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Going back to school? 8 tips to find balance and stay sane!

Going back to school? 8 tips to find balance and stay sane!
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Going back to school is all the rage these days. In the wake of the recession, many  are seeing the value of the college education they didn’t get earlier.  The problem is, most non-traditional students don’t have the luxury of taking years off work so they can pursue that all-important degree. Balancing work, a private life, and school can seem overwhelming. The good news is that going back to school doesn’t have to cost your sanity! Here are eight ways to balance family, homework, and career and still achieve all your goals.

1. Lay the groundwork.

Many employers like to see their employees going back to school. It makes their workforce more educated and the employees themselves more valuable. Talk to your spouse and your kids and explain that you’ll be doing homework right alongside them. Then talk to your boss and discuss your degree ambitions and objectives. Be sure to have a rough plan for how long it will take and what scheduling accommodations you can reasonably foresee. This will put everyone on the same page and set clear expectations about what you’re willing to put in and what you need in return to make this work. Don’t forget to ask if your company has a tuition reimbursement program or other benefits that will make getting your degree easier.

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2. Budget time wisely.

There are only 24 hours in a day, no matter how tough you are. Sit down and figure out how much time you absolutely must devote to school, work, and your family life to keep everything running smoothly. Remember that sometimes there will be family factors that need to take a higher precedence than your education or your job, and plan accordingly. While not a magic bullet, a lesson in time management will certainly make your life less chaotic and not leave anyone feeling short-changed.

3. How much is too much?

Trying to achieve a bachelor’s degree in two years is all well and good, but you have to be realistic about your other time demands. Most people find that 15 credit hours a semester is a manageable load, especially when work and family are factored in. Try as many classes as you dare for your first semester. If your grades suffer or your boss is constantly chewing you out because you missed something, or your kids are starting to forget what you look like, it’s time to reevaluate. Outdoing all the young Thundercats on your campus sounds like a great idea…but keep in mind that you have responsibilities they don’t. Dropping a class or two to enhance your GPA and keep the other elements of your life and mind in balance isn’t the worst thing you can do if you find yourself in over your head.

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4. Know when to say “no.”

Many people are afraid to say no to anyone, whether it’s the guys from the office, the wife, the boss’s secretary, or the kid who’s looking for the new acting secretary of the student council. They’re afraid of looking weak, incapable, or like they aren’t superheroes. If you laid your groundwork appropriately at the start, you’ve already made it clear there are going to be times when you simply cannot please everyone. That urgent report on quarterly sales that must be ready to present at nine a.m., Timmy’s basketball game, Dr. No’s fifty-page paper on the mating habits of the common housefly that’s due tomorrow at noon, and your spouse’s sister’s roommate’s birthday party may well wind up hitting you all at once. In this case, which do you choose?  It doesn’t make you a bad parent, employee, or student if you can’t be in all places at once. It just makes you human. Never be afraid to say, “I’m in over my head.” Then decide which one or two things are the most important, and stick to your decision. (You can always ask Dr. No for an extension on the paper, but based on his name, don’t hold your breath…)

5. Do what you say you’re going to do.

This may be the hardest of all of them. You may sit down to that German epic poem, intending to study it inside and out, but your inner three-year-old wants cookies, ice cream, and a long session in front of the X-Station or PlayBox. This is the moment when maturity and self-discipline have to take center stage, especially if you’re missing Susie’s play for it. Once you’ve worked out what your time commitments are, follow through on them.

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6. Get your Zen on.

Sometimes there’s just too much going on at one time, particularly during midterms and finals. This is not automatically a bad thing. Stress can help us perform better and achieve more, but it has to be the right kind of stress. If you find yourself under too many kinds of negative stress, take a time-out. Watch a movie, meditate, indulge in one of your hobbies for a little while, or see if you can coax your spouse or significant other into a nice, relaxing romp in the bedroom. (Or the kitchen, or the living room…whatever works.) Once you feel a little less stressed, then get back to whichever variant(s) of work you have on your plate. You’ll be a lot more efficient when your mind and body are both calm and relaxed.

7. Get plenty of rest.

Our modern culture is full of slogans like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “Downtime is for the weak.” And it shows: scientific studies link sleep deprivation to every malady from diabetes to mental illness! It’s just not healthy not to take some downtime, and you won’t recall as much or as accurately if you try to “cram” as you will if you take a more measured approach to your studies.Numerous studies show that distributed practice (many shorter study sessions separated by periods of rest) result in better learning and performance than the famed all-nighter. While the desire to be all things to all people is commendable in one direction, ask yourself how much your degree will mean to you and your family if it’s awarded posthumously…and get as much sleep as you can.

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8. Remember to schedule recreation.

