How to Create a Balance Between College, Work, and Personal Life
Working while studying can be quite hectic. Not only do you have to keep up with all the daily hassles of your work, but you also have to fit in all the demanding things that come with being in school into your schedule.
I’m talking about lectures, exams, pop quizzes, assignments, revision, and a gazillion other things.
And just because you are working and studying at the same time does not mean that you can put your personal life on hold.
You still have to be there for your family, create time for friends, work on your personal goals like fitness and your hobbies, and so on.
If you are not careful, you might suffer burnout, which will affect your productivity at work or in school, if not both. Some even end up dropping out of school because of the pressure.
In extreme cases, you might even find yourself suffering from stress, which in turn affects your relationships with family and friends, as well as your health and wellbeing.
The good thing is that it is possible to create a balance between college, work, and your personal life and ensure that focusing on one does not take its toll on the others.
Below are some strategies to help you find the balance you desperately need.
PLAN YOUR DAY
Balancing between college, work, and personal life mainly boils down to planning your time effectively. You can easily conquer your hectic schedule if you know what activity to focus on at what time.
Below are some tips on how to properly plan your time and ensure that each activity gets the attention it deserves.
Assign Activities to Blocks of Time
Assign your tasks to different batches of time.
For instance, you could schedule early mornings for study and assignments, the 8 – 5 time block for work, the lunch period for meeting friends, early evenings for classes, and then you the evenings and weekends for your family.
Of course, this is just a suggestion. You should create your own schedule depending on what you are dealing with.
The beauty of planning your schedule is that it trains your brain to expect certain activities at certain times.
This helps you create the habits you need to successfully balance the different areas of your life competing for your attention.
When an action becomes a habit or a routine, it no longer seems difficult.
You no longer need willpower to do it, since your brain and body have acclimatized to the action, and you perform almost on auto-pilot.
This can be particularly useful for tackling essential but unappealing daily tasks such as waking up when the alarm rings in the morning.
Ignoring the alarm can ruin your entire day as you are likely to spend most of it playing catch-up or experiencing feelings of guilt.
Executives in companies are often very busy, probably even busier than you might be.
Their days consist of endless meetings and things to read or sign, in addition to their other obligations, yet they manage to meet all their daily obligations.
They are able to do this because they have secretaries who map out their entire days, adjusting accordingly when circumstances require it.
Since you most likely cannot afford a secretary, you will have to be your own secretary and map out your own day in advance.
Plan Your Day in Advance
Never start the day unclear on what you are going to do today and in what order.
The best time to plan the day is the previous night just before you go to sleep.
The good thing about planning your day the previous night is that it allows your goals sink into your subconscious while you sleep.
Before going to bed, take some time to sit still and visualize how you want the following day to look like.
Think about the things you need to do, the people you need to meet, and so on.
If you can’t do it in the evening, let it be the first thing you do in the morning.
Visualizing your day enables you to determine what activities to include in your schedule and which to leave out.
People who don’t plan their days in advance often find themselves overwhelmed because they try to do everything.
Visualizing helps you realize that you can’t do it all in one day and allows you to push the extra activities to the next day.
Write Down Your Planned Activities
It need not be a strict timetable with specified durations for each activity.
The most basic form of day planning that everyone can do, even those of us who like flexibility, is the to-do list.
If you don’t like boxing yourself in, or if your days are unpredictable, you can organize your to-do list items in time batches.
For instance, you can have some items that you need to tick off before breakfast, others by mid-morning, in the afternoon, evening, and so on.
Organizing activities in batches like this helps you get things done efficiently while still maintaining flexibility.
When writing down the tasks that you need to complete, the best approach is to use an Eisenhower Matrix, which allows you to prioritize the tasks as either important and urgent, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, or not important and not urgent.
Below is a basic Eisenhower Matrix. With such categorization, you can now prioritize the tasks based on their urgency and importance.
Work, school, and personal life overlap due to a lack of boundaries. Disciplined people set boundaries, which is what you need to do.
Do not let one aspect of your life bleed into the other one.
When they mix up, you start to feel overwhelmed, as if you no longer have control over your life.
One of the most common culprits that contributes to overlapping boundaries is bringing your work home. When at work, ensure you concentrate 100% on work.
Avoid the temptation to get distracted by social media, gossip with your colleagues, or anything that does not add value to your work for the day.
If you do this, it will be easier for you to complete your tasks in time, which means you won’t have to bring any work home.
When you bring work home, it eats into the time you should be doing other things, such as interacting with your family, studying, exercising, working on your side hustle, practicing your violin playing, and so on.
In other words, bringing work home reduces the quality of your life. It is hard to motivate yourself when you never have time to unwind and reconnect with your inner self.
