Happy Students
Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Want advice on how to work in groups? Or perhaps you are worried about staying motivated during the exam period? MBA bloggers, past and present, give their advice and tips on business school life and how to survive it.

Tips on balancing work, study, rest and play
Linda Groarke, Open University Business School

If you’re studying for an MBA on a part-time basis over the course of three years, on average, a student will invest a total of 1,800 study hours. This roughly works out to be 11-12 hours per week; 1.5 hours per day. Knowing this and budgeting for it is essential to managing successfully your time between studying, working, resting and playing.

Each module and task will require you to consider how much time you need to set aside to complete it. To help you do this you should evaluate how you are currently using your time. Be honest and realistic as any estimates you provide, can always be revised. As you would a budget, include all known activities together with expenditure (in this case your expenditure is your time). If you know an area of study might need more of your time, make sure you allow for it.

You know your weaknesses and strengths – let a strength be knowing them and doing something about them. Think about the module or class that you know you would need to dedicate more time to and allow yourself more time to get to grips with the class material or subject matter.

How to find the time and balance:

● Reduce some leisure activities: if you’re being honest with how you’re allocating your time, you should see an instant reduction in your TV watching!

● Balance your studying with your social life: undoubtedly, your social life will take a hit, but be sure to include some downtime too. You need to balance the books.

● Use gaps in your schedule to allocate study time: try to use your commuting time to catch up on some reading, but it may not always be easy to do so if you don’t get a seat or if the train is too busy. You can also try to study during your lunch hour at work to save time further.

● Learn to say “no”: apply your assertiveness skills and learn to say no, be it to friends, family or co-workers. You’ll need to know the line of when saying “no” is appropriate as you don’t want to miss out on the promotion or team lunch. However, equally taking on a new project or extra work at a time when you know your studies are very demanding may not be the best deal for either you or your organisation.

● Recognise when ‘good’ is good enough: go with your instincts on whether you need to completely digest a report/minutes/etc or simply scan it.

● Understand the task at hand: Procrastination and not knowing what it is you’re meant to be doing go hand-in-hand. Make sure you understand the task and if you don’t ask early and ask until you do.

● Plan in advance: when you get deadlines, look at your calendar and plan in advance. It is a good idea to include everything on your calendar, from social activities to work deadlines and assignment due dates. It can be quite an eye-opener when you see how little time you have to complete a task, but it gives you the impetus to stay on track and remain focused.

● Know your limitations to maximise the efficiency of your studying: it is important to know your limitations and plan accordingly. For example, if you know that you’re a morning person and your brain is more engaged and switched on during the day than it is in the evening, then ensure that the period in which you do your work is compatible with that. You need to do what works for you and it’ll be trial and error until you get it right.

● Take up an activity or sport to release stress: don’t underestimate the power of stepping away from the screen for a quick 30-minute workout. Take the time to escape the books to break a sweat and it can work wonders. It will wake you up and allows you to focus and come back to the books with a fresh mind and may enable you to focus longer.

● Don’t push yourself too hard: if you feel that your concentration is dwindling – keep going for 15-mins to see if things improve, if they don’t it might be the time to put the books down either for a while or for the night.

Ultimately your MBA should be an interesting, fun and rewarding learning experience. And the key to all that is in simply balancing your time.

Three quick ideas for staying motivated during exams

Alexandra Fitzgerald, Rotman School of Management

With all the material to study through during exams, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to keep studying. To help you through this, here are three tactics you can use to help you get through the week:

● A cram-free plan
Map out your days and make sure that your study time is actually productive. Remember to take social breaks, but make sure they are breaks that actually stop. When you feel that you are done studying for the night, stop and go to bed to start fresh the next day, instead of pulling an all-nighter and negatively impacting your focus and concentration the next day.

● Study with others . . . and choose the ‘others’ wisely
Find someone with an enviable dedication to studying and set up times to meet them on campus to study. They can help you stay motivated and perhaps even push you while studying.

● Pick-me – ups
Since you are bound to have days where you get too bored with studying, you should find your own “pick-me-up” to combat that. It can be anything, such as a motivational video on YouTube. It is whatever helps you when you are lacking motivation to study and need to get back on track.

The golden rules of group work

Lynne Hoey, IE Business School

You know how job descriptions always require their employees to work well in teams? I am sure most of you have read this and thought – “I work great in teams, I have been working in teams for years with no issues.” Well, once you start your group work in your MBA, you may reconsider your response.

