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Stretched Too Thin? Five Graduate Student Work-life Balance Tips

Student Time ManagementEntering graduate school has been an exciting part of my academic career. After the first semester, I quickly realized that the extracurricular activities I was able to partake in while completing my undergraduate studies were actually a huge distraction and sapped much-needed studying time. Being pulled in several directions by friends and family left me feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at times.

Chances are that some of you may be experiencing similar situations. We worked so hard to get into graduate school, and now we have to work even harder to make sure we realize our goals and succeed. Finding a means to balance the demands of our loved ones while staying true to our own needs will enable us to not only succeed, but also keep us from experiencing high levels of stress and, ultimately, burnout. Based on my own experiences, I have come up with several tips that I have found helpful for managing life and academic studies successfully.

1. Be honest with your friends and family.

At times, we find ourselves feeling guilty for saying no to friends and family when they ask for our time or assistance. Keep in mind that others may not realize the demands they are placing on your hectic student life. Be open and honest. Express your needs so that they can accommodate them. Most importantly, don’t feel bad and don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.

2. Plan ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute.

How many times have you thought that you had planned ahead yet ended up pushing deadlines back to the last minute? Plan ahead and expect it not to go exactly as planned. Leave room for unexpected surprises that may require you to be flexible with your time. It’s best not to be left scrambling at the last minute.

3. Make a flexible schedule, and don’t overbook yourself. 

Be flexible! Don’t book yourself hour by hour and day by day. That leaves you little or no time for adjusting your schedule when tasks take longer than you expected. You’ll also need some time for a break when your brain shuts down. Making time for recreation or just some good old rest can do wonders for your ability to focus and increase your productivity.

4.  Re-evaluate your daily activities and responsibilities.

In our undergrad studies, we may have been able to work full time, manage an 18-unit course load and balance a social life. In my graduate studies, I have quickly realized that I am not super woman, and time management is critical to success in this program. Take a step back, and weed out time-wasting activities. Prioritize tasks that are absolutely necessary to your life and schoolwork. For me, this meant letting go of my extremely high stress, full-time job and throwing myself into my studies. While I had to restructure my budget and find part-time work, I I can now take control of my time and use it more effectively and efficiently during the day.

5. Put your electronic devices away during study time.

Checking your emails, Facebook and Twitter eats up tons of precious time — and you may not even realize it! You’re trying to study, but your phone beeps, you have a text from a friend, or your colleague has updated her Facebook status. You may say you are only going to check a few emails and go back to studying, but these little, and sometimes very unnecessary, tasks usually turn into an hour of surfing the web or conversing through text messages. While you may use your computer for typing papers and doing research, refraining from checking status updates, texts and emails can help add a little more time into your hectic life.

This article was written by MSW@USC student, Katrina Hamlin. Connect with her on twitter @simplykatrinah

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    Planning ahead and checking daily routines do help a lot. Great article none the less. Well done

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  • Emily Courney

    Has anyone had a positive experience with working full time and doing the MSW@USC program (whether part-time or full-time)? I’m starting my MSW in September and have been told I’m crazy for thinking I can balance graduate studies and a high-stress job.

  • Chris Coban

    “Be open and honest. Express your needs so that they can accommodate them” Very True

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    • Liam

      Completely agree Chris, Honesty is the best policy

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        Yes you have to be honest these days, no point in lying.

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      I agree with you, Better to be honest
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  • Karla

    I really found this article useful! I am a graduate studying currently studying work-life balance for graduate students, and I’m curious to know if readers are most interested in one of the following: academic tips (e.g. managing relationships with faculty supervisors), relationship tips (e.g. building friendships), city tips (e.g. things to do in the city where you are studying) or personal care tips (e.g. how to eat well). Thanks!

    • eek

      I’m a Canadian grad student . . . and I think the answer to your question varies. I moved to the opposite end of the country to pursue a PhD, and the greatest challenges for me would include building friendships and building/managing relationships with faculty. I’m a friendly, outgoing person, but starting from scratch in a new city with all new relationships is overwhelming!

      • Karla

        I can completely understand your challenge. I experienced the same thing and found that similar to you, I am a very outgoing friendly person. Even so, building up new relationships is definitely challenging. Did you find that you networked more with people within your program? Or more with people outside of your program? Best of luck :)

  • Charamain

    What a timely article and encouraging to know others are feeling the same. I pray for balance and the reminder of the cost involved in doing what you are called to do. It is clear, social work is a most rewarding field and to be effective the prescription for me is prayer, self care and the support of those who understand.

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  • Bethany

    Burnout can become a really big problem. It is interesting how we often have to urge undergraduates to work harder, while simultaneously cautioning MA candidates to take the occasional break.

    My department just did a similar post with some of the same tips you identified: http://ucfhistory.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/worklife-balance-in-grad-school-is-it-possible/

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