Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Balancing Work and School

The school year is fast approaching and of course we all want to be as successful as possible. Often a barrier to this success is the difficulty we experience in balancing work and school. We need to get good grades but we need a part-time or full-time job to pay for school, books, supplies, parking passes, food and the costs of everyday living. Sometimes you may get overwhelmed...especially during exam or term paper time when the pressure is on and you have to figure out how you are going to get everything done that week while still working your 3 shifts at your job!! I am here to give you a few basic tips for creating balance between your school work and your paid work (volunteer positions and co-ops/internships can also be considered under this category). 

Tip #1 - Start off on the right foot! Most of us have tried to get by the first few weeks of class without doing the assigned readings (or perhaps some of you don't even go to the few couple classes because you believe you are not missing anything important). I would advise against this for three reasons:

1) If you are missing classes for non-medical reasons, you may miss something very important;
2) Neglecting those first few assigned readings sets you back further than you may think; and
3) This can set the tone for your entire semester and starts you off on the wrong foot!

Tip #2 - Plan! Plan! Plan! I personally love buying my day planner for the school year. The first thing I do is write out which classes I have each day of the week and I leave enough space for that weeks assigned readings. Once I get my course syllabus (what I believe to be the key to success in any course), I write out all of the readings that I have to do each week for every class. In addition, if there are due dates already specified in the syllabus, I write those in as well and I highlight them in one colour (I usually highlight all of my assignments in yellow highlighter so it stands out from all of the other colours I may use). If the syllabus doesn't specify due dates, I write them in AS SOON as I know them. Other things you should include in your day planner are: important dates from the course calender for the year (i.e. dates that the school is closed, when exams start and finish, make-up days for holidays, etc.). This will help you to avoid missing class, avoid scheduling conflicts, and be able to schedule non-academic activities around your school schedule. I also save separate coloured highlighters for appointments and for work. In my planner, appointments are highlighted in orange and my work schedule and meetings are highlighted in blue. You can use your own system but I find colour-coded planners help distinguish important events and dates, and they also keep you alert!

Tip #3 - Organize! Organize! Organize! Aside from my compulsively organized day planner, I also like to keep my school books and notes well-organized. This helps you to keep on track with readings and assignments which can reduce some of the stress and imbalance you may be experiencing. Once I have my course syllabus and the assigned readings for the course (whether it be a textbook, journal articles, etc.), I purchase page tabs that I stick onto each chapter or reading that is assigned. From there, I write the date that the readings/chapter must be read by and once I have read it, I check mark the tab. This lets me organize my weekly readings because I can quickly glance at a textbook or journal article to see which courses I have readings for that week, and which ones I have already completed. In addition to keeping your books organized, I would suggest organizing your binders and/or notebooks in a way that keeps all notes from one course together and separate from other courses (i.e. separate binders/notebooks or dividers in a binder). I keep all of my binders and textbooks for the current semester on one shelf in my room, this way I always know where they are and can easily access them! Although it may be difficult, I also try very hard to keep my room as clean and organized as possible (especially my study space - wherever it may be). This helps keep you focused and your mind clutter-free!

Tip #4 - Don't bite off more than you can chew! If you know yourself well enough to know that you get stressed out and overwhelmed during the school year, perhaps reducing the number of hours you work/volunteer could help. If you choose to do this (and are financially comfortable with it of course!), I would suggest making sure that you use those hours that you normally would have been working to study and complete readings. This way you know for sure that you have added study hours to your week. If you are not able to cut back on work/volunteer hours, I would recommend creating a weekly (or even daily) schedule that you follow and schedule yourself a certain number of hours each day for school-related work ONLY. This is a good idea for anyone to do, even if you don't work. This guarantees that you can get a decent amount of work done every week, as long as you have the will power to stick to your schedule of course!

Tip #5 - Take time for yourself! As much as you may have a boat load of work on your plate every single day, you still need to take time for yourself to avoid overload and burnout. This step is going to vary depending on your individual needs, likes/dislikes, and personality. Some people may prefer to spend an hour or so a day laying in bed to unwind, while others may go for a run or to the gym. I personally enjoy taking my 2 dogs to the dog park or for a hike - it helps me unwind and relax because I am not thinking about work OR school. It also gets me outside in the fresh air and sunshine which have their own amazing benefits! Whatever you choose to do, make sure it's something you enjoy and that gets you out of your head and out of the books - even if it's only for a short while.

Tip #6 - Try something new! Trying something new may help to get you out of any slump that you have fallen into over the school year. It can also be a great way to unwind and meet new people. Since the theme of this post is "balance" might I suggest trying Yoga??

Our friends from Cosmic Coaching Centre were gracious enough to write an article again, this time about balancing work and school - take a look:
                                                      Balancing Work and School
As reported by Statistics Canada, around 72 percent of the college students in the country are employed part-time while attending school. This is not surprising at all considering how expensive tuition fees are these days. While it is ideal for students to have a steady source of income to support their needs, being a student and an employee at the same time is not an easy thing to do. Needless to say, it can be very tricky to try to balance both your studies and your job. With the help of these tips, balancing work and school can be quite easier.

1. Always have a plan. How many hours of work should you do to earn the amount that you need? Are you in a hurry to finish your studies, or do you want to take it slow? These are among the considerations you should make in making a realistic plan about how you could handle being a student and an employee.

2. Go for workplace flexibility. If possible, try to get a part-time job where your boss will allow you to have flextime. You’d want a job that offers programs such as job sharing, leave of absences, and the like. Work from home is another perfect option to pursue.

3. Benefit from school flexibility as well. A lot of institutions these days are offering tailored services to accommodate employed individuals who want to earn a degree. They do this by offering weekend and night classes, longer library hours, and the availability of online classes. Inquire about such programs in your school to make it easier for you to manage your time.

4. Make a list of priorities. Decide on your priorities and accept the fact that you will have to sacrifice some of them. Thus, you have to make up your mind as to which tasks you can address at a later time.

5. Be a smart-worker rather than a hard-worker. Consider your job as an internship program where you can apply everything you are learning in school. Write short notes and review them whenever possible. During breaks at work, you may also do your homework so you wouldn’t cram to finish them at night.

6. Avoid wasting time. There is nothing wrong with keeping in touch with your friends through social media, but make sure you will not spend too much time on doing it. Always try to focus on what really matters so that you can manage your energy and your time.

7. Don’t forget your goals. It is very easy to forget what our goals are. As a result, we lose the motivation to do what we should do. To avoid these, write your goals and career pathways on paper and post it somewhere you can always see. This way, you will always be reminded of why you should strive to study and work hard.

I hope that you find some of my personal tips, as well as the tips from Cosmic Coaching Centre, for achieving balance useful. While they may not all be best for you, I at least hope I was able to spark some ideas for how you can best balance your work and school life. My biggest tips are to stay on track, don't give up, and take time to enjoy yourself!

Keep Calm and Float On...
Jami Coughler, Senior Career Assistant
4th Year Bachelor of Public Health [Honours]; BA Sociology [Honours] '11


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