The Art of Biting Off Exactly What You Can Chew

April 7, 2008

Time management is a critical skill for business school. If you don’t have it when you arrive, you quickly obtain it. The first year at Darden is notoriously rigirous. But, to be honest, I found it to be manageable thus far. I held up well in through the first three quarters, as we pushed through the cases and through the new material. My learning team, probably my favorite single academic institution here at Darden, pulled together, buckled down, and honed our analysis of each case each night.

You learn some tricks along the way. At first, everyone worked for hours on every case and attended every social function and recruiting event. Then, one by one, we all realized that sleep is not an entirely voluntary part of life. My learning team decided to split the course load. We all read the cases, and each of us brought our own analysis to our learning team meeting, but we began to be less in-depth in our individual analysis. We assigned two people to each case, on a rotating basis, to thoroughly digest the material and put together an intuitive analysis. The “case leaders” were responsible for leading the rest of the team through their treatment of the work and would also teach any associated new skills required.

And I began to pare down the events I attended. I didn’t go to every party, every company briefing, or every networking opportunity. I became comfortable narrowing my focus to the things I wanted to do the most.

This worked well, even through affectionately named “Black November”, and even as the recruiting season picked up in the winter and the hours available became fewer and fewer. And then, after spring break, a funny thing happened.

There are more hours in the day. I don’t have class until 10 AM (I scheduled my first electives this quarter, and I took the opportunity to take the classes I wanted in a slightly later time slot). Recruiting is over. There are more reading days on Fridays, which means 3-day weekends.

But these hours couldn’t go unfilled. Just in time, a slew of opportunities to give back to the program and to the community popped up. The onslaught of student elections, club leadership elections, new club meetings, and general volunteer opportunities meant that I had to choose carefully what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to help, to give back to Darden and to the community in return for the good fortune I’ve received since coming to Charlottesville. As a first year on the verge of becoming a second year, this is certainly my obligation.

I wanted to choose quality over quantity. I wanted to do just a select number of things, and do them well. And I knew my tendency to overload. I thought I did a good job of scheduling and volunteering. But this coming week is pretty intense… the first real week where I will be tested in many of the new roles I now find myself in. I’m hearing two cases as a Darden Representative at the University Judiciary Committee. It’s essentially a group of students that adjudicate over student offenses and breaches of the standards of conduct. I like it because it’s an opportunity to collaborate with undergraduate students from UVa. The organization is mostly run by upperclassmen at UVa, and it affords me an opportunity to assume an advisory role while also serving as an experienced judge in disciplinary matters. Underage drinking is not as sexy as some of the courts martial I participated in during my military career, but the fact that I will be working with students who will shortly be leading in whatever organization they aspire to join is truly engaging and exciting.

But that’s going to add 6 hours to my week of cases and classes. I also have been elected as the Vice President for Fundraising in the Consulting Club. That will add 6 hours of meetings this week as well, as I help the other club officers under the leadership of the club president fashion our annual plan for next year. Out-of-class assignments in class will add another 4 hours of work, on top of individual analysis I must do on my own. Workshops for scheduling classes for next year will tie up another few hours, in addition to the time I should dedicate on my own to making sure I schedule the right classes to help me in my future career and match up with my passions. And I’ve applied to be a second year career coach, which is an exciting opportunity to help first year students in their career search efforts next year. The interview is this week.

Even during the busiest times in the Army, I don’t think I had this much on my plate at one time, in one week. But as I looked through my Outlook calendar, I realized that I can handle this. There will be some late nights, sure, but I can do this. I can work a case or two ahead, so that I have a buffer for the truly insane days. My friends on the UJC and in the Consulting Club will make the meetings this week worthwhile and sustainable. Somehow, even though I thought I already brought solid time management skills with me to Darden, this program and my classmates have made me better. And I know that will make me a better manager later.

My closing thought is with Mohammed Hamadani and his family. Hamadani (his nickname) was an interpreter for a unit that I was privlidged to be assigned to for the majority of my first deployment to Iraq. He went on countless dangerous missions with us. When I lamented that I had to wash my dirty uniforms by hand, he offered to take them home to his wife to have them washed in their machine. He and his family suffered through many threats to their safety for his service to the US military in Iraq. One of our other interpreters was gunned down outside his home, another was kidnapped. When the danger became too great, they fled to Syria. They applied for visas to every free country on earth. Repeated denials and increasing poverty motivated Hamadani to consider the unthinkable: heading back into Iraq to earn a living as an interpreter. I sent him an email, imploring him to reconsider. I told him to consider Sweden, which has been very friendly to Iraqis seeking asylum. But Sweden had a long wait list, and Hamadani didn’t have enough time.

Then, a miracle happened. My old commander pulled every string he could, and Hamadani’s visa application to the US, made possible by special government program, was approved. Thursday night, I received a joyous phone call from a very excited Hamadani. He and his family had safely arrived in Kansas, and were undergoing inprocessing. I offered to do whatever I could to help him with his move. But he already has all he needs, all he wants. His family is in America, a country that he has already served more than 90% of the citizens that call it home. And they are safe.

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5 Responses to “The Art of Biting Off Exactly What You Can Chew”

  1. Wow. Nice post. As always – full of a variety of thoughts and very interesting. I guess the real sweet spot for me is the Hamadani story. You just don’t hear this stuff first-person very often, so it sounds so much more punchy coming from you. Anyway good job Mike and keep up the good work with UJC.

  2. JulyDream said

    Happy to hear your friends are safe within our borders. The military is something too many don’t appreciate enough.

    As for multitasking – I can only hope my skills are up to par. As I average 5-6 hours of sleep for 3 weeks straight, I can only view it as practice. Work, gym, soccer (3 teams), flag football, Spinsters, membership committee, volunteering… hopefully this schedule is a good trial for this fall. 🙂

  3. iday said

    mmm292, just thought i would extend my good wishes on the BoB nomination and a great year of blogging. Hope you are enjoying your Bschool days. Cheers.

  4. Richard said

    Hi Mike,

    Thats good news that your friend got out.

    However, I would quarrel with the idea that he “served” the country. His actions (whatever they were) may have been brave, but I don’t think he, or any US solider, has done anything in Iraq that is for the general benefit of our citizens. I know for sure I haven’t seen any benefits from a war in the desert on the other side of the world.

    Regards,
    Richard

  5. mmm292 said

    Richard,

    I respect your opinion, but I would only counter that I and most veterans share a different definition for the term “service”. In my eyes, no service member ever gives his or her life in “vain”, they can only give it in service, regardless of the questionable circumstance imposed upon him or her by senior civilian leadership. The specific war in the desert is irrelevant to the importance of service; that is, service to defend our country not from terrorists or rogue states, but service to the Constitution of the United States, from which we derive our rights and our collective union as a nation. Service is not limited to the military; members of the Peace Corps, teachers who work in underprivlidged neighborhoods, civil servants, and many others serve our nation, society, and our collective national will every day. Sometimes their service is directly for you, sometimes it’s indirectly for you, and sometimes you may have trouble connecting the dots. But that doesn’t make their service any less meaningful.

    Thanks for commenting, and please feel free to share anytime.

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