On the same note, do not allow your personal life to disrupt your work hours.
When you should be at work, your mind should be fully at work. Turn up to work on time.
Do not study for your exam while at work – give your full attention to the task assigned by your boss.
Not working when you should be working leads to incomplete work, forcing you to take your work home.
Afterwards, you’ll start complaining how stressful your schedule is, unaware that you actually dug your own grave in this particular scenario.
You can emphasize the transition from one domain to another by having transitional activities in between.
For instance, after work, you could go to the gym and work out first before heading home.
Transitional activities create a routine that notifies your mind that you are switching from one activity to another, such as work to school, or school to personal time.
These boundaries are for you and for the people in your life who need to understand and respect them.
Communicate them with your supervisor at work, your co-workers, your spouse and kids, and so on.
Communicating boundaries with your boss or supervisor is especially important because some expect too much from employees, even during personal time.
Let them know that you are a student and every moment that you aren’t at work is precious study time.
They should therefore not overload you with work to the point where you have to take it home with you. They should not call you in to work at hours other than the ones you both agreed upon.
Communicating boundaries with your roommate, spouse, family, or friends also ensures that they don’t distract you when you are studying.
As a student who is juggling both work and college, time is a very precious and scarce resource.
The few hours you manage to spare for revision and assignments should be respected.
Be respectful when communicating these boundaries, but do it and make sure they understand and accept the terms you have set.
This is the worst thing you can do, given your hectic schedule. Just don’t do it. Procrastination is universally recognized as a thief of time.
Remember, you are already short of time to begin with. Developing a habit of procrastination is counterproductive.
If you have an assignment, work on it right away. Start revising for your exams early enough, instead of waiting till the exams are around the corner. Clean your room today, not when it becomes too dirty.
Putting things off to the last minute causes multiple things to pile up.
You have multiple assignments to work on, multiple exams to revise for, chores you must do, errands you must run, meetings you must go to, and work tasks that should be completed.
Procrastination is the best way to drive yourself crazy with stress. Uncompleted tasks niggle at us on a subconscious level.
Until the task is completed, we feel uneasy and uncomfortable.
When you have too many uncompleted tasks, this unease compounds into a mountain of anxiety.
Eventually, this could even lead to chronic stress.
Chronic stress is dangerous because it leads to a weakening of your immune system, making you vulnerable to illnesses.
It’s why some students fall ill during exams season – it’s as a result of the pressure.
Procrastination is a seductive habit. It’s all about postponing pain.
Do I work on this assignment now and suffer through the boredom and difficulty of doing it or do I go to my favorite YouTube channel and check if they have uploaded a new video?
Postponing pain, however, does not eliminate it. In fact, it compounds and increases it.
When you eventually work on the task after procrastinating, you will have to face a thick wall of resistance. It is much easier to work on tasks when you do it at the right time.
Furthermore, procrastination leads to low quality work because you will be fighting to beat a deadline with limited time.
As a result, you will not put in enough thought or effort in your work.
In your hurry to simply get the work done, you will hand in shoddy work, resulting in poor grades.
The same is true when you put off revision to the last minute.
To beat procrastination, learn to focus on one thing at a time.
For instance, if you are revising for an exam, do not think about all the things you are yet to study.
Focus on the topic you are studying right now. In your mind, pretend those other topics don’t exist, since the only thing that matters is that which you are studying right now.
Go one step at a time – one concept, one page, one sentence, and so on, at a time.
This attitude lessens the pressure. In fact, you will notice that you might start enjoying your work and feeling good about yourself, pleased that you are making progress.
Focus on making progress, no matter how slow, and you will eventually attain your objective. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
It’s easy to be seduced by the allure of multitasking.
However, just like procrastination, multi-tasking is counterproductive. Multitasking takes up too much of our energy.
Your brain has to hold information about multiple activities all at once. This may leave you feeling drained and stressed out because of the pressure to do multiple things at once.
Furthermore, when you multitask, it takes longer to complete tasks.
The only way to finish a task is to work on it single-mindedly until it is complete.
When you do three tasks at the same time, at the end of your session you will have three uncompleted tasks. If you do one thing at a time, you will have at least one completed tasks.
There is nothing more motivating than finishing a task. Remember when we said that uncompleted tasks niggle at your conscience, making you feel uneasy until you complete them?
Well, completing a project is like scratching an itch. Not only do you feel relieved to be done, but you also feel exhilarated.
Completing one task fills you with the energy and motivation you need to power you through the next task. It helps you develop a finisher mindset.
The more tasks you finish, the more satisfied you feel. It makes you feel accomplished and confident.
