How to Create Space to Earn a Master’s Degree

You’ve asked questions, filled out the application, and been accepted. You are going to get a graduate degree! With classes selected and syllabi reviewed, you are ready to push your learning and teaching to the next level.

While it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and emotion of starting such a big life step, it’s essential that you make a solid plan before jumping in.

Two vital things to consider are where you’re going to complete this work and how you’re going to make room in that already full brain of yours.

Let’s take a look at how to physically and mentally make room to complete your degree program.

woman working at desk in art studio

There is no one space where you have to do your work, but it’s important to reflect on what your ideal work environment looks like.

Take some time to answer the questions below, as you think about your ideal work environment.

Is it…

  • Messy or organized?
  • Silent or slightly noisy?
  • A large open space or a small compact space?
  • A desk or a couch?
  • A place of solitude or are there other people?
  • Filled with inspiration or minimal in color and decor?
  • At your house or at an alternative location?
  • In your classroom or at a location of your choosing?
  • Filled with bright light or more dimly lit?

You can use the download below to answer these and other important questions.

downloadable resource

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Turning Your Dream Space into a Reality

After reviewing the list above, think about where a location similar to what you’ve described exists. Make a plan to have that be your workspace. If you can’t think of a place to fit your above description, what adjustments can you make?

For example, I work best in small spaces, where I can see all of my tools and materials. I like to be alone, and usually, prefer to be at home. While I don’t mind a mess, when I need to sit down to do hard work, I do like my work table to be fairly clear. I like to sit in a comfortable chair, and have space to get up and do some basic exercises, like squats and lunges when I need a break.

bright loft art studio

The room I work in at home is large, so I’ve broken it into vignettes, providing me with small spaces to work, making sure tools like paper, post-its, pens, and highlighters are always within reach. This arrangement leaves a small space open for my exercise. I also like the option to stand, so I purchased bed risers, making one of my tables function as a standing desk when needed.

This may all seem simple and trivial, but you want to look forward to spending time in your workspace, so it’s worth the effort to really put some thought into it.


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Pay Attention to Your Workflow

Next, pay attention to the ebb and flow of your energy. If you have the most energy in the morning, build time to work on your graduate work then, even if it means getting up a bit earlier.

If you know you’re great at getting a lot of work completed on Saturdays, block off time on your calendar, so you don’t get overbooked on the weekends. Next, reflect on times when you aren’t the most productive or have trouble completing a hard task. Use this time to answer emails, watch videos, or do other simple tasks that keep you moving forward.

Remove Distractions

Your workspace needs to be exactly that, a place to complete your work. Consider leaving your phone in another room on silent. You might also put a note on your door or simply lock it, so people aren’t coming into your room interrupting you.

To help you get started, make a list of all potential distractions.

  • Social media
  • Cleaning
  • Grading
  • Lesson planning
  • Kids
  • Dishes
  • Text messages
  • Phone calls

Close all window tabs unrelated to your work, and turn off notifications. Schedule time to do things like cleaning and the dishes after you’ve worked on your graduate work for a while and need a mindless task.

How to Deal with Resistance

Be aware of what resistance looks like for you. In, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says this about resistance, “Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”

In other words, resistance is anything pulling you away from doing the work you should be doing.

It might be feeling the need to answer emails or deciding now is the perfect time to file papers. Resistance might appear as a strong desire to do endless amounts of research on acrylic painting, instead of finishing the painting that’s sitting in front of you.

Resistance can also be sneaky and disguise itself as something positive.

For example, I tend to clean or do massive amounts of research when I have a hard project staring me in the face. I call it constructive procrastination. Meaning, I decided it’s okay that I’m not writing the paper or new video script because I’m cleaning my house. Or, I’m not finishing the in-service presentation because I’m doing eight hours of research on how to give the perfect TED talk.

desk with computer, book, and office supplies

Think About What “Smart” Looks and Feels Like to You

What makes you feel smart? This may sound a bit odd, but our clothes affect how we feel. Do you feel smarter when you wear glasses? Buy some fake glasses. Do you type faster when your nails are painted? Paint your nails. Do you feel more productive when you love your outfit? Take a few extra minutes to put on something you love.

Make a Routine

Create a routine you do every time you sit down to work, signaling to your brain; it’s time to get to work.

You might light a candle and read a few pages from your favorite book. Get a comfortable chair you actually like to sit in. Pour a cup of hot tea, set your timer, and get to work.

Find a Support System

Have a person. There are going to be times when you feel overwhelmed or unsure. Have a person you can call or text to help calm you down, and who prompts you to keep going. Set some boundaries for when you ask for help. Agree that the conversation can’t be longer than fifteen minutes. Otherwise, your helper becomes a distractor.

Make a Plan and Take Your Time

Give yourself time. You’re excited (and you should be), making it tempting to dive in and sign up for three classes. First, reflect on what you and your schedule can handle. Consider taking one course. See how it fits into your schedule. If it works well and you still have time, then add a second or third class. Remember you aren’t running a race. AOEU courses are designed to be flexible so they can fit into your busy lifestyle. Content is delivered through video, downloads, and instructional tools to which you have access to 24/7.

Take Time to Transition

Allow yourself time to switch from teacher mode to student mode. Transition time is important. With your busy schedule, you might be tempted to keep switching tasks. Not only does all of the switching slow you down, but it also isn’t helpful.

Take a short walk, get up and move, do a little dance. Write a few sentences in your sketchbook. Just as you have your students warm up for their work, you need to warm up for the work you’re doing.

Make a Plan for Emergencies

Plan for how you will respond when it gets hard, when you get sick, or when it’s time for the art show. Write down your plan.

For example, if you get sick, promise to take a sick day and write sub plans, allowing yourself to rest. Ask someone for help with things around the house like food and cleaning, so that you can focus the little energy you have on assignments. Commit to not waiting until the last minute to start your assignments, so it isn’t overwhelming if you need to take a few days off.

During weeks leading up to and following the art show, say, “No,” to all additional commitments. Write a clear plan of action for prepping and setting up the art show, noting what items you can have others do. Ask for parent and teacher volunteers and start getting items checked off the list as soon as possible.

If you have a family, talk to them, making sure they understand your schedule is going to be a bit more demanding. Talk to them about what it means to be earning your degree online. Make sure they understand even though you aren’t “going” to class two nights a week, you still have class work to complete.

For example, my husband knows I’m booked from 6am-8pm every Monday, no exceptions. Agree to let family members know if you’re feeling overwhelmed, and consider ordering dinner or ignoring the dirty laundry.

Earning your graduate degree is hard work, but it’s also rewarding, exciting, and opens doors to new opportunities. Taking the time to determine where you’re going to work and how you’re going to shift your mindset will set you up for the best possible experience.

What does your ideal work environment look like?

What excites you the most about earning your degree?

Amber Kane

AOE Admin

Amber Kane is a High School Art Teacher and textile designer in PA. Through questioning and a focus on the creative thought process, she strives to help her students uncover their personal voice and see how they can use art to create impact.

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