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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!

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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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

If you’re going to spend 1/3 of our life at work, you should enjoy it, right?

Trust me, I know that’s easier said than done. Difficult coworkers, less-than-desirable tasks, or even just being in the wrong position can all lead to a lack of enjoyment and fulfillment in your work.

But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way? Or better yet, if you struggle with all of the above (and then some), what if I told you that enjoying your work and finding fulfillment regardless of those obstacles is possible?

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you because I was there too. Before implementing the tips below, I struggled to get through each day, much less find real fulfillment, in the office. Now, even after the toughest days on the job, I still come away with feelings of pride, accomplishment, and fulfillment. The best news is, so can you.

If you’re ready to make those hours count and find happiness and fulfillment in the office, then read on to find out how to be happy at work and find fulfillment in your career:

1. Discover the root(s) of the problem

For this first step, we’ll need to think back to 8th-grade physics (humor me). We all know Newton’s 3rd law, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When you think about it, the same can be said outside of physics, and we see this law play out in our daily lives, day after day.

Simply put, all the issues we deal with in the office (and life in general) affect us in a noticeable way.

If you’re appreciated at work, like the work you do and receive frequent praise, promotions, or raises, then this will probably have an altogether positive effect on your life in the office.

But what if we reverse this? What if you feel under appreciated, get passed up for promotions, or get denied raises? This is sure to affect the way you feel at work on a negative level.

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So, before you can implement the steps of feeling happy and fulfilled at work, we first have to discover the reasons why you don’t feel that way already.

Think about it, write a list, or make a mental note. Run through all the reasons you’re dissatisfied in the office, and don’t hold back. Knowing the exact obstacles you’re facing will make overcoming them that much easier.

In fact, as a side-challenge to this article, I recommend picking the top three reasons contributing to your dissatisfaction at work and using the following tips to tackle them.

2. Practice gratitude for an instant uplift

Did you know the simple act of feeling grateful can increase your happiness and make you more fulfilled at work?[1]

Well, it’s true, and it’s scientifically proven.

Dr. Lisa Firestone notes that practicing gratitude “reminds us of what we lacked in the past.” Meaning, it serves as both a boost to happiness and a bit of a wake-up call that things have been or could be, much worse.

Trying to conjure up feelings of gratitude can seem almost impossible when your work situation seems bleak, but hear me out: There are incredibly easy ways to get started and it doesn’t involve trying to “force” yourself to feel grateful about things that stress you out.

For an instant pick-me-up, try this:

Find a loose piece of paper, a blank sticky note, or anything you can write on, be it physical or digital. List just three things that you are absolutely without-a-doubt thankful for in your life.

Now here’s the trick: Don’t just list what you’re grateful for, you have to list why you’re grateful for them, too.

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For example, simply saying “I’m grateful for my kids” will probably make you feel good, sure, but what if we could amplify the warm, fuzzy feeling into real, lasting motivation?

Instead, write the reason you’re so thankful for your children. Is it because they make you laugh and forget about other stressors? Or maybe they help to remind you of why you go to work every day in the first place?

Whatever your reasons may be, jot them down and keep your list somewhere you can see it while you work. A quick glance at your gratitude list throughout the day can provide powerful, positive motivation to keep going.

Bonus:

If you can find just three things to be thankful for that specifically relate to your job, and list why those things make you grateful, your list can also help you find fulfillment in your work itself which can give you an even bigger boost of positivity throughout the day.

3. Take meaningful time for yourself

We all know creating a strong work-life balance can be crucial to feeling satisfied in our jobs, but rarely do we ever address how we’re spending our time outside of work.

Many of us survive a 9-hour work day and commute home only to find ourselves busy with our personal to-do lists, running a household, and taking care of a child (or 2 or 3, and so on).

If you spend all your time working, whether in the office or within your household, you’re going to feel drained at some point. This is why setting meaningful time for yourself every day is highly important.

Look, I get it: I don’t know anyone in the working world who can shun all responsibility for a 3-movie marathon or happy hour with friends whenever they feel like it. But finding time for yourself, be it just 30 minutes to an hour, can really make a difference in how you feel at work.

This works because you’ll have time to actually relax and let the day’s stress melt away while you enjoy something just for you. The to-do lists and stressors will still be there after you’re refreshed and ready to tackle them.

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No time for me-time? Try this:

If you have a busy household, you’ll need to capitalize on a block of time you know will be completely uninterrupted. The easiest way to do this: try waking up 30 minutes to an hour earlier than usual (or push bedtime back an hour if you’re a night owl, like me) and take time to do something you enjoy.

This could be reading with a cup of tea, catching up on Facebook, spending time on a passion project—anything! As long as it’s meaningful to you, it works!

Bonus:

Starting your day with meaningful time for yourself can set you up to have a positive mood that lasts well into office hours, and having your me-time in the evening can give you something positive to look forward to during the day.

4. Get productive and feel accomplished

Don’t you just love the feeling of checking the last item off of a hefty to-do list? That’s because self-motivation can be a huge driver of positivity and success.

When we accomplish something, no matter how small, it makes us feel good, plain and simple. Applying this tactic to your daily work can be the motivator you need to find fulfillment during the daily office grind.

While there are tons of steps to get more done at work, I’ll share my personal favorite: Prioritizing.

Now, many people handle prioritizing differently. Some like to tackle the little tasks first so they can spend focused time on the big to-dos. Others like to knock out the big items first and get to the smaller ones when they can.

No matter which camp you’re in, you may be missing one crucial step: Time management.

So how’s this work? When you factor in the amount of time your priorities will take, it can transform your productivity ten-fold.

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Say you have three top priorities for the day. You might jump into the smaller ones or the bigger ones depending on your preferred method, and then find yourself out of time and bringing work home with you at the end of the day.

This is prevented when you factor in time. Knowing how long each item will take, or deliberately setting specific blocks of time for your priorities can help you accomplish more in the same 8-9 (or 12) hours that you typically spend at work.

Try this:

Take a look at your priorities and consider how long they should take. Pop into your Google calendar (or Filofax, whatever works for you) and schedule time to work on your priority items around any important meetings or events of the day.

The most important thing to remember is to stick to your dedicated time.

Often, when we know exactly how long we have to work on something (and honor this time limit), we’re motivated to get more done on time to avoid taking work home at the end of the day.

The bottom line

There’s no need to waste 1/3 of our lives feeling unsatisfied at work. Luckily, you now have the tools to get started, take back your time, and become happy and fulfilled at work again.

The only question is — which tip will you try first?

Featured photo credit: Ellyot via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Psychology Today: The Healing Power of Gratitude

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