This is listed last, but should not be taken as an afterthought. Our culture is all about productivity and connectedness, leaving us feeling like a pariah if we take a day away from the Internet or the cell phone, or God forbid, the books! But rest isn’t just about sleep; it’s about relaxing and getting out of the grind for a while. Why not take the family on a hike, or go visit those friends who are almost certain you died or relocated to a foreign country because they haven’t seen you since sometime in the Pleistocene epoch? Sharing some laughter, good food, and maybe even a beer or two is a good way to lower your stress level and get yourself back on track. There’s a reason we call it “rest and recreation;” your body and mind need both. Your grades, the quality of your work, your health, and your relationship with your family will all benefit from it!

Bonus Tip: Don’t forget that your grades don’t define you, and your family will be just as proud of you with Cs as they will be if you’re pulling down As. At the end of the day, your family and friends are the ones who really matter.

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J.S. Wayne

J.S. Wayne is a passionate writer who shares lifestyle inspirations and tips on Lifehack.

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Published on July 27, 2021

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow
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During the pandemic, video conferencing replaced in-person meetings and has now become the standard option for business meetings. Over the past 17 months, most workers have gotten past the video conferencing learning curve with Zoom or Microsoft Teams (or their platform of choice).

But just as with in-person meetings, attention can wax and wane. Some say we’re just not used to staring at ourselves so much on the screen. Instead of fixating on that, try employing smart video conferencing etiquette, or you may risk indiscretions that will flag you as a slacker.

Put the Pro in Professional

After more than a year of fine-tuning, here are the new rules of video conferencing etiquette.

1. Mute Your Mobile and Other Devices

The first video conference etiquette you need to know is muting your other devices. Just as in the pre-COVID days, someone’s obnoxious ring tone blaring Taylor Swift’s newest single in the middle of a meeting is also an annoyance if it happens during a Zoom meeting and so is the inevitable fumbling to turn off the sound. Even the apologies to the group get tiresome.

Also, when notifications are activated on the computer that you’re using for the meeting, the incoming message takes over the audio and you’ll miss out on snippets of the conversation. Be sure to eliminate this possible faux pas.

2. Dress the Part

While working from home, you may have fallen into the habit of slipping on your comfiest T-shirt each day. Hey, no judgments! But before you log on to your video conference, try to make an effort with your appearance.

Depending on your company culture and the importance of your meeting, consider dressing the part of the professional whom you wish to project. It will help you feel more self-assured, and others will likely take you more seriously.

For women, wear light make-up, put on earrings, and make sure your blouse is crisply pressed. For men, show up freshly shaved. Wearing a crisp collared shirt in a solid color will usually suffice.

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Pro Tip: Stay away from wearing white or black, unless those colors look great on you. Consider wearing light blue or brown instead.

3. Stage Your Workspace

Have you noticed the backdrops of experts interviewed on news shows? Bookshelves and photographs are carefully curated, and no busy-patterned furniture or artwork is in sight.

Take note of what appears behind you when you choose the location of your video conferences. Piles of junk mail on the table or stacks of folded laundry on the couch will convey more about your personal life than you care to share. Make sure you remove clutter from the camera’s eye, and present a tidy, orderly workspace to your colleagues, coworkers, and bosses.

4. Put Some Thought Into Lighting and Perspective

Be aware that in a video conference, your computer camera can actually make you look up to ten pounds heavier depending on where you sit. But you can easily drop those added pounds by moving back from the screen to diminish the wide-angle distortion.

Frame your head on the screen by tilting the screen up or down. Also, it’s best to not place yourself in front of a window or bright light, which makes you appear in shadow. Instead, face the light source, moving it (or yourself) until you have a flattering amount of illumination. You can also purchase some small spotlights that allow you to add light as needed.

Pro Tip: If your lights add too much redness to your skin, consider counter-balancing with a green filter.

Remember That Half of Life Is Showing Up

5. Arrive on Time

In the old days of in-person meetings, it was nearly impossible to slip in late into a meeting unnoticed. In today’s video conferences, logging in late still shows poor form. Instead, strive to arrive five minutes early and get yourself settled.

Once the meeting is underway, the host may be less attentive about late arrivals waiting to be let in. Diverting the host’s attention away from the meeting with a tardy entry request is the ultimate giveaway that you didn’t honor the schedule. If you don’t want a black mark against you, log in on time.

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6. Turn on Your Video

Few people like to see their face on the screen, but buck up and turn on your camera in video conferences. In most cases, it’s better to be a face on a screen than a name in a blank square. Your statements will be more memorable when other meeting attendees can see you.

If you need to turn off the video, either because of a poor connection, some commotion in the room, or a need for a quick break, give a short explanation via the chat feature. Then, go back on video as soon as you’re able.

