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6 Tips & Tricks to Balance School and Work

Written by Serena Madden

Illustration by Luiza Sayfullina on Unsplash and Tyler Doupe from Student Life Network

Managing school can be hard enough on its own. Throw a job (or two) in there, and you can find yourself drowning in a sea of stress. Over the past three years, I have learned the hard way from my mistakes. But this resulted in me developing some habits that have helped to balance both school and work more effectively. To help you make better use of your time while keeping your stress levels low, I’ve compiled my six best tips below:

1. Stay Organized

While this tip may seem like an obvious one, it can be challenging for someone to learn how to keep everything in check. Before university, I never would have guessed that an Accordion File Folder would be my best friend. To stay organized for school, I purchased a five-section expanding file folder. And let me tell you – it was the best thing that I ever bought.

I dedicate each section of the folder to a different class. Each section includes the following:

  • Class Syllabus
  • Assignment Guidelines and Rubrics,
  • The Citation Guide specified by the professor.

This structure can help keep you organized because everything is in one place and you don’t have to scramble to find things at the last minute. The best part is that Accordion File Folders are super cheap! I purchased mine off of Amazon for just under $13, and it was here the next day! Not a bad price for a life-saving product.

2. Keep a Calendar

How I ever survived without a calendar, I honestly have no idea! At the start of each semester, I input all my assignment deadlines and midterms into my calendar. I also add in my work schedule whenever I receive it. My preferred calendar is Google Calendar. I love this calendar for so many reasons. For starters, you can colour code each event. Personally, I have a different colour for each type of event (e.g. red for work, blue for personal, and a different colour for each class). This hack gives me an overview of where I’ll be spending my time, and how much of it I’ll be spending.

The next great thing about Google Calendar is being able to set reminders. I set reminders for each of my assignments, factoring when I think I should start them as well as when I think I they should be completed. This helps me stay on top of things because it can be easy to forget about assignments when you also have class and work to worry about. Lastly, you can view your calendar on all your devices, and share it with other people! I find this necessary because I can see my schedule on my phone when I’m out and about. I can also share it with my parents so they know when I’ll be home.

3. Planning

I’ll admit, I used to be someone who thought that keeping a calendar and planning were the same thing. Boy, was I wrong!

A calendar keeps everything in one place, whereas a planner allows you to plan out each day and balance your time. My favourite planner is the Hourly Planner by Recollections (it is a fantastic dupe for an Erin Condren planner!) For those of you who don’t have planner addiction like I do, the Erin Condren Life Planner is the queen of all planners. The only issue is that the fancier Life Planners can cost up to $75 USD before taxes, shipping, and duties. Thankfully, the Recollections planners look almost identical and only cost $19 CAD.

Another great thing about the Recollections line is the variety of layouts. You can choose from horizontal or vertical weekly layouts, hourly layouts, and even layouts specifically designed to help you reach your goals!

Personally, I prefer an hourly planner because it ensures that I can make the most out of my day. I begin planning with when I will wake up, when I have classes ,when I work, and the assignments on which I should be working. Work your schedule around what you think you can handle, and it will make a world of difference! An hourly planner makes it easy to ensure you allow a certain amount of time for each assignment. It will help you make the most out of your day. Check out the Recollections planners at Michaels. You can find them online and in-store!

4. Get a Head Start

While syllabus week can be all fun and games, I prefer to get a head start on class readings and assignment drafts. To be successful, you need to work smarter rather than harder.

Start jotting down ideas for assignments at the beginning of the semester, and make a rough outline throughout the term. This practice makes it a lot easier when the assignment deadline has surfaced because you already have part of your paper done, rather than trying to cram 2000 words into one night. I begin syllabus week by looking at the outlines provided by my professors and start assessing when I should begin my assignments. I generally aim to have assignments done a week in advance; this allows you time to review and even reach out to your professor about any last minute questions.

The key to being successful and remaining sane throughout the school year is to stay on top of things and work on assignments as soon as you can!

5. Alone Time

One of the most important tips I could ever recommend would be to set aside some downtime for yourself.

I’ll admit it, sometimes I feel guilty when I take some ‘Me Time’ rather than spending an extra hour on an assignment; but if you’re all work and no play, you will burn out quite quickly. My favourite way to spend alone time is to take a nice bath and read a book or catch up on my favourite series! A book that I would highly recommend is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. While the title is a tad aggressive, this book teaches you not to worry or stress about the small things in life that you have no control over. I can say that this book has positively changed my outlook on certain aspects of life.

Another benefit of reading and taking a bath is giving your body a break from your computer screen. A nice soak in the tub is extremely relaxing and can also help you get a good night’s sleep because they calm your body’s nervous system. So, when you’re feeling stressed, take a bath or pick up a hobby. Or better yet, make some alone time before you even get stressed. You need to take care of yourself if you want to stay healthy and energized. If you’re going to add some life to your bath, take a look at my favourite bath products from Lush:

  • Milky Bath Bubble Bar – One of my new favs – This product adds lots of frothy and moisturizing bubbles to your bath!
  • Big Blue Bath Bomb – An oldie but a goodie! I love this bomb because it smells incredible and helps ease sore muscles that you may get from sitting at a desk all day.

6. Get Some Sleep

Lastly, but certainly not least, you need to ensure you are getting proper sleep. If you’re only averaging a few hours every night, you won’t be able to give 100% to your work and schooling. Before you head to bed, shut down all electronics and relax. This habit will make it a lot easier to sleep because your mind won’t be as alert. Take a bath or sit back and read a book before bed, whatever eases you into sleep.

Getting 8 hours of sleep every night is extremely important and crucial as it will make sure you are energized by your busy schedule the next day.

One thing that I use to help ensure I am getting a good night’s sleep is a fitness tracker. Most fitness trackers can monitor your sleep in addition to reminding you at night when it is time to start winding down. I find this extremely useful because I often lose track of what time it is and end up going to bed way later than I actually should. Additionally, the sleep tracking is used to determine whether or not you did sleep well.

The tracker (or associated app) will show you a chart that represents how you slept. The chart shows you how long you spent in the following categories: Deep Sleep, Restless, and Awake. Use these categories to determine whether or not you should incorporate a nap into your day. Because I lead an active lifestyle, I have invested in my fitness tracker and own a Fitbit. If you are someone who would only wear a tracker at night, there are more affordable trackers out there. Amazon has some great ones that you can browse, including the Aneken Smart Bracelet. If you follow these tips, you will surely be getting some well-deserved sleep that will aid in your success and sanity!

Following these tips and tricks have helped me become a better student and employee. All of these tips will not only help you in your present-day struggles but will also help you in future endeavours. Life is hard enough as it is, so use these tips to succeed and be the hero of your own story. With that said, I am going to shut down and run myself a bath before I settle into bed. After all, I do have a big day of planning in front of me.

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.