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How to balance work, life and study as a postgraduate student

How to balance work, life and study as a postgraduate student

by Aislinn

When it comes to achieving a balance between work, family and school, it may feel like you’re never going to get it right. What works for you may not work for me. What worked for you last week may not work for you this week. And so on. 

People have made huge careers trying to help others achieve a healthy work-life balance. But let me let you in on a secret: it will never be perfect and that is okay.

You might look back and think “oh, I mucked that up. I should’ve done this instead,” and sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it’s not.

It is all about being flexible and forgiving with yourself as you figure it out.

Everyone’s balance will look different. I can’t see my family, so we video chat, but with time differences and schedules, our weekly catch-up starts at midnight for me. That’s something I balance that others don’t. All of us have different things to balance, and these things can change depending on your individual circumstances.

For me, I went straight into postgraduate from undergraduate. I have no family in England; I work a part-time job where I choose my hours. But, other people have their own families or familial obligations nearby; they have careers or are working full or part-time.

Everyone’s balance will look different. I can’t see my family so we video chat, but with time differences and schedules, our weekly catch-up starts at midnight for me. That’s something I balance that others don’t. All of us have a different things to balance, and these things can change depending on your individual circumstances. 

 

Tips for balancing work, school and your personal life during postgraduate study

1. Keep a diary/agenda/planner/calendar

There are many ways to keep track of your life, and the best way to stay organized is having a place to write it all down.

It doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy, but don’t leave pieces of paper scattered everywhere. Have a notebook or phone app where you keep all your appointments, events, classes, shifts, and workout classes so you can see what’s coming up.

This helps you not overbook yourself, and stops you forgetting your to-dos. It lets you see what good times for fun or studying would be! Find what works for you, but don’t have too many methods to keep yourself organized, because you will lose track. 

 

2. Try to set a daily routine

Having a daily routine reduces the stress of seeing a to-do list or thinking what’s to come.

It doesn’t have to be rigid - dictating what you can and can’t do - but think of it like a guideline.

For example, in the summer (when I have to work on my thesis but don’t have consistently scheduled meetings) I’ll wake up, work out, spend 3-4 hours on academic work, make food, and give myself the rest of the day for free time.

I do cleaning, laundry, calls, etc. during that free time, so I’m still productive. Some days, I have meetings during time not earmarked for it, so I just switch things around.

It gives me structure, but its still a flexible structure that I can change when I need to.

 

3. Plan a little downtime in your day

Rest is a right, not a reward. Whether it’s a 10-minute meditation before bed, or a half hour of TV after dinner, or a gym class once a week, find ways to build pockets of self-care into your day or week. You aren’t any good to anyone else, including yourself, if you are running yourself into the ground.

Just as you take care of your physical health, you need to take care of your mental health.

Everyday, have a little time to decompress; maybe this is where you fit some of your family time in! For me, talking with my mom on the phone relaxes me, as does doing some fun reading that isn’t an assignment but still may be related to my course.

 

4. Practice good sleep habits

This is by far the hardest for me to do, but it is arguably the most important.

You can’t perform well at your job, on assignments, or socially if you are exhausted. Your body needs an hour to shut down before you go to bed, away from screens.

Good sleep is critical for your mental and physical health. You can’t perform well at your job, on assignments, or socially if you are exhausted. Your body needs an hour to shut down before you go to bed, away from screens.

This is where it gets difficult.

Turn off your laptop and TV, set any alarms, and put it away an hour before bed. I have this built into my daily routine and set an alarm to remind myself it’s bedtime. That hour is my 'me time', reading or doing a face mask and relaxing before my 8-10 hours of rest. Having my diary organized also informs me if I need to shift my bedtime earlier for anything in the morning!

 

5. Let your weekends be weekends

If you can, try to schedule most of your academic work and studying during the week, and have your weekends as your own.

Schedule some studying in if you need, but don’t exceed the time you give yourself.

Schedule academic work like a career; keep it on weekdays so you have weekends to relax!

 

6. Don’t put more than 7 things on a list

If you have more than 7 things on a list, you’ll get overwhelmed.

You are not a machine that is supposed to work 24/7.

Do everything in small, achievable bits. If you can’t get 7 things done in one day, that’s okay!

Maybe they were too large. If you can, you’ve met your goal! Way to go! If you finished more, don’t add more than 7 in the future! Keep that feeling of achievement going!

Remember, you are not a machine that is supposed to work 24/7.

 

7. Do NOT compare yourself to others

This is the most important. You’re going to want to, and you probably will compare yourself accidentally, but don't.

It isn’t healthy.

What works for you and someone else will be different and that is okay. Take care of you first. (This is similar to the idea of not comparing your worst moment to someone’s best on Instagram. It’s not serving you, so don’t do it.)

We hope you have found this blog post useful. If you're struggling to maintain a healthy balance between your personal life, your studies and your professional life, you're not alone. We're all a work in progress. Explore our postgraduate blogs for more support on your journey to graduation. Alternatively, why not read our post on online learning to explore how you can get the most out of remote working and reach your full potential during Covid-19?