Few graduate students have the luxury of focusing solely on their studies. For most of us, life has a way of, well, getting in the way. Many graduate students work full-time while earning their degree. Others have family obligations in addition to their school and work responsibilities. With so much going on, it can be difficult for students to find time for all the commitments in their life. If you find yourself in this situation, check out our tips below for finding a good work-school-life balance.
Organize. The only way to keep on top of all your responsibilities is to stay organized. Keep track of all your appointments, assignments and classes in one place. Plan ahead as much as possible, and set aside blocks of time for taking care of personal chores like grocery shopping, laundry and cleaning. Having designated study and personal times will make it easier to stay accountable and be consistent week in and week out.
Prioritize. When time is limited, the best way to get everything accomplished is by prioritizing the items on your to-do list. If you feel like you don’t have time for everything, try replacing the phrase “I don’t have time for that” with the phrase “That is not a priority right now” and see how that sits with you for each item on your list. While that isn’t necessarily a true or fair assessment for every situation – for some of us, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day – it can help put things into perspective as you decide priorities. And remember that while things like sleeping, eating right and taking care of your physical and mental health may seem expendable, they aren’t. Don’t neglect these activities.
Set realistic goals. As you prioritize the activities in your life, be sure to create manageable timelines for the completion of each. Setting unrealistic goals will create additional stress in your life. And if you’re already facing down a daunting to-do list, the last thing you need is to feel less accomplished. You probably don’t have time to stay late at work, grocery shop, cook dinner and get a head start on your next paper all in one night, so don’t be afraid to push something until the next day. In the same vein of thought, don’t overcommit yourself. If you’ve got a major project for one of your classes due soon, now is probably not the right time to volunteer for a major assignment at work, too. You don’t have to do it all – or do it all by yourself
Seek help if you need it. There’s no shame in asking for help of any kind, whether that’s asking a family member to watch your kids while you study, asking a professor for help with an assignment, or asking a coworker for help with a project at work. For some people, this might mean seeking out mental health services. Working full-time while pursuing a graduate degree (and maintaining a personal life, too) can create lots of stress and anxiety; mental health professionals can help you cope with that stress and help you find solutions or routines to better manage your situation. It’s easy to think “I’ve got this” or “It’s not so bad – I can handle this on my own,” but there’s no need to go it alone.
Keep communication open. If you’re struggling, chances are no one’s going to know about it unless you tell them. If you’re facing an issue that affects your school or work life, be sure to tell your professors and managers about it. Keep those around you “in the loop” about what’s going on. Be honest with your family and friends about what’s going on in your life and what your availability is.
Sleep. Need more hours in the day? Shorting yourself on sleep is not the answer. While it’s okay to have a short night here and there to crank out a project, regular sleep deprivation is going to harm you in the long run. Regular, full nights of sleep will not only help you perform better throughout the day, but they can also help you improve your studying. Studies have shown that sleep helps the brain process, organize and strengthen retention of new information. So while it may be tempting to stay up all night studying, getting a full night’s sleep will actually help you to better remember what you’ve been studying.
Take breaks. When there’s a lot on your plate, it’s easy to feel guilty about any time in your schedule where you’re not involved in a work or school activity. But powering through one task after the other isn’t the best way to improve productivity. We all need time where our brains aren’t in overdrive. Whether it’s taking a half hour to read a chapter from a new book, hanging out with your kids or walking the dog, taking regular breaks can help refresh your mind, improve productivity and allow you to enjoy life more.