A blank wall in the studios at the ready.

This semester has been all about hitting the ground running. So far, it’s been really comfortable to jump back into school mode and think about my work/practice in the context of the classes I’m in. Last fall everything was so new, just adjusting to life in Chicago had me scrambling to figure out which way was up. This year, I have a clearer vision for where I’m headed and the work I’ll be focusing on as the semester unfolds. While the exact details aren’t set in stone the general path is starting to become clear. Of course, everything gets refined and evolves when you are in school while in constant dialogue with so many artists. I’m looking forward to the process and hoping to have my most productive and engaged semester in grad school yet. All that being said, it’s going to be an extremely busy semester – it already feels like time is in fast forward. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with all the upcoming due dates and projects.

Anti all-nighters

I have a strict no all-nighter policy that been in full effect since my undergrad years. I know myself well enough to know that no one wants to deal with a sleepy (and therefore angry) Colleen. I’m allergic to coffee beans so basically there is no hope for any warm cup of caffeine to get me through the subsequent marathon of a day. I just can’t function without sleep. So over the years I’ve had to figure out how to get things done without sacrificing my sleep and sanity.

For Sleep

One big secret to success in grad school that I wish I would have realized sooner is the importance of planning. I know this sounds obvious because it totally is and yet for me it completely wasn’t. For the first two months of my first year, I took notes about upcoming assignments and due dates on random pages in a tiny blank notebook. I’d get home and be completely confused my the fragments I’d written down so I’d look at the class syllabus and try and decipher my own handwriting. It was a total waste of time that caused so much stress. The secret is that in many ways grad school is also about learning how to manage and organize your time while being surrounded by a constant swirl of due dates, artist talks, classes, events, papers, and–oh yea–studio time. So here are a couple of my grad school planning hacks:

Post it and planner addiction.


Buy a Planner

I’m sorta old school on this – I have an actual planner with dates that I use to schedule out my days and keep track of assignments. I know many people prefer digital, but there is something about writing things down and then crossing them off my to do list that works better for me. I did some intensive planner research prior to committing and I went with the Passion Planner because of the layout and the fact it helps me manage personal to-do lists alongside my work/school lists.There are a million type and styles of planners out there – find one that makes sense to you, then buy it – it’s worth every penny.


This semester, there was a class I was super excited to take but it was only offered at 8:30 a.m. The night before, I have a required class until 10 p.m. Getting out at 10 p.m. means I get home around 11 p.m. and probably wouldn’t be able to fall asleep till midnight ,but if I took the class I wanted I’d need to be out the door again by 7:15 a.m. the next morning. The math didn’t work – it wasn’t worth completely messing up my sleep routine for. There are core required classes that are only offered once during the program, so you can’t always be flexible. I’m sure there will be classes where it is worth it, but for me that one wasn’t – choose your own adventure.


Meal planning on top of everything else is often where I fall short. Last week, I ate an early lunch and then spent time in my studio before heading to class. As my professor was lecturing I realized my stomach was audibly growling. It’s for this reason I say invest in snacks. I’m into trail mixes, granola bars, and dark chocolate at the moment and I hide them all over. In my studio, my backpack, or the pocket of the jacket I usually wear. Also water, a drink of water always helps.


Flu Shot. Get one. Nobody has time for that.