How to Balance School and Work: Four Tips from a Working College Student

Figuring out how to balance school and work along with faith, friends, and whatever else encompasses your personal life can be challenging. Trying to fit all the pieces together may feel like you’re part of a high-wire balancing act in the circus, but know that you’re not alone. I’m a full-time student, I work two jobs, and I volunteer as a Young Life leader twice a week. If anyone understands busy, it’s me, and I have four tips that can help your busy life.

1. Maximize Your Calendar

I schedule everything in my calendar as soon as I can. I sit down with all of my schedules, plan what that week or month will look like for me, and visually see how to balance school and work. It feels daunting to see every moment of my day taken up, but it gives me a sense of purpose when I see all that I am doing. One of my jobs uses Google calendar to schedule shifts. I have learned how to use this tool to input my schedule, and I have found it extremely effective for me since I am constantly online. If writing down your schedule is more to your liking, consider purchasing a small planner. Take the time to sit down with each schedule you have so you can see what to look forward to and what to prepare for. This may seem tedious, but it helps you relax when you can see what will happen, rather than feeling unprepared.

2. Be Realistic and Learn How to Say “No”

This tip is crucial when you’re busy. Be realistic about your time, because it is valuable. There are times to let loose and have fun with your friends, but when you neglect your responsibilities, it becomes an issue. This doesn’t mean you should abandon your social life—just be wise about what you agree to.

Adding extra events to your week could potentially cause you to break down, like a car without gas in the tank. Stopping at a gas station to replenish the engine and continue the journey is necessary for a healthy car. This is analogous to how we need to treat ourselves when we have a loaded schedule. It’s okay to say “no,” because you have work in the morning or a paper to write.

3. Take Care of Your Body

Food, sleep, and exercise are three things you need to prioritize to stay healthy when you are busy. Sleep is so important for your personal well-being and for avoiding sickness. Getting four hours of sleep a night will leave you drowsy and grumpy and your work will reflect how you feel. A nightly eight hours of sleep is ideal, but if you can’t do that, shoot for the maximum you can.

Eating right helps your body and mind stay sharp when it is under stress. Fuel your body with healthy proteins, fats, and carbs. As much as possible, avoid relying on the drive-through menu to carry you through a hectic week. When you were growing up, you probably heard the phrase, “Eat your vegetables!”—that person was right. Eat some vegetables and get to work.

Exercising is often the first thing we eliminate when we are juggling a busy schedule, but movement is something your body thrives on. Go outside, to the gym, or for a walk to get your heart rate up. Try to be consistent about fitting in daily movement so your body will perform better. Plus, it will help your mind be more focused for both school and work. Even 20 minutes a day is beneficial for your physical and mental health.

4. Practice Gratitude in Every Moment

This tip may be the most important. Take time to look at your schedule frequently and recognize how hard you work—and give yourself credit for all that you’ve accomplished. When you head to work, realize how fortunate you are to hold a job. When you head to class, even when you’re stressed, be grateful for your education. Finding joy in the little things throughout your day will help ease the weight of your week. I like to continually approach my daily schedule with a positive mindset. When I do this, my shifts go by faster, or I make someone else smile, and I enjoy what I’m doing.

College, jobs, and volunteer work help shape us into the people we are becoming, but life happens one day at a time. Remember to take in each moment and be thankful for everything you have to do in your week, even if fear and doubts creep in. You will get through it. Before you know it, you’ll look back and see the full picture of what you have built, piece by piece.