but you want to make sure that when you indulge, you are also eating things that keep you 100% fueled and do not make you feel too tired and lethargic. Walk around with some fresh or dried fruits, nuts, carrots, crackers, and other light snacks to get you through the day. Also avoid eating large amounts of food at lunch that are going to affect your productivity in the afternoon.

It’s Personal: How to Write the Statement

Planning and writing the personal statement can be challenging. Even though it is the most general question, it is the most challenging. The challenge comes in creating a package which entails your passions, goals, experiences, skills, and uniqueness. It is also difficult to put all of this into just a page and a half, but it can be done. It is about telling the story of how you have used your passion for the subject you want to study and applied it to your different experiences. Imagine if there was nothing else in your application packet but this statement, what should the admission committee read to know that you deserve to be at their institution. Here are some general tips and advice on approaching the personal statement.

  • Be Personal
    • It’s about telling YOUR story. The only way to do that is to give unique details about your life. What pathway has influenced your passions and goals? Was it a childhood experience or special people in your life? When did you become interested in this topic?
  • Past Experience
    • What have you learned about this field or what experiences have you had? Have you done internships or summer programs that lead to the realization of the topic you wanted to study?
  • Leveraging Past Experience
    • What skills (technical and leadership) did you acquire? How did you overcome obstacles and challenges? What was your solution? What did you learn?
  • Toot Your Horn
    • Highlight some of your non-academic experiences and accomplishments that have helped you prepare for graduate school. Discuss your characteristics and discuss ways in which they make you a successful candidate.
  • Be Specific
    • What makes this program you are applying for special? Research the school and what makes the program unique. Is there a professor you have identified you would like to work with or a special program the school sponsors?
  • Begin Strong, End Strong
    • The first paragraph is the place you convince the admission committee why they should keep reading. The concluding paragraph is where you convince them that you deserve to be a student at the institution.
  • Be Concise, Be Correct
    • Remember that hundreds of applications are received during a cycle. Make sure your essay is within the word limit. You want to ensure a reviewer doesn’t see multiple pages and immediately gets discouraged.
    • Proofread – proofread – proofread. I have been guilty of this sometimes because re-reading can be tedious, but it is worth it. It is important that your grammar and spelling are correct.

Be honest and confident. You are one-of-a-kind so do not be afraid to share your experience! Continue reading

Mirror Talk

When you feel overwhelmed, spend a few minutes for self-reflection. This is important because it is a reminder of your greatness. We sometimes forget the journey and how hard we have worked to get to this point. Often there are so many little setbacks that we forget the few but ground-breaking strides.

Today when the motivation is lost, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself this question:

Do you know how unbelievably brilliant you are? 

Rise Up, Rise Above and Rise Beyond. 

Up, Above and Beyond the doubt. 

The only person who can question your ability is YOU. Don’t doubt it! #selfreflection