When you multitask often, you deny yourself this thrill of finishing and the pressure compounds. Instead of one or two unfinished tasks, you now have three unfinished tasks, and this robs you of the motivation to get anything done.
Furthermore, when you jump from one task to the other, your mind takes a while to acclimatize to the new task. This translates to wasted time.
If you concentrate on doing one thing at a time, your mind goes into a state of flow, where your muscle memory kicks in and you are able to do things instinctively and work at a faster rate than usual.
Focus is the thesis of Cal Newport’s bestselling book Deep Work.
Newport reveals that the best way to do meaningful work is to focus on one task at a time for an extended period of time, instead of jumping back and forth between tasks.
Note, however, that we do not mean a robotic focus on the task at hand with no breaks in between. You should take short breaks for sure, but not too long, and don’t do anything else during the break.
Don’t check your email during the break.
You could go for a short walk to stretch your legs or just sit still to let your mind rest before resuming your task.
In Deep Work, Cal Newport laments the effects of social media and the addictive apps and websites that are supposed to be tools but actually end up undermining us.
So many of us find it impossible to just sit still and concentrate on the task at hand.
The biggest culprit when it comes to distractions is the smartphone.
Like an addict reaching for a cigarette, many of us can’t stay for half an hour without reaching for our phone to check for new emails, new text messages, new social media notifications, and so on.
Finding a notification on our phones gives us a rush of dopamine, and in every few minutes, we feel compelled to check our phones again to receive that dopamine rush.
We are so addicted to our phones, laptops, and the internet that our lives are passing us by. Instead of acting on our lives, we are glued to our screens.
Even when we are supposed to be working on something, we can’t focus for long. Our fingers can’t help straying to our phones.
It might seem harmless, but this addiction is dangerous and can ruin your life if you don’t put a leash on it.
As we said, the only way to finish a task is to work on it with single-minded focus until it is done. If we keep taking breaks to check what someone said on Reddit, we will never complete the tasks we have set for ourselves.
Instead of taking thirty minutes to work on a class assignment, we end up taking three hours, with majority of that time being wasted on useless activities.
Tasks that need the internet are especially dangerous because there is a lot of temptation to click on links that look interesting.
Before you know it, you are so deep down the rabbit hole that you can’t remember how long you have been on YouTube watching videos about kangaroos in Australia.
Very often, many of us tell ourselves that we will avoid the distractions.
Problem is, your willpower is probably not as strong as you take it to be.
You have trained your mind to rely on constant stimulation that you have become addicted to the stimulation.
In such situations, you cannot rely on willpower to avoid distractions, same way a cigarette smoker or alcoholic cannot completely rely on willpower to stay clean.
Instead of relying on unreliable willpower, you should put in place measures that keep these distractions at bay when you are working.
For instance, you could turn off your phone when you are studying. If this is not a viable option, turn off the internet connection.
Alternatively, you can download apps (for your phone) or plugins (for your PC) that help you block your favorite distractions for a given period of time.
During this period, you will not be able to access the specified apps or websites, and can happily concentrate on the task at hand without relying on willpower.
This is the wise and convenient way to reclaim your time.
However, you should definitely work on overcoming your phone addiction.
In an era where almost everyone has short attention spans and is addicted to constant stimulation and instant gratification, the person who is able to focus for long, uninterrupted batches of time has a huge advantage. He/she is able to accomplish or learn things much faster than everyone else.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH
You cannot achieve anything if your body is falling apart. Your health is precious.
When you are in bad physical, mental, or emotional shape, all aspects of your life are affected – your work, college, and personal life.
For instance, when you are not feeling well, you might have to miss work or cut classes to stay in bed or go to the hospital, which in turn means you will have more things to catch up on once you feel better.
To avoid this, take measures to keep yourself healthy. Work out regularly to keep fit.
This could involve going to the gym, jogging, playing a sport, swimming, bike riding, and so on.
Go on hikes with friends during the weekends. Go for long walks. Join a dance class. Start learning a martial art. Do anything that gets your body active.
This is good for both your physical and mental wellbeing.
You should also eat a healthy, nutritious, balanced diet.
Do not do what many college students do – subsisting on pizzas and burgers and the occasional apple.
Learn to cook. Nutritious, home-cooked food is good for your soul as well as your body. Juggling work, school, side hustles, hobbies, and a social life needs energy – good food gives you that energy.
In addition, avoid excessive consumption of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, as these substances are not good for your physical or mental wellbeing.
While juggling between college, work, and personal life can be a bit hectic, with the strategies discussed above, it is possible to attain a balance between the three and ensure that none of them gets neglected while you focus on the others.
What’s more, many of these strategies will serve you well not just as a student, but even after you graduate.
The principles of achieving college-work-life balance are the same as the principles of achieving work-life balance.
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