When academia starts to get harder, you can begin to feel like your whole life is swept up in this wave of studying, reading and note-taking. Granted, there is an immense amount of time commitment needed in the Leaving Certificate cycle, even more when you go to university, in order to cover all the necessary ground before the exams. However, if your mind slowly becomes engulfed with all the schoolwork and you start feeling overworked and overwhelmed, this is more than likely due to your dysfunctional work-life balance. Everyone’s commitments are different but in general, balancing work with other aspects of your life can be described as finding an ‘equilibrium’.
1. Identifying the Problem
It is easier said than done, balancing your schoolwork and studying with family and social life. Many individuals have the tendency to implement an unhealthy balance into their lives, in other words, doing too much of one thing and not enough of another. This imbalance can occur on either side of the scale. There were specific weeks in school where, due to procrastination, I was not prioritising my schoolwork and this imbalance led to an extensive feeling of dread and worry that further hindered my productivity. On the other hand, I had friends that overworked themselves and left no time for rest or recharge and the outcome was similar; in the long term they became stressed and overburdened, leading to a decline in their productivity. The irony in this emphasises how the importance of work and the importance of personal interests/aspects of life are equivalent to one another. A balance is needed.
How do you know if your work-life balance is effective or not? At times, it can be a struggle to evaluate and analyse the mechanics of your own work-life balance, especially when things are dysfunctional. You can become blind-sighted by stressful emotions that inhibit your ability to change your routine and become proactive. If you are dealing with an overwhelming amount of stress on a daily basis, you need to change your viewpoint and alter your perspective, to gain a new insight into your own life balance.
You can do this by starting a diary to help you to track how your study/school or college routine mixes with the other aspects of your life. After a week of briefly keeping track of how your days are spent, you now have something to work from.
2. Establishing Boundaries
When you begin the process of slowly changing your study-life balance, to illustrate a clearer image, you need to set boundaries between your work routine and your personal life to distinguish between the two. There are obvious vague interrelations between both sides of the scale, i.e., there are times when your study-life can overlap with your personal life, for example, while doing your homework, you might sometimes watch TV simultaneously, or at school you engage in distracting conversation with friends while writing your class assignment or maybe you end up listening to music while studying your French vocabulary.
I know these are things we might all find ourselves doing from time to time, but as you can see, when you begin mixing the two aspects of your life, instead of taking time out for each aspect, it can become counterproductive and distracting. Now, I do not want to question your ability to multitask! However, I will encourage you to evaluate your reflective diary that shows you how your work and life routine mix. If you are constantly compromising the potential of your school or college work by using this unproductive technique, you need to acknowledge the need for boundaries in your life.
Look at it this way, imagine playing your favourite sport, whether it is basketball, camogie, hurling, hockey etc. While you are on the court/field, imagine you have your math’s book open in your hand trying to study while still trying to engage in the match. This is obviously impossible to do, during a match you would give the game your full potential. The same should approach should be applied when it comes to your schoolwork and study time.
Establishing boundaries can be hard especially in your home environment and with the distractions of modern technology, and I acknowledge the time that it might take for you to craft a routine that suits your own lifestyle. After making your reflective diary ask yourself a few questions:
- How many breaks am I taking?
- Do I feel productive or burnt out by the end of the day?
- How long do I spend doing my homework/study?
When and if you have identified any issues, think about alternative ways of getting your work done while enjoying your breaks and other fun aspects of your life. Re-emphasise boundaries between your school life and personal life in your home by maintaining a designated study space to help avoid interference. Train your mind to understand that when you are in your designated study space you will only engage in schoolwork. Likewise, try and get away from your study space when you are taking breaks to further distinguish the two. This idea of “…leaving work at your workspace” will minimise the chances of burnouts.
3. Fixing the Imbalance
At this point, you have your reflective diary of your work-life routine, but you are still unsure about how to create a new routine that equally priorities both aspects. Try planning your routine from a different perspective. Instead of implementing breaks into your schoolwork routine, start by planning your work around other aspects of your life, i.e., plan your schoolwork around your breaks and free time. Think about how your school timetable or college lecture schedule works, the day basically operates around your designated break times. The way most school routines are established favour the work-life balance. Your productivity is increased when you know you are working towards a break. And then when your break is over, you feel recharged enough to start work again and work towards the next break.
For example, I would often plan my after-school evenings by first looking at the times that I knew I wanted to relax: at 5:30pm I knew I was going to eat dinner for half an hour; at 7:00pm I knew I was going to eat a snack for 15mins. Then I would plan fun activities for the end of the night to look forward to when I finished my work: at 9:30 or 10:00pm I was going to wind down before bed with a movie or the next chapter of my favourite book.
Every day was different for me, it depended on my workload and how I was feeling. And every day will be different for you too. Maybe you need to take into account your sports training or music lessons for different days, put these into your schedule first and implement your work around it. Ultimately the technique of working around your breaks will change your perspective and diminish any negative feelings you may have towards schoolwork.
4. Benefits of this balance
You now understand how to establish healthy boundaries between your school or college work and your personal life, and using your reflective diary, you have learned how to develop a balanced routine that is catered to your own life. When you find the equilibrium in your life, the advantages are endless. You will soon become more mindful; you are able to focus on the task at hand because you have created healthy breaks that you can work towards to remain focused. This focus will eventually improve your productivity. When you find balance, your days are healthy and well-rounded as you have made time for the things you love and your schoolwork. Your mental and physical health will not be compromised as you can still enjoy the sports and pastime activities you love when you make time out for it.
Balance can be hard to find but understanding the necessity of work-life balance is crucial for adolescents and even more important on your college journey and eventually enter the workforce. Our lives are so busy and fast-paced now and our lives will only get busier as we get older. We want to preserve our ability to remain productive and motivated. We need to be able to prioritise our breaks when we need to and equally prioritize our schoolwork when we need to. Balance is the key to avoid feeling overwhelmed. The attribute of maintaining a healthy work-life balance will be an essential lifelong-skill!