Finding Time for Work and School — and Sleep

What’s one sentence that you can chime in with in any conversation—and people will immediately think you’ve been listening the whole time?

“It’s all about balance.”

We’re always trying to balance our lives. With so many activities shared between family, friends, employment and health, sometimes we can forget to make time for education.

School and work are often at odds, which is why many students or full-time employees opt for one or the other.

Still, some people choose to pursue both, or they simply don’t have the luxury of picking one.

Education is not only for those who can devote the majority of their day to school. In today’s world, quality education is more accessible than ever.

However, there is still a limited number of hours in the day. How can you provide both education and employment with the time and attention they need — without losing yourself to a vortex of due dates and scheduled work shifts?

Oh, and don’t forget about sleep.

Whether you’re a freshman in college trying to gain a little job experience, or a seasoned professional looking to elevate your resume, finding the right work/study balance is key to achieving your goals.

Here are a few strategies to find a work/life balance that’s just right for you.

Aim for sustainability

In finding the right balance of employment and education, you’re looking for sustainability. This means creating, and maintaining, a schedule that you can return to each day, with enough energy and motivation to make progress in work and in school.

Being consistent is key for sustainability. Forming good habits that keep you motivated make it easier to achieve your goals — no matter what those goals might be.

Regular meals, exercise routines, sleep and important social events shouldn’t be neglected for the sake of work and study. Some of these aspects may look different in a busy schedule, but including them in a day-to-day routine will do wonders in maintaining a sustainable lifestyle.

Building a sustainable schedule helps you avoid burnout — a type of exhaustion that constantly wears down on a person. It’s caused by prolonged mental and physical stress, and is often related to work or excessive studies.

Burnout is a serious problem — but it’s also avoidable and treatable. Support, mindfulness, exercise and sleep can help heal the effects of burnout.

In creating a sustainable work/study balance, you may find yourself in jobs or courses you find a little boring or tedious. That’s okay.

If the only job you can find that fits your schedule as a college freshman is washing dishes in your cafeteria, don’t look down on that. Use the time to build relationships and professional soft skills like listening, flexibility, conflict resolution and management.

Remember, you’re working toward a goal. The steps along the way are temporary — and are bringing you steadily closer to your dreams.

Organize your life

Get a calendar — or even two.

The key to balancing multiple obligations is to stay organized and up-to-date. Use a calendar on your phone with set alarms for important events. A paper calendar lets you see the large scope of your day or week all at once.

Whichever agenda-tracking method you choose, set aside a time each morning to go over the main goals and commitments of the day. If you’re a night person, spend some evening time looking over the next day so that you wake up prepared.

It’s also useful to look over your calendar as a whole once a week, in order to have a clear understanding of upcoming assignments or projects. If you have an assignment that requires a bit of research, budget the right amount of time to get the job completed.

Keeping a calendar will also make it easier to not overcommit. When you know that your sister’s big dance recital is on Thursday, checking your calendar can help you remember to not schedule a study session during that time.

Learn to make sacrifices

In trying to fit academic and work requirements into a 24-hour-day, it’s only natural that some other things in your life will have to be let go.

It’s important to remember what pieces are essential to maintaining a healthy life — and which things can likely be removed or reduced.

Healthy sleep, meals, family and health should remain high priorities. The way they fit into your schedule, however, may look a little different.

For example, you probably won’t have time to fully cook a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, but you can set aside a few hours a week to prepare meals and make healthy grab-and-go lunches.

If you’re looking for a way to keep up with friends and still want to exercise, plan walks with friends and family, or find a workout buddy.

Pay attention to the amount of time you spend on social media, watching TV or playing video games. If these things are isolating you from others, or from healthier activities, perhaps take some time to rework your priorities.

Don’t forget to love yourself. If you enjoy silence, set aside intentional time to meditate or journal. Pay attention to your body’s needs.

You won’t be able to completely eliminate stress, but you can learn to manage it in ways that complement your school and work time.

Communicate with your employers

Building and maintaining a good relationship with your employer is exceptionally helpful for a work and study balance.

Give employers advance notice when you need to change your hours or when you may need more time off around midterms or finals.

If you are already employed, keep your employer updated on your new endeavors. Many employers work to encourage their employees in their education, and can even help you accommodate both a work and a school calendar without losing your sanity.

If a work situation is not conducive to your success as a student, it’s okay to take a step back and examine other work options.

Work smart

Your school may participate in a work/study program. These jobs are often on campus and are designed with students’ needs in mind. Hours are flexible and wages are FICA exempt (free from certain taxes).

Talk to your school’s financial aid department. They can assist you in finding scholarships or grants that can help offset your financial need. When distributing aid, schools will consider a student’s total cost of attendance, including tuition, travel time and room and board for students on and off campus.

Additionally, if you are on a campus, look for job positions within your major’s department. There are opportunities for research fellowships and assistant jobs.

If you live off campus, consider your commute. How much time do you spend driving, taking the bus or walking? Evaluate where you can get the best return on your time.

To avoid a school commute entirely, look into online, self-paced courses. These high quality courses can be completed from the comfort of your home and according to your own schedule. 

Study smart

Studying a little every day, consistently returning to the material and reviewing notes can make for more productive study.

Reworking notes soon after class can ensure that you more easily remember the material.

For larger or more important assignments, plan a strategic study day. Set aside a day before a big test such as a midterm or final. Even a half day can be really beneficial.

It’s important to remember that these days should not be spent cramming the material, but rather as an intense refresher before major assessments.

Setting aside this time can lower your stress levels, as you have the space to study — and breathe. You’ll find the confidence you need to ace an exam after spending enough time studying for it.

If you are commuting, optimize that time. Record lectures and listen to them, listen to foreign languages and practice pronunciation or download and listen to audio versions of your textbooks. Listening at 1.5x speed can help you get through more material quickly.

Carry flashcards with you or take pictures of notes to keep on your phone. There are plenty of small moments throughout the day where you can quickly go over conjugations, charts, diagrams or vocabulary words. 

Keep your eye on the prize

In trying to find the perfect balance of work and education, you might feel overwhelmed.

In these stressful times, remember your “why.”

All the extra hours you’re putting in, all the sacrifices that you’re making — these are supported by a very personal and important cause:

Your goals are possible.

Self-paced education: a life-changing choice for a work/study balance

Online courses here at Pace are designed with you, the student, in mind. We’ve partnered with some of the top universities to offer resources that are up-to-date and applicable to today’s ever-changing workplace environments.

Talk to one of our advisors today and start planning for your future.