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

Entering 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