While it may seem, at first, that making (yet another) commitment to be at a specific place at a certain time on your schedule would be very stressful, quite the opposite is true. In fact, though you might think that having all the free time in the world to do whatever you want, whenever you want, would be the ideal commitment-free lifestyle, that total freedom will leave you feeling more uneasy, more unsettled, and more restless. The reality is, the more purposeful you are with how you choose to embrace every hour of the day, the more serene, fulfilled, and joyful you will be in the long run (and, ideally, life is a long run). It’s not that you have to schedule every single moment of every single day so much so that you have transformed into an obsessive-compulsive overachiever. Instead, it’s more about mindfully making plans and keeping commitments to do certain things at certain times so that you will, in fact, be living the life you had had always imagined right now – and not years from now.
Here are some tips to help you balance your job, your time with your family, and your academic pursuits.
#1: Map your moments by the seasons.
Balance your work, family, and school in 90-day segments. By looking at and planning for the next three months, you have an overview of what you want and need to accomplish in the long-term versus just the next 24 hours. You’ll see the big picture. Don’t simply jot down every day on a calendar what is due tomorrow or where you have to be for the next day; that type of last-minute planning will only leave you feeling overwhelmed and out of time to accomplish it all. There are four seasons in a year, create four 90-day plans – one for each season – filled with your commitments and goals.
#2: Write in “stone” the commitments that are unyielding.
While you can certainly use the calendar on your laptop or your phone, it can help to have a traditional, tangible calendar you can hang on your wall and have right in front of you every day (versus having to open an app to see it or forgetting to look at it). On your paper calendar, go through the next three months and fill in the dates when you are scheduled to work, when annual special events occur, when academic assignments are due, and when you want to reserve personal and family time.
- Whether your work full-time or part-time, jot down the time you have to be at work and the time you will be home from work on those dates. If you work full-time, it’s easy to just write it once and then have an arrow go all the way through the calendar’s weekdays. If you work part-time and odd hours of the day and/or night, jot down exactly when you have to be there. This commitment is not flexible. You are scheduled to be at work at a certain time, so you’ll need to be there.
- Special Annual Events. After you inserted all of your workdays, use a different colored pen to fill in the days when special events need to be celebrated. This category is different from “appetizers and cocktails with friends”! These are events that are unyielding and that occur on an annual basis or just once — perhaps someone’s birthday, a holiday, an anniversary, or a wedding.
- Course Assignments. Next, go through your online syllabus for your courses and carefully identify the days your instructors want discussion posts, responses, and assignments due. Use yet another ink color for this commitment. Typically, a discussion post is due every Wednesday night by midnight, a response to two different students’ posts by every Friday (or Saturday) at midnight, and a paper due by every Sunday night at midnight. Some instructors have special assignments, projects, or postings due at different times during the course (or not at all during some weeks), so go through it carefully and add all of those homework assignments to your calendar before the class unfolds! For this category, you’ll need to set aside two different times one your calendar for each class assignment due because you’ll need time to do the work! So, you might write “Discussion post #1 due by midnight” on a Wednesday, but then you’ll need to find time on a different day when you can actually sit down and do the work! Maybe that will be Tuesday morning at 7 AM, or maybe it will be every Thursday night from 5 PM – 2 AM. It doesn’t matter when you choose to work on your assignments; the important thing is that you make the commitment to set aside time specifically to accomplish that!
- Personal and Family Time. It may not seem like it, but you will have plenty of time left over each week throughout the three months to designate just for personal and family time. Sunday is always a wonderful day of rest, for church activities, and for family time. Although you may always have a paper due on Sunday nights at midnight, try to get those assignments done before Sunday so that you are not working or doing any academic projects on Sundays. If you have children and if your work schedule allows, make it a point to have dinner at the dinner table as many nights as you can during the week. Gathering around the family table (with no cellular phones in sight) is a healthy and wonderful way to bond with your family. You each can share the funny experiences of the day, discuss upcoming events, and simply enjoy each other’s company. So, on your calendar, mark “Dinner with family at 6 PM” every night if you can. The other times available during the week and on Saturdays might be spent going to a movie with a loved one, helping the kids with their homework (or having them sit at the table with you while you do your homework, too!), playing a board game with the family, or attending a school sporting event. If you’re single, you won’t want to schedule every Friday night out with your friends like you normally did before you enrolled in an undergraduate or MBA program; however, you’ll not want to stop seeing your friends completely while you pursue your degree. Meeting with them twice a month would still keep them happy and you focused on your new commitments!
#3: Be calm, flexible, and resilient.
Life happens. As organized and scheduled as the seasons of your life may be, sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. No big deal. Really! Your 90-day plan on your calendar will enable you to see what is due, where you have to be, and what needs to be done on specific dates and at specific times. If you suddenly win the lottery, a family member needs you in a crisis, the car won’t start, the weather knocks out the electricity for a week, or your husband thought it was a great idea to bring home a new puppy – just stay calm, flexible, and resilient. No one wants to be in the company of someone who is rigid and who can’t bend – like a willow – when an unexpected storm blows through. You can always call your manager at work and let her know that you are waiting for Triple A to give your car’s battery a jump and you’ll be a little late. You can always email your instructor and let him know that you are having some personal things going on at home and you will be a few days late on submitting the week’s assignment. You can always thank your husband for adding a little love-filled puppy to your family. Stuff happens. It’s how you choose to respond that makes all the difference in the world.
Balancing work, family, and school is easy! Create a 3-month schedule, keep your commitments, and be flexible.