Student Stories

Here’s How Students Manage Their Time at Top Schools (PhD Student @MIT )

You will learn how students manage their time at TOP schools when you finish reading this article. Guaranteed.

We have been having some back and forth argument about managing time and hardships faced by foreign students at  not so sexy part of studying in USA (read it if you haven’t, 85+ comments)

I started looking for an answer that will show how students manage their time at top schools.

I just happened to get luck and found this article by Lucas Tambasco, PhD Student at MIT at Quora Thread

How students manage their time at Top Schools?

I usually try to have a balanced schedule above all. I believe it is really important to do fun things, talk to family, hang out with friends etc. But I do have quite a lot on my plate, academically, and learning how to manage time efficiently was one of the best things I learned at MIT!

So just for reference, I talk to my parents on a daily basis, I surf the web daily, I go out with friends at least once a week, and I sleep 8+ hours a day. Now the million dollar question: How to manage all that in 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

The main part of managing time efficiently is assigning the appropriate amount of time to each task, and sticking to it. Of course, not everything is predictable, and sometimes your scheduling will be thrown off. To avoid the problems that come with that you need to set priorities.

And finally, the last part, the easiest to say but hardest to obey, is to be honest with yourself.

Typical Day:

On a typical day, I wake up, shower and talk to my parents for about 5-10 minutes. This is a morning ritual that I like to do, because they are the people that have motivated me to get this far, and talking to them gives me a daily boost. I really appreciate my parents, and I know that these five minutes in the morning could not have been better spent.

Then, on a typical weekday with classes, I like to familiarize myself with the material that will be covered, try to research a little bit on Wikipedia, read through lecture notes or the textbook. Then I would go to classes, try to pay attention as much as possible.

Not paying attention in class makes you lose twice: once for wasting the class time, and then a second time because you will have to spend that much time, if not more, to cover the material at the same depth as it was covered in class!
So this is a double whammy I try to avoid; just pay attention in class, and then suddenly a lot of time will begin to materialize magically.

During lunch, I give myself a break.

Eating time is pretty sacred for me (not in any traditional religious way; I just love food so I take the time to appreciate it).

Sometimes I will watch an episode from a TV series I follow, or read some posts on Quora 🙂

After classes is the time when you have to be very organized with your assignments, projects, responsibilities.

You have to develop a notion of how important things are, and how long they will take you.

[x_blockquote type=”left”]You should know that a certain task will need you to dedicate “X” hours, so keep “X” hours separated for it.[/x_blockquote]

And you should know the importance of each assignment, and the consequences of not doing/doing poorly on it.

So when you are done with classes, pick a setting where you know you won’t be distracted. For some people this is your room, for others, the library.  Know your time constraints. You have so many hours until your next meeting/class/event/whatever, so set goals for what you want to accomplish during those hours.

Try to always start by your most pressing or most important task. If you have enough time to finish any of your tasks, try to do that instead; it is better to have your train of thought completed, and plus it’s always a great feeling to cross things off your to-do list (That reminds me, keep a to-do list, with things and their priorities!)

Have dinner, give yourself another half hour to relax.

And back to work! You should now finish off any task that you might have left unfinished (because you will lose your train of thought…). This should be done, again in order of priority!

Know your limits. Do not try to pull an all-nighter if you know you will be dead the following day.

The hours you gain in the middle of the night may turn into an entire day of zombie-like behaviour! And that can lead you to not pay attention in class which snowballs with more things you have to learn, less hours to sleep at night and ahhhh panic!

Not good.

So respect your body, if you feel tired, then fine, just analyze how much you have accomplished.

The more organized you are with your tasks, and the more honest you are with yourself, the better you become at managing time. If you say it’s study time, and you keep reading awesome answers on Quora (hopefully mine will one day fall into that category!) then you are cheating, wtIh the only loser being yourself.

So let study time be study time.

Disconnect, and give your total attention to your task. No Facebook, no twitter, no phone, nothing. Once you do this, you will see how much more efficient you are, and it is a positive feedback loop. You seem to accomplish more, and have more free time.

Finally, at the end of the day, I always try to surf the web a bit, answer a couple Quora questions, read a book, do something that I enjoy. I spend about an hour every night before going to bed doing non-school related things, so that I can relax and go to sleep with no worries. It really helps me have a good night sleep, and be ready for the next day.

As a final hint, during the weekends, try to prepare as much as possible for the week. Try to get ahead on assignments, or readings, etc. But also, save some time for your friends. I really enjoy going out to dinner with large groups of friends, because I get to talk to everyone, laugh a lot, and eat good food!

