First of all: If you’ve decided to pursue a degree then CONGRATS! Finishing school is no easy feat, and when you have a job in the mix it only becomes more challenging.
From student/classmate to colleague, friend, family member, or parent–these important roles conflict with each other more times than not. It’s important that we remain mindful of our many “hats” and assess our priorities, as they’ll shift constantly.
To show up and function as our best selves we need balance; there’s no way around it. Since I’ve learned this lesson the easy way and the hard way, I thought I’d share some advice on how to do just that.
Here are seven tips to help you find your balance with school and work:
Streamline Tasks Wherever You Can
While juggling school and work life, try to find ways to mix both; take advantage of any lessons, skills, or activities that overlap academically and professionally.
If you’re working for a company or in an industry that you could see yourself in long-term, then take classes and choose academic programs based on skills that will help you improve and advance. Courses that cover writing, communication styles, project management, or business, for example, can help in a variety of careers from teaching and engineering to content creation and entrepreneurship.
This doesn’t only apply to full-time roles; it can be beneficial to integrate school with part-time or internship roles as well.
When I was in undergrad, I used the same non-profit organization to complete my internship and capstone project. This meant that I could use internship time to work on my project because it was the same type of work: non-profit fundraising. I could also use the organization’s resources to complete my project, that I wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.
There are also smaller ways in your day-to-day to use your time more efficiently such as meal prepping ahead of time, keeping your school materials accessible, and/or doing homework during school & work breaks. Everyone’s schedule and obligations are different so do what makes the most sense for you!
Create a Calendar & Be Intentional with Your Time
One thing we can control in life (to an extent) is our time and how we spend it. As our list of priorities grows, making the most of our time becomes more vital than ever.
Take a step back, determine your main priority, and think about your days; create a calendar that maps out your routine to see where the majority of your time goes. The goal is to build your schedule around your main priority at the moment whether it’s school, your job, or your family. This may require some sacrifices on your part (financially, professionally, socially, etc.) but remember it’s only temporary!
Put serious effort into creating your routine and stick to it. Schedule everything–even time for creating the schedule itself. Carve out specific days and times for classes, assignments, studying, work, extracurriculars, and, most importantly, rest (more on this later).
As someone who sometimes struggles with focus, distractions, and procrastination, it’s always been important for me to literally ‘time’ myself when doing work. If you also could use some improvement with time management, try the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique breaks down tasks into 25-minute intervals with NO disruptions, separated by short breaks. You can find out more about how the technique works and its benefits here.
Know Yourself (and Leverage What Comes Naturally to You)
One of the greatest services to yourself, as a student, is to know yourself; pay attention to your natural tendencies and use them to your advantage whenever possible.
If you’re a morning person, then you may want to wake up earlier and/or dedicate some a.m. hours to getting schoolwork done. If you’re a night owl and focus better in the p.m., then save your studying and assignments for later in the day.
If you’re a visual learner, for example, then you can create charts, maps, graphs, or other things catered to learning by sight. If you’re an auditory learner, then read things out loud or record lessons to playback later when you study.
The key here is to really learn and be honest with yourself, as what works for others may not be productive for you.
Communicate About What’s on Your Plate
Your parents, your children, your partner, your friends, your professor, your boss–let all “stakeholders” in your life know what’s going on and all that you’re juggling. Make sure everyone is on the same page by being open and communicating effectively.
Small things like a home-cooked meal, tutoring, or time off to take exams can only help you in the long run. More often than not, people like your manager or professor, hell, even your roommate, can and want to help you if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Which brings me to my next point…
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you’re like me, then you exhaust every resource and possibility alone before you ask anyone else to step in. But the truth is that we can’t do everything on our own; we need help to get to the finish line and that’s ok!
We can overcome most obstacles when we swallow our pride/ego and 1.) admit when we’re struggling, and 2.) get the help we need.
I was always a good student, so I used to struggle with asking for help because I thought that needing it was a sign of weakness; once I shifted my focus from getting A’s to learning and absorbing the information, however, that’s when I found strength to view getting help as a sign of strength. Tutoring centers, office hours, and study labs became more appealing once I reframed how I viewed my academic performance.
Getting help and support also extends beyond the classroom! Whether you need friendly advice, a sitter, a quiet place, or anything else–don’t be afraid to reach out!
Take Care of Yourself
When I think back to my time in undergrad, lots of alcohol, energy drinks, sleepless nights, and missed meals come to mind. With 4+ classes, 2-3 part-time jobs, and a very active social life some type of sacrifice was inevitable, right? It didn’t dawn on me until years later that I was sacrificing myself.
At times, it felt like my body shut down completely; if I went too long without eating or getting good sleep then I’d have migraines, cold symptoms, and just an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. I didn’t prioritize self-care and my body demanded its pound of flesh.
Word of advice: don’t be like me.
By the time I started grad school I knew that I had to switch things up; I became much better at sitting my ass down. I was more intentional about getting quality rest and taking necessary breaks. And the best part about it all is I learned to say no–to any activities or responsibilities that I didn’t have the bandwidth to handle.
Celebrate Small Wins
Oftentimes, we get so fixated on the doors we’re trying to open that we don’t appreciate the steps it took to get us there. Don’t forget to honor the small stuff!
If you only focus on the big accomplishments like finishing the semester or getting the degree, then that may cause unnecessary stress and make it easier to become discouraged.
You got an A on that test. You turned in that assignment on time. Hell, you made it through a tough week/month. CELEBRATE THAT SH*T!