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If only I’d known that before studying an MBA! Time management advice for prospective MBAs

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This article was also published in the 31-Oct-2013 issue of Finweek and on Finweek.com

In the 2013 Finweek MBAconnect.net MBA Life Impact Survey, prospective MBAs get invaluable advice from MBAs who’ve been down the MBA road. This article focuses on the first theme: how to manage your time more effectively.

Background to the Finweek MBAconnect.net MBA Life Impact Survey

Earlier in 2013 Finweek, together with MBAconnect.net and FeedbackRocket.com, carried out the second MBA Life Impact Survey on 1,597 current MBA students and MBA alumni throughout South Africa.  The aim of this ground-breaking study was to answer the core question: “Should I do an MBA or not?” We did this by exploring all the areas of one’s life that are impacted by an MBA degree. So we looked not only at the traditional elements like career advancement and remuneration, but also at other areas like family and relationships, stress, work-life balance, lifestyle and health. We also examined the psychological aspects affected by the MBA (such as leadership development, status, confidence, outlook on life, etc.). In order to make a more informed decision, prospective MBAs need to weigh up all these factors if they are thinking of studying an MBA.

Download the full survey report for free here

What is this series of articles all about?

Looking back on their MBA journeys, I’ve heard many MBA graduates say: “I wish I’d known that before I started the MBA!” Sadly, unless you have a network of MBA graduates you can tap into before you start your MBA degree, this is advice you usually only hear when it is too late. The 2013 MBA Life Impact Survey, carried out by Finweek, MBAconnect.net and FeedbackRocket.com, solves this problem in a simple, innovative way. In the survey, one of the questions we asked MBAs was the following: “If you were starting the MBA all over again, what advice do you wish you had received?” We’ll be running a series of Finweek articles summarising what they had to say, and the themes that emerged. If you’re about to embark on your MBA journey or are thinking seriously about studying an MBA, you’ll want to read their tips first. This advice from MBAs who’ve been there could have a dramatic effect on your decision to do an MBA or not, which business school you choose, but also when in your life you study an MBA. It could also save you a lot of heartache, pain and stress during your MBA studies.

In this first article of this series, we unpack the first advice theme: MORE EFFECTIVE TIME MANAGEMENT. 


The MBA is an extremely gruelling degree. Why? Because of the time needed to study the material and master new business concepts, the relentless pace that MBA students need to maintain, the heavy workload, the time that the MBA saps from other important areas of your life, and the competitive environment.

“Give up any free time. Just accept the MBA will take it all away.” (Current MBA student, Regent)

“(The) MBA takes over your life if you want to succeed.” (MBA graduate 2001, UFS)


According to Sections 16.3 and 16.4 of the actual survey report, many MBA respondents found the degree too fast-paced and too time-consuming and the workload too great. However, an unexpectedly high number of respondents felt that the intensity, pressure and pace of the MBA were the best parts of the MBA degree (see Section 12.7 of the main report).

Understanding just how much time and work an MBA degree takes, many MBA respondents advised newbie MBA students to work on their MBA every single day, starting from day one.

“Be diligent (with) time. Put in the two hours of work every day. Work life balance. Teach yourself the skills to manage work-life.” (Current MBA student, Henley)

“Prepare for the most challenging but rewarding experience, adjust your lifestyle and work to manage it and get going from day one. Read read read…” (Current MBA student, Henley)

“Time management is critical. Steady work, on a daily basis, will save a lot of heartache and stress. Also, make friends with your classmates, it’s a competitive course, but they are the ONLY ones who truly understand what the challenges of a part-time MBA are like.” (MBA graduate 2013, Rhodes)

“If I was single, not to date, at all. Also to discipline yourself FROM THE START to set aside 2-3 hours every day for the MBA. NOT to leave everything until the last minute.” (Current MBA student, NWU Potch)

“Study consistently – and do not mix (the MBA with) baby making campaigns, one of them will suffer.” (MBA graduate 2013, Henley)

“.. an MBA is a lot of work, the content is not very difficult but the load of work is immense and a lot of time needs to be devoted to keep up.” (MBA graduate 2011, GIBS)

“It’s not as hard as you think but takes more time than you think.” (MBA graduate 2002, UCT)


Many respondents recommended that MBA students pace themselves. Why? Because if you fall behind in your studies, you won’t be able to catch up, the pace is simply too rapid.

“The MBA is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself as the workload only gets heavier as you progress through the modules.” (Current MBA student, WBS)

“Pace yourself, it’s a long journey!” (MBA graduate 2013, Henley)

“Stay up to date with your studies, if you fall behind you might never catch up. Get into a good habit of reading regularly.” (Current MBA student, USB)

“Ensure that you create and have your own private time and place for your studies. Routine is important to ensure you do not fall behind.” (MBA graduate 2010, Henley)

“Pace yourself and do not get over-awed by the hype that surrounds it. With good planning and implementing a balanced life-style, it is very much achievable.” (MBA graduate 2008, UFS)

“Do not lose momentum.” (MBA graduate 2010, Henley)


Also, many respondents suggest that MBA students use their time effectively. How? By working quickly and decisively, and not procrastinating.

“Be proactive and do not procrastinate – time is very scarce and you must manage it well.” (Current MBA student, WBS)

“Now is always the best possible time to start.” (Current MBA student, Mancosa)

“Do not procrastinate! Start revising from day 1, and do not ignore the introduction chapters – they lay the foundation from which you will need to build your knowledge on the subject.” (MBA graduate 2013, UKZN)

“Do not waste time.” (Current MBA student, Henley)

“Prepare for exams and assignments as early as possible…” (Current MBA student, Mancosa)

“Get it done quickly.” (MBA graduate 2009, Henley)


So in a nutshell, what are the key takeaways for more effective time management in the MBA?

  1. Understanding just how much time and work an MBA degree takes, newbie MBA students should work on their MBA every single day, starting from day one.
  2. MBA students should pace themselves. If you fall behind in your studies, you won’t be able to catch up, the pace is simply too rapid.
  3. MBA students should use their time effectively by working quickly and decisively, and not procrastinating.


All in all, the MBA helped people become more effective at managing their time in all spheres of their lives. This is an invaluable skill to take away from the MBA. Without the pressure and pace that is such a fundamental part of the MBA, MBAs would not master time management skills as effectively. This is the yin and yang that is the MBA degree. In the words of a current MBA student from NWU Potch: “It was a very enriching experience, where I learnt what time management really is.”

Author: Colette Symanowitz

Director of FraudCracker. Passionate about entrepreneurship, personal branding and networking. I also tweet under @FraudCracker

One thought on “If only I’d known that before studying an MBA! Time management advice for prospective MBAs

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