Tony Bacos, general manager of Hubbub Health, has been commuting from Portland, Oregon, to Boston for MIT’s inaugural Executive MBA Class of 2012. Bacos has put together a “survival guide” that offers helpful advice to any Executive MBA juggling a demanding professional job, a family, and graduate-level school work.
As he puts it, “If you happen to be a ~40 year old technology exec who flies in from Oregon and gets irritable when unplugged from the web for more than a few hours, this survival kit might be friggin perfect for you.”
In eight succinct points, Bacos pretty much gets at the major issues any manager or executive needs to consider before signing up into an EMBA program.
His survival guide:
1. Have a supportive work environment. You are going to miss a fair amount of work – especially if you have to pad an extra travel day in front of your EMBA weekends. If you are like most of us, you are probably the type that never really uses all of your vacation days, so your new frequent absences might be even more noticeable compared to your norm. If your boss and co-workers begrudge your time away or ask you upon return “how was your vacation?” it’s going to be a real source of stress. Speaking of vacation, do everything you can to negotiate that school days don’t dip into your PTO balance – you and yours are going to need a genuine vacation or two during the 20 month program.
In addition to your time out of the office, you’ll also be bringing your school into the workplace now and then. Whether it is applying a strategy framework or improving an operational process, you’re work environment is going to be part of your EMBA program. It is important to have buy in from your co-workers and to set expectations.
2. Travelers – Find an airline and frequent flier program that work well for your travel route. For me, Alaska Airlines and the non-stop from Portland to Boston has been a huge stress reducer. In flight wifi, consistent first class upgrades, and their overall great service have been amazing. When most people hear that I fly across the country for school every two or three weeks, they assume that the travel itself has to be the hardest part. Far from it – my 5 hours on the plane are, in many cases, a nice little break in an otherwise frenetic week. I can get some last minute reading done on my way to class, get a jump start on assignments on my way home, or just veg out and secretly watch chick-flicks on the Digiplayer while I attempt a personal inventory count of the plane’s Bacardi mini-bottles. If I had to connect through O’Hare on (gasp!) United, I suspect that my entire EMBA experience would have been slightly tainted by a cloud of travel suckiness.
3. Travelers – Get a roommate. Travel expenses will pile up no matter what you do, but there are some simple things you can do to lessen the sting. Finding a roommate to split hotel bills will cut your lodging budget by…hang on…running the calculations…something like 50%. But that’s not the best part. If you pick the right roomy, you’ll have a blast and establish a friendship that will be more likely than others to survive the test of time. For this reason, don’t be in a rush to jump into a roomylationship right away when the program starts. Give it a couple trips at least to get to know a few folks and figure out who you think you’ll click with.
4. Travelers – Noise cancelling headphones. Enough said
5. Take care of yourself physically. You’re going to be busy as heck. Work won’t slow down, and school will only demand time from you that you didn’t have to begin with. It will be very easy to de-prioritize your exercise routine simply to have another hour a day at your disposal. Don’t do it. Your brain will be sharper if you allow maximum blood to flow to it instead of newly engorged fat cells.
6. Take full advantage of the social aspects of the program. Let’s be honest. You’re not at MIT strictly for data – you’re also here for the community, the faculty, and especially for your peers. Your EMBA classmates are distinguished leaders and have had experiences in their careers that you will never have. But you won’t even scratch the surface of what you can learn from them if you limit your social interactions to class time and class project collaborations. Thursday and Friday nights are made for hanging out with each other outside of the class. Immerse yourself in the social time.
7. Don’t neglect other relationships. You may not have quite as much time for family and friends as you did before, but you still have some. Make the most of it. Two years is far too long a period of time to ignore (literally or figuratively) people you love.
8. Last but not least, be humble. All of us lucky enough to be part of the MIT community, and this program in particular, are smart and accomplished folks. You don’t have to spread your colorful plumage and dance around for classmates when you arrive. Recognize that this program is not a competition; it is a collaboration between experienced executives who create a lifelong learning experience and community.