A few weeks ago I received a phone call from a former mentor of mine at my Alma Mater, Loyola University in Baltimore. She asked if I would talk to a newly enrolled graduate student about the art of balancing a full time job and graduate school. Since I’ve managed to work at least one full-time job at a time since my 16th birthday, and I’ve been a full-time student for 20 years, I consider myself about as good as one could be in the art of “making it work.” Later that day, the soon to be graduate student called me—overwhelmed and fraught with questions. “How can I accomplish everything in time? Is it possible to succeed and not just coast? Will I EVER have time for a social life?!” After a short pause and a deep breath, I informed her that the best way to succeed with a full schedule is to understand how personal and professional goals intersect. And, being that we all have work and… maybe it’s work and family, work and school, work and volunteering, we all have work and… something. I have come up with what I have found to be the best ways to understand and, dare I say, balance the work, school, and life goals.
1. Organization is Key: I do not care if you live in a house with a sink filled with dishes and the entire Cole Hann spring collection strewn about your bedroom floor, if you want to achieve professional and educational success you’ve got to learn how to be mentally organized.
- Invest in a Moleskine and every week (Mondays work best for me) sit down and bucket out your responsibilities – NOT YOUR TIME – into personal, professional, collegiate, etc. and make sure that you carve out some space for something that brings you peace or relaxation.
- Once you have your buckets of responsibility, then plug these into your schedule. But, be realistic – for instance leaving work at 5PM and expecting to be home, have dinner and be ready to crack into homework at 5:30 is not a realistic expectation and will lead to frustrations. Make your schedule work for you and allow flex time for when things like traffic or broken hot water heaters (I speak from experience) get in the way.
2. Social Depravity Doesn’t Have to Be a Reality: Just because you have a 50+ hour a week job and you’re about to delve into a new chapter in your education (or other commitment), does not mean you will be deprived of all human connection and now must go out and adopt a cat just to interact with something.
- Openly communicate your new endeavors with friends and family so they understand the time needed for your new commitment. Most of my friends do not have very demanding jobs and are not in school full time, so when I first started declining social invitations they became upset. However, after communicating the parameters of my work and school they better understood that I was not, in fact, blowing them off, but rather was elbow-deep in a research paper.
- Celebrate the wins because you may not be able to make every happy hour or social gathering, throw a party or arrange a happy hour once you’ve successfully completed another big project at work or another semester of school – this will help your loved ones support you even more in your projects or endeavors and it’s a great motivator for you as well.
3. It’s a Marathon, but it’s also a race: While I love the adage that life is a marathon, graduate school and working full-time, is not. No matter how much you plan and prepare, there will still be deadlines that will cut it close. There will always be all-nighters and there will always be times when you only have 40 minutes and you need an hour.In this instance, the best way to succeed is to realize:
- You can only accomplish one really good project at a time, don’t try and multi-task because the end result will be far from good.
- Clear your mind – thinking about the 15 other things you need to do before the clock strikes five will not help you accomplish anything. Odds are better than not you will have four half-finished projects and will wind up sitting at your desk in a puddle of tears. Instead, take a deep breath and tackle Priority A first.
4. Set Meaningful Goals: Last, but NOT least (in fact the MOST important one), is setting meaningful goals. While many of us operate in project-ized or to-do list type mindset, nothing is worse than a poorly planned goal. For instance, when planning out your week, it is not very helpful to schedule your calendar in vague terms like, “Do Work.” Instead, have an intentional plan of what you would like to accomplish that day based off of your current deadlines.
- For those of you in school, most of this work is already bucketed out for you in the form of a syllabus. So, before the first day of class, sit down and break out all of the weekly assignments into chunks for each day, this will prevent you from getting overwhelmed when Sunday hits and you haven’t accomplished anything.
I can’t promise that any of these tips will make balancing personal and professional responsibilities easy, as there will always be challenges and unexpected hiccups along the way. However, if you can learn to bucket your time, be flexible, and set meaningful and realistic goals you can have a successful career and achieve whatever personal growth goals you have for yourself. And, if you’ve been putting off going back to school, learning how to be a yoga instructor, or whatever meaningful challenge you have been dreaming of – go for it! There’s no time like the present!
Jes Geoffroy is an Operations Manager for entreQuest. She works closely with all team members to provide employees and clients with remarkable experiences.