How to Successfully Maintain a Work-Life Balance

Being a University student is a tricky time for most of us.  Although studying is a full-time commitment, most students need to work part-time to make their lives work financially. On top of that, you might want to join clubs, play sports, pick up new hobbies, and of course, enjoy the social aspects of being at uni. In these circumstances, is a healthy work-life balance really possible?

The problem

Although the typical weekly routines and commitments of university students have changed a lot over the past few decades, educational policy has largely failed to keep up. A study of Scottish university students conducted by Janet Lowe and Vernon Gayle at Stirling University found that the average student was working between 59 and 71 hours a week between study and their jobs*. 

The need to have a part-time job during university stems from financial pressure. Week by week, the money provided to New Zealand students through student loans and allowances fail to meet their spending requirements due to high living costs. Additionally, the large loans racked up through course fees make many students feel the need to save money.

At the same time, a bachelor’s degree is often no longer enough to ensure a good graduate job. With fewer professional jobs than the number of graduates for many programs, a lot of students are opting for conjoint degrees, double majors, and postgraduate study which increases their workload at university.

What is work-life balance?

Work-life balance is about living your student life how it should be lived. For many students, this can be visualised by imagining some kind of a triangle, with study, work, and extracurricular commitments being the three points.

Extracurricular commitments include sports and activities students are involved in, as well as socialising. University is often where people meet their friends for life, and there are always parties, gigs, and other social events going on.

Meanwhile, university offers great chances for people to practise their favourite sports, and there are clubs for everything from white water rafting to watching anime. Other students might find themselves getting involved in university politics or with the student magazine - there are countless things to do at university outside working and studying.

Supporting all of these areas of your life is your health and wellbeing - the center of the triangle, if you will. Getting enough sleep, eating a good diet, and exercising regularly keep you in the best shape to be at your best in all areas of your life.

Define your goals

With so many things to do, you’ll inevitably have to make choices between some activities and others. This is tricky when there are a lot of things you want to do, but there’s no way to do everything.

It can be helpful to figure out what motivates you. A Stanford University study argues that two of the major motivators for people are happiness and meaning. Of course, most people desire both, but a lot of the time it’s one over the other**.

People who desire happiness are motivated by what brings them satisfaction in the near term. They are less likely to take on commitments that require hard work and sacrifice with the promise of future gains.

On the other hand, people who desire ‘meaning’ find it harder to draw satisfaction out of the present and are usually working towards a higher goal in the future. They are more likely to sacrifice the now for the future.

Realising what kind of person you are will help you to make decisions about what to commit yourself to. However, it’s important to keep a balance between these two motivations - even the hardest studier should have something they enjoy each week to help them relax.

Schedule to win

When you have a lot on your plate, the first thing to do is to organise it. Your uni will usually give you a wall planner at the start of the year, but you can also get or make your own, or use your phone’s calendar app.

The first step is to go through your course syllabuses and put all your tests, labs, tutorials, and assignment due dates on your planner. This stops your uni deadlines from doing that nasty thing they do when they sneak up on you. 

This lets you see the time you have left in your semester for other things. You can go through and jot down other commitments as you see fit. Schedule your study time - you’ll be more productive if you set it out as a planned session, and it’ll help you to relax when you’re not studying - no more feeling bad because you think you should be in the library. 

Also, make sure you value social events in your schedule just like anything else. That party or concert you were really looking forward to is an important part of the “life” side of that balance, so treat it as such. Check out one of our recent blogs for some helpful tips on Time Management.

Watch out for schedule bleed

The power of scheduling is only realised when you stick to your plans. More than ever, parts of our schedule bleed over into the rest of our lives, which makes us less efficient, dulls our enjoyment of our time off, and increases our stress levels. 

The most common example of this is when school or university comes at you through your emails or other electronic communications when you’re trying to be switched off. Devices make it hard to keep a healthy balance between work and home. Whether you’re answering your boss’ questions, giving guidance to your study group or emailing your lecturer, your downtime can very quickly turn into more work time - and inefficient work time at that.

Putting down your devices is the easiest way to avoid this. It’s OK to take time away from your phone, tablet, or computer and to let people know you were away if you miss their calls or communications - they cannot expect you to be available 24/7.

Look after yourself

With a strong center of wellbeing and health, you’ll be able to do more during the week. Sometimes, you will simply find yourself overcommitted if you want to do all the things you want to do.

Getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a healthy diet gives you the best opportunity to pull this off. However, there’s a balance to be struck, since regularly overcommitting yourself will wind up affecting your health too. You need to take time off to let your body and mind recover from all of the activity. Take a look at one of our recent blogs with helpful tips for self-care.

Make your life your own

The main point is that your work-life balance will reflect your own personal goals. Staying healthy and using scheduling will allow everyone to realise their own goals better, but at the base level you need to decide what motivates you.

Are you trying to get professional work experience while you study, or just do a shift a week in a restaurant to make ends meet? Do you want to be a straight-A student, or are you happy spending a little less time studying so you can write for the student magazine? How important is hockey to you?

Answering these questions for yourself will help you to strike your own personal balance. So, get thinking - your time at university exists for you to do what you want to do.

Written By Jack Buckley

*”Exploring the work/life/study balance: The experience of higher education students in a Scottish further education college”, Janet Lowe & Veron Gayle, 2007.

**”Stanford research: The meaningful life is a road worth traveling”, Clifton Parker, 2014