Pro Tip: Keep your explanation for your departure pithy. “Sorry! Doorbell rang. Back in five” says it all. Be sure to honor what you say in chat and really do return in five minutes.

7. Plan Ahead Before Sharing Your Screen

Don’t be one of those people who makes everyone else wait as you click through folders in search of a document. That’s just poor video conferencing etiquette. If you know you’ll need to share a document or video on your screen, prepare by pulling it out of its folder and onto your desktop. Also, clean up the files and folders on your desktop to reduce clutter and facilitate easy access. Close other programs like chat, calendar notifications, and email. Disable pop-up notifications to ensure there’ll be no unforeseen distractions.

Be sure to remind the host before the meeting that you’ll need them to activate the screen-sharing function. Show courtesy once you’re finished by hitting “stop share” to return to the screen with participants.

Attend to the Pesky Details

8. Make Sure That Meetings Remain Right-Sized

With the easy accessibility of video conferencing, it can be tempting to extend the meeting invitation beyond the core group and include everyone peripherally involved in a project. But just as with in-person meetings, the more people involved, the more unwieldy the meeting becomes.

Use good judgment when asking others to sit through a video conference so that you don’t needlessly take up others’ time and so that participants can be fully engaged.

9. Remember to “Unmute” Before You Speak

Most of us are likely able to count on one hand the number of video conferences when someone didn’t have to be reminded, “You’re on mute!” Forgetting to unmute before speaking has become one of the most common missteps in video conferencing.[1]

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Show everyone your impeccable video-conferencing poise by managing your mute feature with flawless control.

10. Stay on Point to Keep the Meeting Length in Check

As with in-person meetings, an agenda with assigned time limits for discussions remains necessary to keep a meeting focused. Data shows, however, that video conferencing can actually reduce meeting time.[2] Reasons include the elimination of commuting time and the ability to screen share and annotate to keep everyone on task.

Additionally, side conversations are virtually impossible with video conferencing now that you can no longer have back-and-forth exchanges with the person beside you.

Pro Tip: If you’re running the meeting, let attendees know in advance the protocol for the chat feature. Is it okay for them to “chat among themselves” or not? (See point 11, as well.)

Talking Has a Time and a Place

11. Chat Appropriately

Just like side conversations or texting in an in-person meeting, the use of the chat feature during a video conference can be disrespectful unless it’s directed to all participants. Hence, it’s good video conferencing etiquette to mind your use of the chat.

At the start of the meeting, you may want to ask the host if it’s alright for participants to use the chat feature. This allows them to disable it if they choose. Used appropriately, it can be a helpful tool to clarify or amplify an earlier point once the conversation has moved on or to let the group know that you need to sign off early (and why).

12. Use the “Raise Hand” Feature to Avoid Interruptions

The slight lag in many video conferences can result in speaking over another person if you attempt to jump into a conversation. To avoid this awkward interruption, indicate when you have something to add to the discussion with the raise-your-hand feature that signals the host you would like to speak. This effective meeting management device makes video conferencing run more smoothly, especially with a large group, but it must be activated and monitored by the host.

Pro Tip: For meetings of six to ten people, sometimes the old-fashioned raising of your physical hand may be the best option. But it’s up to the meeting host. Ask them what they would prefer, and follow that.

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13. Don’t Record the Session or Take Photos Without Prior Permission

In this case, not sharing is caring. The “sharing culture” made popular through social media has little place in video conferencing. Before recording a meeting or capturing a screenshot of the participants, always ask for consent in advance from the full roster of attendees. Knowing that a video conference will be photographed or recorded could have a bearing on what others are willing to discuss.

Manage Yourself

14. Minimize Distractions

While de-activating audio and video features can keep distractions from affecting the other participants, you will need to manage noise and disruptions on your end to give your full attention to the meeting.

Move out of high-traffic zones in your home, keep your door closed, and ask family members to be considerate.

15. Save Snacking for Later

Save snacking for later—or earlier. Eating while on video conference is a no-no. Munching in front of the group while close to the camera—as you are when video conferencing—subjects the participants to an up-close and (too) personal view of your food consumption process.

However, it’s perfectly fine to sip quietly from a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea. If the meeting threatens to last for more than two hours, you may want to ask the host in advance to schedule a five-minute break at the halfway point.

Final Thoughts

Even though bosses are now beginning to ask workers to spend some of their workdays on-site, up to 80 percent will permit employees to work remotely at least part of the time, which means more video conferencing in your future.[3] Mastering these video conferencing etiquette tips will help you dial in—as well as dial back—your participation and demonstrate your unwavering level of engagement to the team.

Featured photo credit: Chris Montgomery via unsplash.com

Reference

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