Ask former MBAs about group work and most people will groan and roll their eyes and everyone has a group work horror story. I have yet to meet one person who said that they loved group work and wanted more of it. Group work is a huge and important part of the MBA experience because we are all future business leaders and it teaches you how to manage projects. Unless you are a project manager, you probably don’t have as much team work experience as you thought. But there are some golden rules that you can follow that will make you an effective contributor and ensure you don’t get overly frustrated:

● Listen! Good leaders always listen more than they talk. You should only speak when either your teammates are going down the wrong path or if you have something to say that add values. Remember, we are all doing an MBA to learn and listening in the best way to do that.

● Treat your teammates as you would your boss: this means with open and timely communication. If you aren’t going to finish your part of a project, tell the group so they can help out. Do not go radio silent; that is one way to make you pretty unpopular, pretty quickly.

● Delegate effectively: if you are managing a project, be fair. Take into account your teammates’ work schedule and try to delegate based upon their strengths. This will make the work flow easier. It may be worth splitting the group into smaller groups to manage the projects more efficiently.

● Pick your battles: maybe you thought the tone that one of your teammates used with you was disrespectful. Is it worth confronting them about? Probably not. Does someone disappear for days on end when your final assignment is due? You need to deal with this as a group.

● Meet deadlines and follow directions: it seems pretty basic but it’s amazing what little importance these areas are given. By adhering to them, you demonstrate that you are respectful of your teammates’ time and effort. If you do not, you seem disinterested and put more value on your own time than the group’s time. If you disagree with a deadline or instructions, you should raise it with the group.

Following these simple rules will make group work a much more positive experience. Don’t despair if you find that your group has a slacker, a joker, an ego, a pacifist, a confronter, a gossip and a workaholic. This is typical of any work environment so the MBA is no different. The group work will teach you how to deal effectively with different personality types and you will learn tons about your own personality along the way. Don’t be fearful of group work – embrace it!

The importance of mentors

Tristan Tucker, University of Queensland

One of your incentives for doing an MBA may be to get an understanding of how people transition their careers from “doing” an activity to “managing” an activity. A business mentor could be greatly beneficial in helping you develop into that. They could provide generalist information on business topics as well as providing honest feedback regarding improvement opportunities.

A great business mentor has more trust in your ability than you do and will often put you in difficult situations to prove to yourself that you can succeed. They are allies for you in the complex world of corporate politics and their mere presence makes work a little easier. Often, they are also the reason you have a positive relationship with the organisation you work for. In all, a good business mentor is essential to your continual growth, career progression and the rewarding experience that work can give you.

As I think about the great business mentors I have had throughout my career I think about the person I was before I met them. These mentors have taught me how to handle confrontation and have improved my confidence in tackling difficult problems and issues at work.

One mentor in particular taught me how it is important to voice your opinion when you do not agree with a solution to a problem. We are all here to add value – agreeing without thinking is not adding value! Likewise, at this point in the MBA journey, I can see my problem-solving skills have improved to incorporate many more disciplines that I previously would not have factored into the solution.

While the MBA has given me some of the mentorship qualities I was initially seeking, it is clear nothing can replace a good business mentor. I will be forever thankful to my mentors who have taken time out of their daily schedules to listen to me and encourage me and have continued to invest in my career. I encourage everyone to find at least one person whom they can talk openly with and who encourages you to step outside your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to approach someone you respect but who you aren’t well acquainted with – someone external to your immediate work environment is likely to provide excellent advice and will be flattered that you have sought them out to be your mentor.

The MBA battle

Ibad Hyder, National University of Singapore Business School
I like to think of the MBA as an epic battle in my life, a battle I am fighting against the combined forces of assignments, projects and exams. The only element that is missing from this battle is good or evil – the battle is just business, it’s just the MBA.

With the second semester behind me and just six more months before the MBA journey comes to an end, I believe I have reached a stage where I can dispense advice on how to get the best out of this harmless yet life-changing battle.

● Make time your ally; despite being a basic rule, many of us find ourselves racing against time and at times this is the only deciding factor. Plan ahead to be more efficient with your time and have more time to focus on your friends and what interests you.

● Go the extra mile; when battling with assignments and managing conflicting deadlines, one goes into efficiency mode and getting the job done with the minimum of effort becomes the order of the day. However, the purpose of coming back to school should be to go the extra mile and learn as much as possible.

