The concept of having a work-life balance refers to maintaining an equilibrium between one’s career and personal responsibilities. In a world focused just as much on our successes and upward mobility as it is on our mental health, achieving such a work-life balance has been the topic of much discussion in recent years. Companies have even gone to great lengths to create funded initiatives to ensure their employees have the best work-life balance possible. More balanced individuals are more productive employees, after all.
Unfortunately, though, when you’re in high school and college no such initiatives exist. Nonetheless, students share the same experience of competing pressures from both school and life. As a student today, one might even argue that a school-life balance is often more difficult to attain due to increasing demands placed on young people to achieve. But, the same holds true here as in the workplace: More balanced students are more productive students.
With this in mind, below are 8 tips for helping you reach a healthier school-life balance. If you practice these tips now, making them second nature, they will follow you into college and beyond into your career.
1. Set boundaries
With the amount of work that high school course schedules demand of us, it can become easy to give our entire lives over to them. While the hope is that such studiousness will eventually lead to great success, working so hard all of the time can actually be harmful.
Therefore, it’s important to establish boundaries when it comes to our school work.
Boundaries help to ensure that we don’t give all of our time to studying, but that we also leave room for other activities that we enjoy. This “down time” refreshes our bodies and minds, actually allowing us to be more productive when we do return to our school work.
To begin working within boundaries, study diligently throughout the week, but (if possible) take at least one day off from school work per week to do the things you especially enjoy. If you’re not in a position to take an entire day off from school work, try to leave at least a portion of one day free for enjoyable activities. During these designated “times off,” allow yourself the luxury of not even thinking about your school work at all.
On days that you do work, be sure to schedule in breaks. Rather than take work breaks at random, utilize the Pomodoro Method, which is a great approach for ensuring productivity without burnout. In this method, a series of timers are set to track periods of work followed by shorter periods of rest. There are many free Pomodoro Method timers online, but this one is especially handy (and cute!).
2. Focus on time management by establishing priorities and setting goals
You likely won’t be able to finish your entire research project today (at least not well!). But, you can plan to finish the last chapter of your chosen novel today, research the author’s life tomorrow, and begin writing your introductory paragraph the next day.
The point here is that when you procrastinate and then set out to complete an entire task in one sitting, that task is often overwhelming. But when you pace yourself by setting manageable tasks that you can complete incrementally, that same project doesn’t feel so insurmountable.
To help with time management, create a to-do list, placing tasks of highest priority at the top of the list and working your way down to tasks of lowest priority. If you’re a visual person, write these individual tasks out on stickie notes that you can crumple up and throw away once each one has been completed. Physicalizing your accomplishments in this way brings a sense of accomplishment that simply crossing items out on a list does not.
3. Then, reward yourself when you reach your goals
Beyond the implicit reward of simply accomplishing tasks, plan explicit rewards to accompany each of your set goals. Whether it’s with a break, a piece of chocolate, or an episode of your favorite show, treat yourself when you achieve a set goal on your to-do list.
Your goals needn’t be extravagant in every case in order to warrant a reward, either. Have you read 20 pages of your book? Put the finishing touches on your science project? Let the reward match the achievement. Whatever the case, it always helps to have something to look forward to!
4. Practice mindfulness by powering-down
The masses have long praised the idea of multitasking. Yet, we live in a time when this approach to productivity is being questioned. In fact, more recent research points to multitasking’s leading to negative effects, including increased stress and decreased cognitive functioning.
What’s recommended instead of multitasking is that you give your full attention to one task at a time. In other words, what’s recommended is that you practice mindfulness while at work.
In this article, Matt Tenney, author of The Mindfulness Edge, explains four ways that mindfulness improves productivity—including eliminating distractions and producing stronger work—by supporting his claims with evidence from an array of university studies.
One way to practice mindfulness while studying is to “unplug” by taking a break from technology. Reducing internet distractions—such as texting, social media, and even Google—can have real gains on your productivity.
5. Say goodbye to baggage
We are often reminded of the importance of extracurricular activities, especially when it comes to college admissions. Since this is the case, we tend to become involved in many extracurriculars, or we become so deeply invested in the few extracurriculars we’ve chosen that it seems they’ve taken precedence over our school work—and have even taken over our lives!
The important thing to remember is that extracurriculars are beneficial. But, they are only beneficial if they are enhancing and not draining your life.
So, do an inventory. If any of your extracurricular activities seem to be more of a drain on your time and energy than an enhancement to your current happiness and potential future success, drop them from your schedule. Place this saved time and energy into the activities you are benefiting from, and you will likely see an improvement in these areas.
6. Upgrade your study hour
Another way to improve your school-life balance is to simply find a way to enjoy the school part of the equation more. This may seem like wishful thinking; but, if you can think of your studies less as work and more as play, then you are sure to approach this time with more balance.
So, what helps you get through hours of reading or studying for exams? Listening to your favorite music? Having your favorite latte by your side? Working with a big group of your best friends? Taking your work outside to the park or to the beach? Whatever the case may be, do yourself a favor by making study hour more enjoyable for yourself. This way, you will be less hardwired to dread your time spent hitting the books.
7. Lean on your support system
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask for help—from friends, family, and teachers/other mentors. It can be helpful just to have friends and family who simply understand what you’re going through with the heavy workload of school. A shoulder to lean on and an ear to confide in can go a long way toward relieving stress. And a best buddy or an understanding parent can also be key to getting you out of the house (and out of your head!) after a particularly long and grueling study session.
Teachers/mentors, on the other hand, can provide more “practical” solutions for helping to alleviate the worry from school work. Whether by suggesting additional reading, offering personally-tailored study tips, or pointing you in the direction of helpful tutors, these trusted adults can be a great resource in your search for a better school-life balance.
8. Practice self-care by forgetting “perfection”
As modern students with such big workloads, it can become easy to neglect our own self-care. However, whatever this phrase (“self-care”) means to you—be it physical, mental, or emotional preservation—it’s important to maintain the practice even (and especially!) when a school-life balance seems the most difficult to achieve.
Forms of self-care are as numbered and unique as the people on Earth. You know what works best for you. But one thing is universal: To practice better self-care, try letting go of your belief in “perfection.”
In a time when social media has us constantly comparing ourselves to others, and life goals such as college admissions are increasingly competitive, it makes sense to dot every “i” and cross every t”—just maybe not 9 times.
Reaching for what you deem as “perfection” isn’t always beneficial. This is because reaching “perfection” isn’t always possible. Shoot for your best instead, and you are likely to feel more satisfied and balanced in the end.