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I've not been to school for seventeen years. Though I’ve never stopped learning, it feels different when learning is tested by deadlines, homework, quizzes, and graded exams. My intention is to come into graduate school as prepared as can be. But preparation is only as good as the evaluation we do right after we've implemented the plan.

We set sights on a short-term and long-term plan. As far as schooling goes, my plan is laid out weekly, and I'm here to dissect the first week of my experience. John Maxwell sums up the point that experience isn't the best teacher… evaluated experience is. When you become aware of what can be done better, get right to it—no need to swirl in limbo.

Ever noticed when we embark on something new, we have a flood of questions that rush through our heads, such as: Can I actually do this? Am I too old for this? What if it gets overwhelming? Is the sacrifice worthwhile? Do I have enough time? Once you call out these uncertainties and nip them in the bud, you silence the doubtful self-talk that does not serve you. In the words of Henry Ford, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't — you're right." So the answer should always fall favorably on your side.

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I was so nervous about going back to school after almost two decades of hiatus. I actually started installing study habits and building routines two months early, even before I knew the admission results. I watched LinkedIn Learning video modules, sometimes YouTube, during my downtime. It was a daily exercise to get re-acquainted with the concepts and topics of my first class. I firmly believe that you can learn just about anything these days with some self-study. But the main idea was that I have put myself squarely in a learning mindset. This helped tons in the transition.

Here are eight study strategies that have been helpful to me in my first week of MBA:

1. Create a Week's View of Action Plan

Admittedly in college, I will go to class expecting to be taught by the professor first. Then I do all my studying later after we covered the topic to supplement my learning. I'm not sure if everyone else did it that way, but this was how I approached my college years.

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But in graduate school, it is a reverse process. You go in already having read the chapters and knowing the content by studying independently. Then any web conferences or live classes just seals in your comprehension. It also allows you to add value to class discussions.

I have to say that doing this part different instantly gave me a mental motivation boost, knowing that I cracked my book open and started reading the first chapter - 3 days before my first day of class. Shown in the table below is how I've spread out my efforts for the week:

Study Strategy - Chapter 1

2. Stick to the Schedule

I created an ideal week schedule, and I posted it up in different areas of the house where I see it. I see it so often that it has been ingrained what I need to do at any given time of day. I had to do a dry run of this schedule and tweak it. It might feel overly structured for some, but remember that there is a life season that calls for a dense structure for this to work out. Spontaneity still happens in pockets of my day, at the weekend, or on my rest day.

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3. Occupy a Designated Place to Study

Study Place

My spot is right on my table right by a window bay. I get to look out at the pool, or up in the sky, and offer a sense of calm. It is a designated place that puts me in the zone of deep work. It is an automatic response of my body that whenever I sit here, I expect to be productive, and time is well-spent. This is the same place where I work in the day, where I write, and where I do my quiet time at the top of the morning.

4. No Multi-tasking

Multi-tasking is a myth. No one can effectively split attention between multiple tasks at once, requiring active thinking. Doing so causes more stress because your brain needs to partition its processing power over many things than just a single task. There is a switching cost as you bounce back and forth between tasks quickly. It removes you from a state of flow. When I commit to studying, that's all that's taking place. There is no twiddling on the phone checking social media, no glancing at my email, no TV on the background, no unnecessary interruptions. I prefer complete silence, where I only hear my thoughts.  However, when my mind start to wander or I get sleepy while reading, I put on classical music for focus.

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5. Leverage a Study Group

I had my first study group this week. It was a small group of three students. I aimed to join in this session, having had all my readings done. I finished the exercises and problems, ready to share and talk through my answers. I took down notes and wrote down questions that will spur more discussion. It's so easy to get into the mechanical aspect of it. But what I really liked about it is the relational side.  We're all just students, humans really, going through the same emotions right now. We used the first few minutes of it as "therapy time" to be real, let out some anxieties, and share how we feel about starting school. We built rapport, got to know each other a bit more, and learned how to push and encourage each other and add value throughout the semester.

6. Reclaim Idle Time

I remember when I earned a Certification as Content Marketing Specialist for Digital Marketing, I was studying in between chores and my kids' nap time. I was on the iPad reading while I put the kids to bed. I lugged my laptop with me so that I maximize the time and study during my work breaks, or even in the locker room after working out, or while I wait for my ride. I took every chance I can get to earn that certification, and I did it.

Violin Class

It just took me back because this week, I had to sit idle for 1.5 hours waiting for my kids to get done their music class. I just knew that next time I have to sit outside the door, along the hallway, where I barely heard them play instruments, I might have my book with me to read. Any busy parent knows that each minute counts!

7. Set a Day of Rest

It may feel like you need all days of the week to even make a dent on your complex goals. Maybe it feels like the whole week is not enough for all that you need to do. Stop right there. It is essential to take a break from a monotonous weekly routine. To shake it up, fill your cup, attend to self-care, or work on a hobby you enjoy. Engaging in creativity and passion projects lets you connect with a bigger purpose to live out our uniqueness. Setting a day of rest or a free day puts zest back into your outlook in life, and then you come out refreshed much more ready again for the grind. I am so motivated to stick to my study plan during the week so that I can claim that one day of brain break.

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8. Plug in to a True Power Source

We run on a battery that drains out so quickly. Imagine if you can plug into a high voltage divine superpower that never runs out. The key to sustaining yourself accomplishing work that matters is to connect to Jesus, the True Vine. It's clear in the Word: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." - John 15:5

There is an inexplicable, unshakeable confidence that comes with having full assurance of this truth and living it out...

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My first week of Executive MBA went smoothly. I have to outline here what I did, truthfully for my own sake. So when things get overwhelming, I can refer back at these pointers to keep it smooth sailing - since I am writing this with a composed and organized mind right at this moment. But things can easily sway. The tide can quickly turn. For you who might be caught up in the high tide, I hope this helps bring you back to shore, and you can pull in to calm waters where you're not in over your head.

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Shiela Bernardo is an advocate for up-skilling in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field, as a self-taught computer programmer who started out in the US job market as a part-time massage therapist. She is now working as a Vice President of a Fortune 100 financial institution. Shiela is currently taking up Global Leadership Executive MBA in Business Analytics at the University of Texas at Dallas. She perpetually seeks to demystify how to keep the house clean with two active young daughters while working out her personal goals.  She looks out for opportunities to live a missional, purposeful life in the backdrop of ordinary daily experiences.  She blogs about family, faith, and finances in her spare time. She lives in Frisco, TX with her family. ♥

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