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A Balancing Act: Tips to Balance School with Work/Life

September 16, 2016 11:20 am Published by Leave your thoughts

*This post was written by AF, a 22-year-old student at CSU Channel Islands, born and raised in Ventura County and passionate about keeping the youth and other members of the community safe, informed, and responsible.

Learning how to balance everything in life is valuable and important to learn. So many of us have to balance school, work, friends, and sleep. It is unhealthy to give up a social life or sleep, and most of us want to do a good job at work and in school to build a better future for ourselves. Trying to maintain a healthy balance between everything life demands of us can be overwhelming and seem impossible, but certain tips and skills can help us keep track of things.

Before jumping in, here is a little background on me: I am a dedicated college student about to graduate. I work a few days a week. I have volunteer commitments I have to fulfill. I have friends and a boyfriend I hang out with regularly. I find some time to lightly exercise (with my dog usually). I even manage to find some time to watch an episode or two of a TV show multiple times per week. The results: I have great grades in school, satisfied employers and supervisors, healthy interpersonal relationships, generally good health, and I’m somehow able to get at least 8 hours of sleep 95% of nights.

This may seem impossible, but I am a good example of how it can be possible. So HOW do I do it?

(disclaimer: I am very lucky to have the ability to work only part-time. Many people must work 30+ hours a week all while going to school, perhaps having young children as well, and I commend these folks for doing it. My tips are a guide based on my own personal experience, and may not account for other individual factors.)

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PLANNING:

I look ahead at my class schedule. In college, most assignments/readings are listed on the course calendar and there are very few surprises. I use a physical, paper planner and write down things I need to do on days I will do it. I also utilize the calendar on my phone to keep track of when I have work and other meetings or appointments. This makes it so I know how much I can realistically get done on which days, because if I work 8+ hours on Monday, I know I will not be able to do much homework. It has taken some time to learn how long it takes me to do certain things, but I can estimate with relative accuracy how long things will take.

Often times, my work schedule is unpredictable. I may get off later than planned. I may get called in early. I may have to work on a day I thought I had off. For those reasons, I give myself EXTRA TIME to complete assignments. If it takes me 2 days to do something, I give myself 3 or 4 days to do it to account for the unknowns, which also accounts for days I REALLY don’t feel like doing homework. I could be tired. I could have had a bad day. I could get sick. I give myself time for those things so I still have time to complete things without cramming (translation: all-nighters). Quality of learning and assignments is much better without procrastination and cramming.

PRIORITIZING:

This is related to planning. Very rarely am I ahead of schedule for my schoolwork. I am very rarely behind. To stay right where I need to be, I prioritize. Sometimes that means doing that hardest things first, sometimes it means getting the easy or quick thing out of the way first. Most often, my method of prioritizing is first completing what is due next. For example, my first class of the week is a psychology class. I will do what I need to do to be prepared for that class first. After that class, I have a history of rock and roll class, so that will be my next assignment to work on. The pattern continues week after week, and it works for me.

UNDERSTAND YOURSELF AND YOUR LIMITATIONS:

I have been in school for many years now, and I have learned a lot about my learning style. I have a lot of reading to do for my classes (sometimes literally over 100 pages per week). Textbooks and articles have a lot of great information that is necessary to do well in a class. I personally have major struggles retaining information I read unless I take good HAND-WRITTEN notes (which research supports to be the best way to retain information). It adds literally HOURS of time on to how long it takes to complete readings, but I account for that in my scheduling of when I will do what. (Also, I just care a lot about school and getting great grades, so this commitment is worth it for me.)

Another thing to understand is what is called the planning fallacy, something most people are guilty of. It is a psychological concept in which things tend to take longer than you think they will. One way around this is to give yourself more time that you’ll think you need. That way, you won’t take longer than what you scheduled time for, and if you finish early, you can use that time to get started on something else, or reward yourself with a YouTube video, like I often will do.

This reminds me to tell you: TAKE BREAKS. Even if you work for 30 minutes and get up for 5, you will get more done in the long run without feeling completely worn down.

USE YOUR TIME WISELY / BE RESOURCEFUL

Jury Duty. It’s boring. You sit in a big room all day doing nothing—or do you? I had jury duty a few months ago in the middle of the semester. I brought a bag with schoolwork and I may have looked strange, but I got a TON of work done, and served my civic duty at the same time. Recently, I had to get a car service done. I brought my laptop and wrote up an important essay in the waiting room. If I am babysitting and the kid goes down for a nap or is in bed for the night and I am awake waiting, I do some homework. When I have presentations or speeches to give, I use my commute to school or time in the shower to practice them out loud. You’d be surprised how much time you actually have in the day if you pulled double duty. To some people, and even myself on occasion, this downtime is better utilized for relaxation, a time to step away from work—that’s okay too. Personally, I try to get as much done as possible during the day, so from dinnertime until bedtime, I can relax, watch TV, or play around on my phone. I also do that because when I work on homework too late, it takes me a VERY long time to get to sleep.

I have also had to exercise some resourcefulness to keep things in order. There have been times where I was nowhere near my school notebooks or laptop but I had an excellent topic or thesis idea for a speech or paper I had to write. But the handy smartphone in my pocket had a notepad on it, so I would type my stuff there so I didn’t lose it before I got back to where I could write it down.

Sometimes I get one-sided handouts from professors or classmates. If the other side is blank, I reuse it as a place for a to-do list that can be bigger and messier than my planner space can handle. Sometimes I need to write down my schedule/to-do list more than once to really get a grasp on what I need to do, and reusing paper is a great way to organize my thoughts while saving the environment at the same time.

I also cannot stress enough that you can and should ASK FOR HELP if you need it. In many cases, it’s wise to try to figure things out on your own first with some research and effort, but sometimes that is not enough. So many people want to see you succeed, and I believe no one can get through life totally alone. I manage my life pretty well on my own most of the time, but sometimes I need help. If you take the time to ask questions, you can save yourself a lot of the stress of struggling to figure it out by yourself.

 MAKE CAREFUL LIFESTYLE / LEISURE CHOICES

Some things I do that I notice that differ from many other students include my lifestyle and leisure choices. I don’t go out and party or stay out all night, making me too tired or hungover to do schoolwork the next day. I don’t go on Netflix 5+ hour binges (unless it’s summer/winter break). It’s not ideal, but I do not really have “weekends”. That is a sacrifice I make to further my education. My weekends often consist of work and schoolwork, with some fun mixed in if I can afford it. But very rarely (like on my birthday or another important day) do I have a totally responsibility-free Saturday or Sunday.

To some, my life may seem unexciting, but I am happy. I am not a very social or outgoing person, so staying home or doing something simple like a morning hike is very relaxing and satisfying to me. That is another reason to know yourself—know what makes you happy and know what relaxes you. To some, that’s being around a lot of people, dancing, playing games. To others, it’s being alone and watching TV. To each their own, but it’s good to have something to do that gets your mind off work and school.

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Like I mentioned earlier, these are tips and tricks from my own experience based on what works for me. If you are studying different things, going to a different school, or have any of a million differences from me and my experience, I hope that you still learned something. If you feel like you have a completely different set of tips to offer, feel free to contact Straight Up to volunteer to be a contributor to the blog and you can write your own post to help others with your experience.

Photo: Flickr/wan mohd