Professional Learning

How to Make the Most of Your Time When Completing a Master’s Degree

woman working at a table

Pursuing a master’s degree is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. You’re excited to take on a new challenge, climb the pay scale, and hone your craft. But, the reality is that successfully completing a program requires a careful balancing act of your time and talents.

At The Art of Education University, we have a lot of support in place to help you through the process. From assigning each student an academic advisor to offering the most relevant coursework for art educators anywhere, we’ve got you covered. But, regardless of the program you choose, you’ll need to be conscious of how you’re spending your time.

If you’re going to be investing so much energy into a single pursuit, it’s important to enjoy it as much as possible.

woman working at a table

Of course, there will be moments that will feel overwhelming. Take a deep breath, develop a plan, and do one thing at a time.

To get started, create a weekly schedule.

Select a day of the week you’ll set aside thirty minutes to an hour to develop a clear and detailed plan for the following week.

As you create your schedule, be specific.

Don’t just write that you’re going to do grad work. Write how long you are going to work on assignments. In fact, you should be specific with the amount of time you’re going to do all of your tasks throughout the week. If you like Google Calendar, schedule everything on your calendar. If you prefer pen and paper, write it down in your planner.

It’s easy to think you’ll be able to teach full time, grade, work out, spend time with your family, walk the dogs, clean the house, and do graduate work. Once you see everything plugged into your calendar for certain amounts of time, it becomes clear what you can actually accomplish.

Make a list of all of the things you think you need to do. Then break them into the following 4 categories.

  • Non-Negotiable
  • Priority
  • If Time Allows
  • Why am I Even Doing This?

Schedule your non-negotiables first, then fill in your priorities. Keep going down the line until your schedule is complete. Realize that you may need to let go of some things. It’s okay not to do everything. Be up-front with yourself, instead of always feeling disappointed or like a failure when you don’t get everything done.

For example, my clothes often do not get folded and put away. My socks rarely match. That’s okay. I’m not a failure. I buy clothes that don’t wrinkle and don’t care if my socks match. But I do get my work done on time, walk my dogs every day, and give my students timely feedback on their work. You can’t do everything. Period.

If you’d like to try this system, use the handy planning sheet below.

downloadable resource

Download Now!

If you get to the end of the week and feel there are still too many items not crossed off your list, start looking for time leaks and plug them.

Here’s what I mean.

  • How much time are you spending on social media?
  • How often are you switching tasks?
  • Are you responding to text messages and other notifications when you are supposed to be working? Are those messages really important?
  • How much time did you just spend complaining to your coworker about how much work you have to do?

If you want to dive into the nitty-gritty details of how you spend your time, consider using a time tracker like Noko. It will create pie charts, showing you exactly how you spent your day. If you’d rather not pay for an app, the timer on your phone and a good old fashioned paper log can give you insightful info as well.

Assuming you’re getting your master’s in art education, work to align what you’re learning in class with what you’re doing in your classroom.

Woman working in sketchbook

I call this the double-dip rule, and it’s the perfect way to save time. Everything you do should count for at least two things. This is where AOEU’s program shines. Everything you do in your coursework will be relevant to what you do in your classroom.

Here are 3 examples.

  1. If you have to write a lesson plan in your grad class, make sure to implement that lesson plan in the next few weeks. It’s both an assignment, and you’re getting a new lesson to introduce to your students. If you want to get extra fancy, make sure the lesson directly addresses your SLO.
  2. If you have to create a painting using acrylic painting techniques, make a video while you’re working. Next, use the video as a teaching tool in your class. Even if the video doesn’t turn out perfectly, you’ve now practiced with set-up and lighting.
  3. If you have to read a book for the course, see if you can have a book study group with your professional learning group.

Now that you have a schedule and strategy, it’s time to take advantage of the courses themselves.

Connect with your instructors. Take advantage of what they have to offer. Be open to learning from them, being challenged by them, and asking them questions.

Develop a system for saving resources. You don’t have to use or read every recommended resource right away. Determine a system for saving and organizing them for future reference.

Here are 3 organization strategies you might try.

  1. Pinterest
    Create a Pinterest account and pin articles and other resources you want to use at a later date.
  2. Flipboard
    Create a Flipboard account. Flipboard is similar to Pinterest but works best for organizing articles. Both Pinterest and Flipboard have browser extensions, making it easy to click a button and save the resource.
  3. Digital Folders
    One more idea is to create digital folders, either on your computer, using Google Drive, or the cloud. Download resources and lesson ideas, and save them in appropriate folders. This will take a few minutes to set up but will save you hours in the future.

In short, leave your comfort zone. You’re spending time and money, don’t play it safe. Dive deep into class assignments and, ask for help when needed. Review the course resources to make sure you’re not missing out on great tools.

Do one thing at a time and take time to reflect.

With the fast pace of balancing your life and your graduate program, time for reflection can get lost. However, reflection is an important part of the learning process. Reflect on what it feels like to be a student, and think about how your students feel.

Don’t just learn from the content; learn from how the content is delivered and organized. Observe how your instructor gives you feedback.

Grab yourself a journal and make time to record your thoughts, feelings, and ideas. What do you like, what don’t you like? Where do you have blocks, how do you overcome those blocks? How do you respond when something feels too hard?

Earning your master’s degree might feel overwhelming. Take it one step at a time. Start with a clear plan for when you’re going to do your work, and observe how that work will impact both your personal and professional goals. Last, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Spend some time talking to other teachers who have earned their master’s degrees. Asking about their experience and recommendations could inform your own experience.

What makes you the most excited about earning your master’s degree?

What’s your secret weapon for getting everything done?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Amber Kane

Amber Kane is AOEU’s Director of K–12 Curriculum and a former AOEU Writer and high school art educator. She believes questioning and a focus on the creative thought process helps students uncover their personal voice and impact others.

More from Amber