● Know what you want to learn and what you want to try. The flood of extracurricular opportunities on campus can be overwhelming, but if you know the roles you’d like to try, industries you’d like to learn about and skills you’d like to build, you’ll be able to recognise and take advantage of opportunities when you see them, even when they’re hidden in unexpected places. When you’re able to break down your interest in roles, tasks and industries, the possibilities for you to mix and match them in powerful, relevant, hands-on ways that test and develop your skills are endless.

● At the same time, broaden your horizons; an MBA provides endless opportunities to gain new experiences. For example, take up a job in an area to which you previously had limited exposure. This will enable you to broaden your knowledge and gain first-hand experience, which you may be able to bring into your work in the future.

A guide to business school

Kelvin Chiu, Chinese University of Hong Kong

● Take on more than you think you can handle: people often underestimate what they can accomplish. Doing an MBA gives you a chance to challenge yourself and gain exposure. Sign up for talks, go to events, go to conferences, do case competitions, have drinks with an alumnus you barely know, play organised sports . . . Etc. If an opportunity passes by, you won’t know what you’ve missed or who you could have met.

● Grades are important but actually learning the material will benefit you in the future. I find some concepts I learnt in high school and undergrad have popped up again during my working career and MBA studies. As someone without a previous financial background, everything I have learnt so far has been interesting. As much as I want to deny it, sometimes what you learn in school appears in the working world more often than you think.

● Read more: since I started my programme, I have made a commitment to read more. I feel to be successful after the completion of my studies I need to do the proper ground work. Instead of reading up on box scores and stats on ESPN all the time, I try to spend a bit more time reading the Financial Times, The Economist and other business publications so that I can gain a better understanding on what is going on around me in the business world. I feel it’s an obligation I have being an MBA student.

● Keep your eye on the prize: the economy is looking quite grim these days and the job market isn’t exactly thriving. I sometimes think back on what I left in order to get my MBA but I realise that to achieve something you have to do something you have never done. I have met some great industry mentors so far and they always say to remain diligent and focused on my goals.

● Alums and executives are indeed really nice people: Some of the most friendly and helpful people I have met have been senior executive staff and alumni. They are also willing to provide guidance and help when asked. It’s important to build a network around these professionals because they have so much valuable experiences and good stories to tell.

Focusing on the work-life balance

Madhavi Rao, Ross School of Business
and the University of Michigan

● Spend the most time on the people and projects that matter most to you. It feels silly to make something so obvious a priority, but in school, where comparatively less important, spur-of-the-moment activities and events can quickly fill your schedule, this is a constant struggle.

To keep less valuable commitments from crowding out your priorities, be vigilant in regularly reviewing your schedule to ensure that you’re making enough time for what is most important and course correcting when you’re not.

This includes staying in touch with the people you were close to back home. It might be difficult to find time to stay in touch but smart phones and social media has helped immensely in this area.


Networking, a vital part of the MBA programme

Linda Groarke, Open University Business School

A big part of studying for an MBA is the networking you will – and should seek out. Networking can come in many guises from those in your class, your alumni, your tutors to those outside of your ‘inner’ circle.

The networking advantages are endless:

● Allows you the opportunity to tap into a number of possible sources who you’ve connected with over the months and years perhaps for a new opportunity – a similar role but in a different organisation, perhaps a step up in your current organisation or maybe even something entirely different to the role you’ve been doing in your working career to date.

● Networking is an open-door-policy. You should find that everyone’s door (from the top down) should be open to a simple connection or introduction and can do wonders for your career. Don’t be shy to reach out to a senior member of staff at your workplace. It’s a key management skill.

● Networking should extend beyond the classroom. Think social media. Tools such as Linked In, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, personal blogs etc can go a long way to allowing you to create an online presence, a platform for your voice to be heard, a place for prospective employees or clients to view your work – not to mention the main purpose – network – you with them and vice versa.

Aside from the obvious social media platforms, you should also try the following:

● If your MBA was accredited by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) you should look to join.

● Look to see if your university has an alumni association.

● Consider the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing), CIPD (Chartered Institute of Professional Development), CMI (Chartered Management Institute) and other management-related professional institutes.

Networking is a two-way activity. Just as you’re expecting to gain something from the relationship or connection, so too is the person you’re looking to connect with. Make sure you are able to meet their needs – if not in the short term then perhaps in the long term.

If you are interested in becoming an MBA blogger please contact linda.anderson@ft.com

Get alerts on MBA when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article