One of the most striking aspects of the Cambridge MBA is the flurry of classes, events and opportunities we are given during the first term. I learned the hard way that I needed to get all of my house-keeping sorted out before the start of term because there was little time and an over-abundance of activities to both distract and delight during term.
After a few days of networking, classes begin on day three. Management Praxis is a foundational self-awareness and people-skills course that brilliantly supported our learning during first term. Overlying the term was the Cambridge Venture Project (CVP), a group consulting exercise where we applied and reflected upon the frameworks taught in Management Praxis. The CVP offered us the unique opportunity to both exercise our consulting skills and learn how inter-team dynamics can aid or hamper a project’s success. As a result, situational awareness and self-regulation became second-nature.
In addition to the above, there are core courses – and beyond these required commitments, we have a number of MBA social activities and networking events, not to mention the quintessential Cambridge experiences such as Formal Hall, punting, Cambridge Union debates, and joining the boat club. Each day is filled from 9am (7am on days with rowing practice) to midnight. I simply couldn’t fit everything I wanted to do into my available time, so I had to prioritise.
So how do you do it? How do you prioritise? How do you stay sane? While my process is still not perfect, it helped me make the most of time last term, and here are my top three tips:
1. Know what you want
This comes down to one simple question: Why am I doing the MBA? To gain specific skills and knowledge? To make lifelong friends and connections? My intention is to be authentic, giving, and disciplined as I garner valuable business skills and develop lifelong connections to support my post-MBA career plans. Each time I was faced with a new activity or commitment, I asked myself, “Does this further or hinder my intention?” The answer was always simple, and it became much easier to say “no” without the fear of missing out.
2. Schedule You-time
This is the most important, but also the very first to be compromised when we are short on time. If I am not rested and not centered, then I cannot perform at my best. It’s that simple. I schedule chunks of time (sometimes entire days) into my calendar so that I remember not to schedule anything over them. Far more impactful, I have developed a daily meditation practice. Giving myself time to be calm was critical to remaining clear and focused. Developing a daily habit does not need to be stressful; some days my meditation was no longer than a few mindful breaths.
3. Leverage the study group
We are given a group for a reason. Not merely to experience the highs and lows of teamwork, but also to support each other in dividing work to allow time and energy for other opportunities the University of Cambridge has to offer. Because my team trusted and relied upon each other, I have been able to join the rowing team, hold weekly meditation sessions, host dinner parties, co-chair the Entrepreneurship SIG, pursue my own startup idea, date, exercise, travel (to Brighton and the Scottish Highlands), and attend Formal Hall each week.
A world-class education is tough work, but this what I chose. Now that I am here, the only way out is through. I see the MBA is a simulation for real life and believe that my choices and decisions here are indicative of how I will live my life after school.
In the business world, the context and choices may differ, but our patterns and habits remain the same. How will you balance work and life? How will you prioritise some business activities over others? How will you make important business decisions? In the same way: know the vision and long-term goals of the project or firm; give yourself time to recover so that you maintain work-life balance and remain at peak mental capacity; and leverage the talents and skills of the people on your team.