You’ve done it. You decided to go to grad school, applied, were accepted, and you’re ready to start classes. Maybe you’ve already begun your new academic journey! Congratulations! Now reality sets in. How are you going to juggle it all? Family responsibilities and friends are still important, as is your full-time job. You’ve willingly added another layer of complexity to what is probably already a complex and full life. What now? System overload may feel like a recurring theme in this season.
Don’t panic – you’ve got this. Set aside a few minutes and consider the following tips to help you succeed, both at work and in school. Your future is waiting!
1. Communicate with your employer. Ideally, you spoke with your employer about your plans before you made the decision to go back to school. But if you didn’t, inform them now. If your current career is in alignment with your grad school ambitions, be prepared to show your employer how your new degree can help the industry in which you work. If you are changing career fields, we still recommend open communication with your employer. However, if you are concerned that your new direction might jeopardize your current job, confide in a peer or trusted friend to help you sort through what is best in your case. Each situation is unique but generally, open communication is better than no communication.
2. Create a schedule. As you add class responsibilities to your to-do list, it’s imperative you create a schedule for yourself. This can be done with an online tool or an analog planner. Whatever method works best for you is fine, but you must be consistent. Set aside time each week to add events, make adjustments, and fine-tune your work and school responsibilities. Many students find Sunday afternoon or evening the best time to do this. You do what works for you, just be diligent with reviewing your responsibilities.
3. Set goals and record deadlines. Use your calendar to set short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. This will help keep you motivated and on track if you feel overwhelmed. Make sure you include work deadlines as well as school assignments. By breaking large tasks into smaller ones, you will feel more confident that you can accomplish what you need to do. Make sure you keep in mind that goals can be flexible. Make special note of what can be adjusted and what are hard deadlines, like a major research project. Take stock of your goals and deadlines when you do your weekly calendar review and make adjustments accordingly.
4. Make a task list and prioritize it. As tasks (or to-dos) come to mind, write them down in your calendar or planner. Each morning or evening, take a look at your task list and note what is urgent, important, or non-urgent. You can even develop a rating system for each category. Then when a task is completed, mark it done. It will feel good! That small victory will help you feel like you’re making progress toward your goal, whether it is a work goal or a school goal.
5. Maximize breaks. When it is possible, use coffee or lunch breaks at work to read a few pages for school. Even small chunks of time can make a significant dent in your workload. If your textbook or assignments are available on audio, use your commute to listen to relevant materials.
6. Practice self-care. At the same time you are maximizing your break time for school, be sure you are caring for your physical and mental wellness. Juggling work and school can be stressful, so be in tune with how you are feeling. Schedule time for exercise or binge-watching your favorite show. Although you may be tempted to power through, you will be happier and healthier if you care for yourself regularly.
7. Delegate where possible. Of course, we are not suggesting to delegate work responsibilities to others when they are your responsibility to complete. However, you can enlist friends or family members to help with household responsibilities. If you have a partner, have an open conversation about what tasks you typically shoulder to see if there are ways they can share the load. Just knowing someone has your back can ease your stress level.
8. Network. Foster relationships with classmates and colleagues. Form study groups, have a fun lunch with trusted colleagues so you can laugh in the middle of the day, or seek guidance from your academic advisor. Just knowing others are supporting you in your journey and cheering you on can make a big difference to your mental health. And who knows, a new relationship might lead to a promotion or a new job opportunity once your degree is completed!
9. Learn about available resources. Find out what on-campus resources are available to students, even if you are part-time or living off-campus. Tutoring, writing, and formal study groups are common offerings to graduate students. Also, check out whether your employer has resources to offer. Many companies have wellness benefits or employee assistance programs. Don’t be shy about reaching out!
Although juggling work and school can be challenging, recognize it is for a season. Your investment in yourself will pay huge dividends when you accomplish your goal. You’ve got this!