Finding Work/Life/School Balance

Australian students, report some of the highest levels of stress and distress of all demographics groups.

For international students, in particular, the multiple pressures of studying, working, household management and cultural stressors make work/life/school balance seem completely out of reach. They struggle constantly to find the right mix of meaningful work and restorative play.

There’s no one size fits all approach for achieving work/life balance because finding it is all about getting your priorities right. You have to figure out what arrangement of work and play makes you happiest and how you’re going to organize your life in order to get there.

We’ve rounded up some of the best tips and tricks around to help you find your perfect mix.

1. Conduct a time audit

Writing for Forbes Magazine, Frances Booth recommends conducting a time audit. This involves looking back over one, average week of your life, examining what exactly you’re spending your time on and asking, what is essential? What are the things you’re wasting time on? What do you want to change?

Booth recommends deciding on what ‘time well spent’ actually means to you and writing down a list of things that you like to get out of your time.

The answers to this will be different for everyone. They could be; learning, creating something, trying new things, building relationships. It’s entirely up to you.

The aim of the time audit is to create a plan that maximizes the time you spend doing things that you find rewarding and are important to your happiness and goals and also, to minimize time wasted on things that don’t produce desired outcomes.

2. Fight off time thieves

Time thieves can be people or things, but they all have the same effect – they waste your valuable time.

Time thieves can be the push notifications on your phone that distract you from homework, the friend who talks all the way through your study session, the boss who calls you into work only to send you home two hours later.  Take note of the time thieves in your life and find ways to limit their damage.  That little airplane icon on your phone – that’s a one-way ticket to uninterrupted and more focused time – so use it!

Time thieves can also be things that we do to ourselves – like having unclear goals or bad communication.  Read more about these in Francisco Sáez’s fantastic blog post 12 Time Thieves that we should all watch out for.

3. Plan and prioritise your days

Take a few minutes at the beginning of every day to plan it out. Don’t just include things that you know you have to do – but things that you want to do and things that will make sure that your day is productive (e.g. relaxation, working on your favourite projects, exercise). Thinking in advance every day will help you anticipate bumps in the road and save you the time cost of having to solve them at the last minute.

To become a real pro at planning your day, check out The Harvard Business Review’s An 18 Minute Plan for Managing Your Day.

4. Be organised

This is a difficult thing for many people to incorporate into their lives. But how much time do you waste running to an ATM and a cheap takeout joint in between classes because you didn’t pack a lunch?  Or searching for a matching sock in the mornings because you didn’t fold them together after the wash? These little tiny things add up.  They add huge amounts of stress to our lives and steal away valuable time. Planning, picking up after yourself and doing tasks properly the first time will make your life easier in a thousand little ways.

5. Create boundaries

Many of us are afraid of saying ‘no’. Maybe we don’t want to look lazy, or unhelpful, or miss an important opportunity. But saying ‘Yes’ too often will leave you drained and unable to focus on doing the important stuff properly.

Learning to say ‘No’ takes practice though.  Tim Ferris, (writer of The Four Hour Work Week), shares some tips on how to get better at saying the most difficult word in a terrific blog post called How to Say “No” When It Matters Most.

Ferris and others have also talked about the importance of delegating. You shouldn’t (and can’t) take everything on yourself. It’s important to recognise what tasks can reasonably be done by other people. You might find it particularly useful to be good at delegating fairly when working in group assignments.

6. Listen to yourself

Being mindful of how you’re really doing on the inside is an essential part of time management. Stress, anxiety, and depression will limit your ability to be truly productive and to identify and work towards the things that are most important.

If you’re having trouble with your mental health, or just feeling down, seek out help.

You should also work towards building mental and emotional strength. For that, there’s not better advice than that in Amy Morin’s famous 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.  She also has a TED talk that you can watch here.