Over the past five years, I have been working as a legal assistant while also pursuing my criminology degree. I will admit, things can definitely get pretty chaotic and feel a bit overwhelming at times when you are balancing a full time 9-5 job while also being a full time university student (and volunteering!). However, I have managed to successfully balance these aspects of my life over the past five years and I wanted to share my experience as well as some of my organization and time management tips that will hopefully help you out if you are also in the same boat!
Tip #1: Use a Calendar - digital or paper, whatever you prefer!
Without my calendar, I would honestly be a total mess! This is one of the main things that I heavily rely on throughout the semester to keep myself organized. Every semester, the first thing that I do for all of my classes is review the syllabi and input all upcoming deadlines for assignments, papers, discussion board posts, presentations, exams etc. into my calendar. This helps me not only stay on top of all the weekly deadlines throughout the semester, but it also helps me identify any overlapping deadlines for different classes and highlight any weeks that are particularly busy with multiple assignments or exams occurring on the same day or same week. This way I can plan ahead and ensure I give myself enough time to study and prepare for each assignment or exam.
Having all of your deadlines organized in your calendar at the beginning of the semester is also particularly helpful for classes where you have a presentation or group project that you have to sign up for in the first or second week of classes where individuals or groups have to each present in a different week. If your calendar is updated and organized early on, you can quickly identify which week(s) would be better for your schedule so that you could sign up for a week that isn’t already packed with multiple assignments or exams.
Tip #2: Request Any Days Off Work As Early As Possible
While the policies are a bit different in every workplace, most places require you to submit requests for days off at least two to three weeks early. If you have your calendar organized at the beginning of the semester, it can be easy to identify the exam dates and assignment deadlines that conflict with your work schedule. You don’t want to wait until the last minute to submit those requests and be stressed out about potentially having them denied, so give yourself some peace of mind and submit those requests as early as possible!
Tip #3: Avoid Distractions and Maximize Studying Time with the Pomodoro Technique
When you have a busy schedule, your studying time ends up being mapped out in between all of your other obligations and so you want to make sure that the time you do have to study isn't wasted by distractions such as checking notifications and scrolling through your phone. To avoid distractions and maximize my studying time, I like using the Pomodoro Technique. This is where you study for 25 minutes straight without any interruptions and then you take a 5 minute break. This technique is really helpful because the timed chunks of uninterrupted study time are great to squeeze in throughout your day wherever your schedule permits, such as during your lunch break, during your commute to and from work/school, in-between your classes etc. and helps you get your studying done while also having small breaks in between to keep you motivated.
Tip #4: Don’t Forget to Take Breaks
Things can quickly get stressful and overwhelming throughout the semester, especially during exam time, so it’s important to step back and remember to give yourself breaks whenever needed so that you can refresh and reset your mind and avoid burnout. I try to give myself an evening off at the end of every week (usually Saturday or Sunday night) where I take a break from anything school or work related and just focus on some sort of self-care activity such as hanging out with family and friends, going out to dinner, watching Netflix, putting on a hair or face mask, cleaning/organizing my apartment etc. By scheduling in this recurring break at the end of my week, it helps me feel more motivated, refreshed, and ready to take on the next work and school week.
I am definitely a person that likes to plan as much as I can ahead of time and these organization and time management strategies have helped me stay on top of things and also stress a bit less throughout the semester. While it may seem like a bit of a hassle at first, putting in that extra bit of time and effort in the beginning of the semester to plan things out and organize your schedule makes a huge difference in the long run and can really help make things run a lot smoother for yourself throughout the semester. Do keep in mind though that things will definitely not always go as planned! There will always be ups and downs, and things may unexpectedly set you back no matter how much you try to plan ahead. However, you can go into the semester knowing that you have tried your best to stay organized and balance these two important aspects of your life as much as you can! It is not easy balancing a full time job while also being a full time student and also juggling all the other life responsibilities and things that you have going on in your life, so don’t be too hard on yourself - you are doing amazing!