There’s a stereotype about the broke college student, working three jobs to pay for their degree and living almost exclusively on coffee due to a lack of sleep. There’s a reason that image still stands.
Education can be expensive – sometimes really expensive. And you still have to pay for some form of housing, food, transportation. It piles up and can lead you to question your resolve to finish your education. To keep from either going insane or dropping the ball on both fronts, you have to find good work and study balance.
The first step to organizing your life is creating a plan. You may find yourself making a dozen plans, but planning out your schedule, your goals, and your deadlines will keep them all in your mind. One of the most beneficial parts of planning out your work and study lives is that it allows you to prioritize.
Take an honest look at what you want five years down the road and ten years down the road.
If you imagine your dream job that you need that degree for, instead of what you’re doing every day at your job, then prioritize school. If you like what you do and have a future in the position, consider prioritizing work. Once you know what you really want you can balance your life with a clearer foundation.
As soon as you have a plan, communicate with your employer. It may not be a conversation you’re excited to have, but it’s important. It hurts our ego to ever admit that we may not be able to do everything. The earlier you can communicate a change in schedule or workload, the less stressful your work life will be.
Speaking of stress, don’t drop off on your self-care. If you’re working and studying, you’re likely grinding yourself into a puddle of stress and tension. Once you get in that cycle, it’s easy to start trying to pull more all-nighters and eat whatever you can get at the drive-thru. It might work for a weekend, but that’s not a sustainable lifestyle. Give yourself permission to take a day off or soak in a warm bath or have a mid-day nap.
Another way to take care of yourself along with sleep is to keep a healthy diet. It can be really difficult when you feel like you don’t even have time to breathe. The idea of making a full meal at the end of a long day both working and studying can feel daunting. But you have options. There are more and more healthy options in the frozen food aisle and many meal delivery services will send you the ingredients you need to make something fresh and fast.
Once you have a plan, have open communication with your boss, and have a routine for self-care, now you can start trying different studying hacks. A quick Google search will bring up hundreds of study methods for productivity. When it comes down to it, productivity is simple: it requires sacrifice and creativity.
If you find yourself crutching on a distraction – your phone, social media, TV, Netflix, podcasts – make the sacrifice and turn them off. They can give you a temporary moment of letting yourself turn off your brain, they will not help you in the future if they keep you from achieving your goals. Instead of letting outside influences cloud your judgment, turn off the distractions.
Then it’s time to get creative. You will regularly feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. That won’t change and the number of hours won’t change. What you can change are your habits and how you view the few minutes of downtime you get throughout the day. It may be on your commute or while you wait for that healthy meal to cook. Just a few minutes at a time will help you move closer to your end goal. Those minutes add up to a lot of hours that you would have wasted otherwise.
Last of all, you need a support system – especially if you’re doing it all with a family also relying on you. It doesn’t matter what your support group looks like. Maybe it’s your friends, your neighbor, your regular customer, your mom. It can be anyone. Just like you did with your employer, communicate with the people in your life. Be honest and tell them what you need. Plan out with them when you’ll have weeks of extra work or extra study time and prepare them for how to best help you during it all. With the right net to catch you along the way, you’ll find yourself soaring toward your dreams.