The concept of achieving and maintaining a work/life balance feels like one of those buzzwords that is touted, but not often fully ingrained in the corporate culture. When a 40-hour work week looks more like 50-hours-plus, is there time left to actually include the "life" in the work/life balance?
And then when you start to integrate that all-important "life" component, that stubborn, subconscious feeling of needing to be connected to work comes creeping in.
TL;DR: Here's a quick infographic to guide you in finding your own balance.
Ask yourself: When you leave for the day, do you find yourself checking work email at 9 pm? Or worse yet, while you're on vacation? While waiting for your favorite prime-time TV show to begin, do you rattle through a to-do list that awaits you tomorrow morning? While helping your children with their homework, are you thinking about your own business report that's due tomorrow?
"When we can't let go of work while we're out of the office, we don't get to enjoy the benefits of time away," writes Harvard Business Review author Art Markman, Ph.D. "To wean yourself off work—and unwanted thoughts of work—you can use a combination of new habits and lessons from cognitive behavioral therapy. Here's how."
We all know that there are benefits of unplugging from work and focusing on self. You need to recharge so that you can be productive and successful at work. Being "in the moment" with family and friends produces strong relationships that will buffer you from work stress. In fact, the Mental Health American organization reports that "one in four Americans describe themselves as 'super stressed.' And that's not balanced nor healthy."
This is just the tip of the iceberg on how to achieve that elusive work/life balance.
But what happens when you add going back to school to your already crowded schedule?
For six months, I had to proactively find some "me time" so that I didn't become this whirling Tasmanian Devil—spinning through work duties to home responsibilities to studying.
I recently finished up an online course and, I'll tell you, it's not easy to maintain a healthy work/life balance, let alone a "work/life/study" balance. Weekday evenings were spent doing my readings; weekends sitting at my local coffee shop to work on discussions and written assignments. Thankfully, I was taking my course in the fall so I spent Sundays cheering on my favorite football team (the Chicago Bears, don't laugh) and just chill out. For six months, I had to proactively find some "me time" so that I didn't become this whirling Tasmanian Devil—spinning through work duties to home responsibilities to studying.
And it was during this experience of a full-time job, an academically rigorous online course and maintaining strong relationships with family, friends and my dog—who was always nonplussed when I brought out the laptop during normal petting hours—that I started to think about this concept of work/life/study balance.
There are numerous resources at your disposal to ensure that you don't go off-balance when taking a single course or a full certificate's curriculum. Here are my favorite 9 tips that are not only helpful but—more importantly—doable.
1. Schedule out your time.
When you’re taking an online course, it's important to create a schedule so that you don't fall behind and stress yourself out. When you're not expected to show up to class every Wednesday evening, it can be very easy to "postpone" (aka, procrastinate) your assignments to next week when your schedule looks a bit lighter.
Here's a pic of my rudimentary schedule. After completing the first module, I was able to estimate the amount of time it would take me to do the readings, discussions and homework assignments. This schedule kept me on task and, more importantly, fit in nicely with my other engagements.
Also, knowing all of your commitments in advance will help you allocate time to schoolwork and maintain that needed balance. Use phone apps with reminders at 1-week, 3-day and 1-day intervals to remind yourself of homework assignments. Check out more online tips.
I would have had a very difficult time managing a full-time job and spending time with my wife and two children while taking courses. The online courses provided invaluable flexibility. —Jonathan Geilhufe, 2016 marketing certificate graduate
2. Set up a routine.
You know you have to be at work by a certain time, so use that same concept when taking a class.
"It’s important to have a routine throughout the semester," says UX Design graduate Lisa Jacquiot. "Going to class twice a week for three hours after work, and putting in 12 hours of homework per week can be hard when you have a full-time job and need a little bit of a social life. Be organized (set homework times) and keep a good routine (set exercise/relaxing times and go to bed early)."
3. Learn to say no.
This may be one of the hardest things to do. If you say no to a new work project or assignment, are you passing up a great opportunity? But if you keep adding to your plate at work, will you have time to complete your studies—which can help you get a promotion or other career advancement? Decide what you're willing to give up to make time for assignments. You can't do it all—and do it all well!
4. Reinforce and expand your support system.
In the same vein as "you can’t do it all," rely on family and friends to help you out. Ask your partner or roommate to take on additional household responsibilities. Reach out to a friend to watch the kids for a few hours so that you can finish your project. The first night my husband took care of dinner—from buying groceries to cooking the meal to loading the dishes into the dishwasher—so that I could study for my final was the most beautiful sight!
Remember, you're taking classes with other folks who are also feeling the work/life/study balance pinch. Rely on each other for support—you're going through the same experience and you never know what amazing tip you can get from a classmate.
5. ALWAYS schedule in some "me time."
Don't feel like you're being selfish by slotting in some time just for yourself. You need to decompress, unplug and center yourself before jumping back into the Monday madness at work followed by the Monday evening spent reading or working on homework. Whether that's scheduling every Sunday morning to read the paper or take a walk, just knowing that you've carved time out for yourself can be that week's light at the end of the tunnel. You'll look forward to that time. Bonus: When you schedule that me time after completing a really tough homework assignment, you'll feel like celebrating.
6. Make it relevant.
Chances are, you're taking a course to either change careers or advance in your chosen field. And because we already know how hard it is to disconnect from work—bring the two together! Translate what you learn in class to your work: Use last week's discussion to help solve a current work problem, translate a work project as the basis of your class project or something similar.
This is what Clinical Research Studies graduate Jennifer Brandl did to maintain that balance. "One of my classes was about regulatory documents, and at the same time, my boss had requested I go to one of our clinical trial sites and gather regulatory documents for the sponsor and site files," she says. "Part of my homework was to create a regulatory document checklist. So for the class, I made the checklist; for work, I brought the checklist and did what I needed to do to gather the documents. I'm learning and implementing as the course goes, and that's how you really retain what you've learned."
7. Take advantage of an Employee Assistance Program at work.
"Employee Assistance Programs are designed to improve or maintain the productivity and healthy functioning of an employee, as well as assist with personal- or work-related concerns," says instructor Dana Walsh, M.A., LMFT. Dana currently serves as an employee assistance counselor at UC Berkeley's Internal Employee Assistance Program. "There is a big drive these days for companies to have extensive work/life benefits and to promote wellness and balance; a crucial part of this is mental health, or emotional wellness. Many companies, in trying to attract and retain employees, want to meet these expectations. Having an EAP is a benefit both to the employer and the employee: Employees who are emotionally healthy and resilient can help keep workplaces safe and the company successful."
8. Make sure to get plenty of sleep.
It's easy to get sucked into scanning your social media accounts, perusing through funny cat GIFs or catching up on Netflix. "I did my homework for the night, so I deserve some mindless entertainment." And the next thing you know, it's past midnight. Don't forget the importance of sleep. According to the American Psychological Association, "In general, most healthy adults are built for 16 hours of wakefulness and need an average of eight hours of sleep a night." Everyone's different, so you may be able to function just fine with as little as six hours of sleep. Or you may need more. If you're well-rested, you're ready to tackle your business day and your studies with a clear head.
9. Celebrate your commitment!
Investing in additional education for yourself is an extremely rewarding experience. And when you've finished your studies, you'll have a new set of skills and experiences that will propel you forward in your career. So when it all feels like too much, just breathe.
Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
Then get back to it because it's worth it.
Have any additional tips on finding that balance? Let us know in the comments below!