13 Supercharged Ways to Stay Motivated in Your MBA

No matter how excited you were about your program when you got that acceptance letter, eventually your excitement is going to fade. That’s natural, but unless you make a plan for dealing with it, it can prove dangerous indeed. See, when motivation gets low, you’re in jeopardy of losing the buy-in that brought you to the program in the first place. This can impact your ability to listen in class, study and take advantage of the many opportunities and relationships business school has to offer.

Luckily, with a good plan in place, you’ll be able to stop motivation loss in its tracks most of the time. Even when it does get the better of you, the following strategies will help ensure that you can get back on the horse as quickly as possible. Here are 13 supercharged tips to put in your pocket today.

Remember Your Why

Something brought you to business school … what was it? Do you want to be involved in the manufacture of certain products? Do you have a knack for inspiring others and creating teams that get things done? Do you want to help independent artisans in developing countries get micro-loans and start their businesses? Remember that first made that light bulb go “ding!” and you’ll stand a better chance of keeping motivation high.

Think About Your Bank Account

No matter how unmotivated you feel, you’re paying the same amount of money. If you aren’t careful to take advantage of everything your MBA program offers, you’re simply wasting your hard-earned money … and incurring later loans for nothing. If you want to make sure your funds are well-spent, remind yourself of what you’ve sacrificed to get here.

Map Out Your Time

Sometimes the main problem behind a lack of enthusiasm is simply that you haven’t planned well. If you don’t keep up with reading and assignments, fail to properly prepare for presentations or outline your papers, you’ll quickly get overloaded, resulting in frenzied days that sap your energy and your ambition. This will impact your grades as well, so make the effort to plan several weeks ahead at all times.

Imagine Your Boss is Watching

Ask yourself: “How would I act if my boss were watching?” If the answer is “with more dedication,” then you’ve got some work to do. Imagine that well-meaning but demanding angel on your shoulder, and you’ll have more incentive.

Choose Your Compatriots Wisely

Studies show we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. If your five people like to hit the bars rather than the books, that doesn’t bode super well for you or your motivation levels. Even if you are better “friends” with some of your classmates, it pays to select study buddies and project partners that work hard, do their share and care about the outcome of their degree.

Plan Your Breaks Carefully

One of the biggest dangers when you’re in the midst of an intensive program is taking a bunch of unplanned time off. It’s important to take breaks, but make sure those breaks have a limit. If you plan to go out for dinner, don’t let that turn into drinks until 2 a.m. If you leave for the weekend, come back on Monday … even if you don’t have classes that day. When you get on a fun roll, it can be hard to come back, so set an expiration date ahead of time.

Get Some Expert Motivation

Experts are living the dream: They’ve finished business school (or equivalent training) and are reaping the benefits of positive, enjoyable and successful careers. Sometimes you just need to be reminded of how amazing that life can be. So listen to TED Talks. Fill your phone with podcasts. Confide in a professor. Get that boost you need to move on and enjoy the program for all you’re worth.

Supercharge Your Exam Plan

One of the best ways to get burned out is to leave exam studying to the last minute, then cram your face off. Not only does this sour you on the whole MBA experience, it’s a terribly study strategy, because you’re so much more likely to take an “Oh, screw it” attitude to your tests once you’ve hit your studying limit.

You can’t afford that. Instead, make sure you study methodically for weeks leading up to the exam. Is it appealing to hit the stacks when there’s no fire under you? No, not very. But it’s certainly the best strategy, and in the long run effectively safeguards your motivation.

Get Help When You Need It

Frustration is a huge motivation-sapper. If you get stuck on a problem set, a project or a paper, give it your all but then get help. Some say to use the 15-minute rule. If you really haven’t made any forward progress in 15 minutes, it’s time to give up and call in someone more equipped to handle it. This might be a professor or a classmate, or it might mean leaving the relative comfort of your couch and heading to the library across campus.

Don’t Pull All Nighters

While all-nighters might seem like a good idea at the time, knocking out a bunch of work at once, they’re not a good idea. You’re unlikely to get anything done the next day, and the several days after that will leave you feeling spent and unmotivated. Instead, plan for time wisely and reserve the night for sleeping.

Unwind With Your Classmates

Talking shop is one of the best ways to simultaneously blow off steam and ramp up your enthusiasm. When you’re surrounded by others who know exactly what you’re going through, you get the support you need to work through unpleasant situations (which will always occur in any environment), tackle tough problems and get through grueling periods such as exams. Plus, your comrades also share the pleasures of your program, helping to boost your spirits and remember why you’re here in the first place

Take Unplanned Time Off

The time management experts will tell you that once you make a plan, you should stick to it. And despite the above point – that you should avoid unplanned time off where possible – you do need to take it sometimes. If you have an emergency, experience grief or just become overwhelmed, you need to give yourself some space. That’s okay, but again, put a time limit on that space so you can come back refreshed and before your motivation wears even thinner.

Do What You Enjoy

If you don’t like what you’re studying, school is a drag. As grownups, we can appreciate a class for its information value and still hate going. While it’s fine to dislike one or two of your classes, if you don’t enjoy at least some of them, you’ll quickly lose that precious motivation. Map out your studies ahead of time so that you can dole out your favorite classes throughout the program instead of clustering them at the beginning and being stuck with required courses at the end, when your motivation will already be lowest.

No matter what you do, it’s not always possible to keep motivation high. Recognize that ahead of time so you can take the space you need, then come back when you’re ready. Sometimes, though, motivation is just a matter of getting started and pushing through. This works a surprising amount of the time, so when you feel blah about your studies, make the commitment to always at least try. Do so, and your MBA experience will not only be a success, there’s a good chance it will be a true joy.