In general, there is no perfect recipe that will solve everyone’s problem, but I hope that sharing my experience and thoughts helps you get a bit more organized with your time!


Don’t you think this is awesome? Now, you know exactly how students manage their time at top school.

But, the question remains – Can you religiously follow the ideas and schedule listed by Lucas?

What do think about having a group project/challenge between HSB readers with Time Management? 


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  1. As a general template for scheduling your day, this has some use, but this is woefully vague on details. When does this person get up in the morning? Is the conversation with the parents over the phone or does he live at home? Living at home makes a huge difference because mom will attend to a lot of things like food shopping, dumping your dirty clothes in the washing machine, keeping food ready, etc. If you make your own breakfast or lunch and dinner, you have to plan it a lot better than saying, “I watch soaps on TV while having lunch.”
    The most important omission is the number of courses (I assume 3 three credit courses for a full load) and the number of class/contact hours. Graduate courses are usually 1 hr and 50 minutes. If your courses meet twice a week, you have 11 hours of classes/seminars per week. The rest of the time is yours to study, read, participate in other activities – sports, cultural activities, etc.
    Many have already written about the importance of eating properly and I agree wholeheartedly. I shall share my thoughts on this separately in the “not-so-sexy part of studying in the USA” comments section.

  2. I do not believe it is appropriate to copy and paste an ENTIRE post from another for-profit (though this is immaterial) website and use it on your for-profit blog.

    That’s pretty clear cut copyright infringement right there. You ought to take down this post.

    You should use perhaps the first 100 words of his post, and then link to it. Your readers can go there, read the post, and come back here.

    You may or may not publish this comment, but consider this in the spirit of a friendly warning. You do good stuff; don’t get hit with a DMCA claim and have your blog taken down.

    And yes, I did go to law school, and I am aware of copyright law.

    Good luck.

    1. Aditya – I read the copyright of Quora. Do you think, I would posting something “as-is” if there are copyright restrictions? You can refer to the their copyright policy.

    2. Quora Copyright Terms in simple words :

      The creator of the questions and answers on this website hold their “natural” copyright to the content they are creating. They can do with their own content whatever they wish – republish it to their heart’s content.

      However, at the same time, you are granting Quora a license to use your content as defined by the Terms of Service. This license appears to be universal, unrestricted, and irrevocable.

      Additionally, this license is extended to the users of Quora as well, allowing them to repost, republish, or otherwise use the content in violation of the Terms of Service.

      So, you’ve got the copyright, but at the same time you have licensed your content to Quora who has in turn licensed your content to its users.

      1. Hey Raghu,

        You’re right, and I’m wrong. I carefully read the terms, and it says this:

        Quora’s Licenses to You
        “Quora gives you a worldwide, royalty-free, non-assignable and non-exclusive license to re-post any of the Content on Quora anywhere on the rest of the web provided that the Content was added to the Service after April 22, 2010, and provided that the user who created the content has not explicitly marked the content as not for reproduction, and provided that you: …

        Subject to these Terms, Quora gives you a personal, worldwide, royalty-free, revocable, non-assignable and non-exclusive license to use the Service as it is provided to you by Quora.

        Therefore, since you’re a user (which I’m sure you are), you CAN use the content in the exact manner that you did.

        So, you’re absolutely right, and I was wrong. Mea culpa.

        I jumped the gun on the comment because I assumed that Quora did
        not in fact, grant such a royalty free license.

        You know what they say about assumptions 🙂

        Anyway, I wanted to acknowledge that I was wrong (which is something you see far too little of, on the internet and in real life).

        Good job on the site.


        1. Aditya – Its takes courage to admit you were wrong. I appreciate you for that. Here is a lesson I learned with Internet Marketing.

          Guys have EGO. That’s the reason you will see flood of comments to any controversial topics, because they don’t want to give up their ego and stand their ground.

          Just open any CNN article and see 2000+ comments. It will be completely off the topic.

          Accepting that you are wrong takes courage. You have that.

  3. It was really good.Though lot of people plan their schedule but they were not honest so, it was good to be Honest to follow our strategy.

  4. Really wonderful post !!! I am not a student…I am a married mom and with 2 young kids. I am really inspired by this post, as I always follow this and make my kids follow in their every-day life. I am happy this is on web now, so that I can show it to my kids today after they are back from school….

  5. GOOD POST…NEED TO BE MOTIVATED ENOUGH TO FOLLOW THE SAME. I think problems will surely motivate to follow the plan..
    thanks for sharing..

  6. Fantastic. Though we know that this kind of routine has to be followed, we need such inspiring reminder at times. It has boosted me up for a couple of weeks I guess.
    Thanks a lot for posting this awesome article!

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