School is a Balancing Act
You are sitting at your desk with your laptop in front of you. You see nothing past the blue glaring lights of the screen as you type into the depths of the night. You know you have been working for a while, you must be! There are stacks of paper all around, and you are going through as systematically and as stress-free as possible. It could not be past 8:30, you tell yourself. Surely I am making relatively good time and going to go to bed and get some rest! Hesitantly, you look at the clock. 2:56 am. How did this happen? Again? You stop and suddenly the load of sleep deprivation, cravings of late-night snacks, and the pressure of your own self telling you to keep going. You feel like pulling your hair out and contemplating all the woes of life and break into your third existential crisis this week.
Whether you are a working professional with a doctorate, a self-employed business man, or a recent highschool graduate, many would agree that being a student is a stressful time. Some see their time in highschool and college to be the most stressful years in their life. Is it possible to keep a balance between schoolwork and outside activities?
Below are a few tips that I have gathered over the years in my time in college. You may have head of the infamous school triangle. There consists of three aspects of a student: social life, sleep, and studies. There is a catch, however. You must only pick two of three choices. However it is possible for you to have all and defy the laws of physics and all logic. Personally, my time in college was an excellent time for me to see what I am capable of, to expand myself as a person and become more well-rounded, and still avoid the likes of a human zombie. I was the student that worked as the director for a pre-recorded, TV-broadcasted, half-hour show and expanded that business, took the maximum load of classes/credits the school allowed, double majored and double minored, had a high GPA, exercised my social butterfly persona, helped in a church plant, and had time for my hobbies such as playing piano. I still had time for a full night’s rest every night (when I wasn’t out socializing), ate three meals a day, turned in assignments early/on time and had time for people I thought were important. This is not to boast but to show that balance is feasible even when there is a lot on your plate, responsibilities and interests alike.
I want to iterate that I am not some sort of genius or time-managing guru. If you had met me in high school you might see that I had potential but nothing extraordinary. There are some things that stuck out that were great achievements such as being part of student government and a member of the cross country. However, I got average grades when I was in school. I got A’s in the some classes, and some of the letters as well. (Though I never failed a class, my mother would have killed me! Just kidding, hi mom!) I stayed up late for my last-minute projects on some nights and other nights I would video chat with friends on Skype and AIM. What I am trying to say is that I am just like you, trying to figure this all out! But maturity, life lessons, and a little bit of time taken to read and listen to those with more wisdom and experience, have given me the following to share with you, both practical and philosophical.
Create a consolidated schedule
If you are in college, you can plan on what classes you are going to take, how many and, for the most part, what time. Take advantage of this! The better you can manage the portions of your life that are manageable, the more prepared you can be to expect the unexpected. If you are in high school and have little to no control what classes you will take, do not worry! You will have some easy classes and some hard ones. Focus on what you know you struggle with and try to prioritize the best you can.
If you are working for an employer off-campus, try to work out with them what your schedule is. Tell them your situation and if they are nice enough they might help you with your scheduling. By consolidating your schedule, even just in your class schedule and maybe some important dates, this help your employer to help you. For college students, maybe you can take all morning classes, or have all class on two days of the week. This helps for simplification purposes but may not be useful to you. Tailor all of these suggestions to you, that’s the whole point. For you to be balanced, not to just blindly follow an agenda.
Another note, if you can do online classes and you are diligent, these can be very helpful. Online classes help with save time on commuting, are often cheaper, and create greater flexibility. It is still hard work but you do not have to be in a classroom, which may help some.
Intentional Goal Setting
To balance your schoolwork and other responsibilities, you must prioritize and understand what your future plans are and reflect on these. Are you doing the “scenic route” and finding who you are or are you do you know you are going to become a heart surgeon and spend years and years in post-graduate classes. Know what you are working towards and keep your aim on the prize. Your prize might the graduation diploma, having lots of money, being able to do ministry, or working in the field of your dreams. With that in mind, stop to smell the roses. Have friends, spend time with them and have fun. Not only is this important in college but in your life now and beyond.
Support of People
You can be an extrovert that needs to have more friends every day and winces at the thought of being alone or an introvert that needs to retreat to their bed every day and wishes that the party would end right now, there is no denying the need for genuine, supportive people. Friends and family that are there for you when you need some encouragement or help in even the smallest task. Sans a handful of people, you must put in some effort to making friendships work and you need two things: time and friends. Prioritize those two things. There are plenty of other articles and books that cover how and when and where to make friends and where to even find the time of day to do so.
This is an important factor for balance. Have people that can watch when you are not yourself and take their suggestions. They love you and want to see you succeed too, heed their advice for your benefit and theirs. Watch for burnout, you might cut yourself short and this is only detrimental if not now, then in the long run it sure will be.
Love What You Do
One of the most important things to balancing your life is making sure you are actually enjoying your life. For me, knowing that I am in the center of God’s will gives me assurance and peace that I am doing the best things for me and it is something that I enjoy. Currently, I am a math teacher in Oklahoma with other responsibilities and a home and social life outside of it. Teaching was the goal I wanted to hit while I was in college and I am glad it gets to be the career I have for the rest of my life. I cannot see myself doing anything else. The effort put forth in college was worth it and I loved it along the way.
This is important and I want to stress it here. If you are in high school or in college, try to expand your horizons! Do not just do something that you are interested in but try to find something that you would like to be interested in or something that will build a certain characteristic of yourself that you do not have. I joined cross country so I could love spending time in nature and exercising, two aspects of my personality and character that I didn’t have but knew I needed. I joined student government because I wanted to make an impact in people’s lives and improve my public speaking and hopefully break out of my shyness and have a voice. Be intentional in your journey of learning and enjoy yourself. Loving to learn is an important skill and I would argue it is what drives me. It is one of the best feelings ever. I might write another article on the importance of loving to learn. It is a beautiful concept.
Spend Your Time Wisely
If you have a project assigned weeks or months before the due date, get started as soon as possible. Follow the advice of your teachers, it is given for a reason.
My college senior quote, written in the yearbook, read “If it is due on Tuesday, due it the Tuesday before.” I was known for having everything accomplished ahead of time instead of at the last minute. Procrastination is not a quality you should possess if you are wanting balance. Not to say it won’t come up but you want to strive for the ideal rather than for the small, short-term goals that stem from our selfish human passions. Getting things done ahead of time allows for more time at the end of a project. This time can be used in other interests or schoolwork without the pressure of doom of a deadline. If need be, you can go back to fix details and to expect the unexpected if it doesn’t get in the time you thought it might.
As a practical tip, gather up your professor’s syllabi and write down all the dates and assignments into a planner or calendar. Plan when you can do your readings, essays and papers, assignments, and long-term projects, papers and presentations. Thinking ahead, planning ahead, and accomplishing ahead are instrumental into giving you balance.
The next time you find yourself staying up late, remember to take of yourself. If you do not love what you are doing, reassess what all the effort is for. Take the time to reevaluate your schedule. Are you really piling on more than you can handle? Am I only doing this to reach a societal standard? Find family and friends that can support you in your big and small decisions. Be wise in your time and what you are investing your into. Have confidence that even though you may not get balance overnight that is attainable and achievable; just give it the time!
Written by Duncan Pañiagua
Math and Chemistry Teacher At a Private School in Oklahoma