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Work-Life-Study Balance: A Guide to (Moderate) Success

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Most people (including me) already struggle to find a good Work-Life-Balance. However, I decided to spice things up this last year, and add a third component to that equation: study! 

For some reason I had the glorious idea to start a Masters Degree that was advertised as part-time (SPOILER ALERT: it’s not) while also owning two companies, and having a family life with a 5-year-old on the side. 

Now that my second semester is coming to a close, it is time to reflect on my first year back a university, and share all my experiences and fails with you!

Part-Time ≠ Part-Time

When I started my masters, I was excited – not to say ecstatic – about what was to come. I was about to join an international cohort of talented people who all pursued a certain path in the professional lives, but were looking to further their education in the area of Content Strategy.

Given that nearly all of us work full-time jobs, we were looking forward to the promised two to three evening sessions per week, as that amount seemed doable. However, short after it turned out that in reality, it was more like four to five weekly evening sessions, and not that doable after all. 

This led to many of us becoming not only less motivated, but also struggling to keep up our professional performance, while also finding joy in our private lives. 

So here are some tips that worked for me in my constant search for actual balance between the above mentioned three:

Reduce Stress

Personally, I struggle most with my time management. Even though I am great at managing other peoples time, I am horrible when it comes to my own. This has repeatedly led to me doing things last minute – or even worse – not at all. Throughout the last year, I found certain things that helped me with reducing this stress, which I would like to share with you:

  • schedule your work and study hours: I often found myself in the office early morning or late at night, because I was unable to finish things the day before. Not because I ran out of time the day before, but because I did not use my time wisely. Now that I have a set time at which I arrive to and leave from the office I make use of the time in between, because I am excited for what awaits me once I am done with my tasks.
  • have strict time off-screen: nothing kills your creativity and joie de vivre faster than constantly ongoing screen time. When I work or study I keep my phone away unless it is necessary. In my free time, I try to keep my phone out of reach before 7AM and after 7PM, which gives me a few hours after I wake up and before I go to bed where I am not stressed by any devices.
  • choose your battles: don’t aim for perfection with everything you do! Rather go for completion of the task – which is most of the time more than sufficient. I learned this the hard way, since I used to be a Straight-A student, but at some point just could not keep up anymore. So I made a decision: I prioritized the classes that added value for me, and that I was most interested in – in those I put my full effort and attention. For the rest, I simply went with what was necessary, and often times it even turned out better than expected!
  • find a morning routine that works for you: this is one of the things that has helped me the most when it comes to reducing stress. My mornings were usually filled with sorrow about what was ahead for the rest of the day. Since I manage to keep up a routine of Yoga (I highly recommend Mady Morrison) and meditation now, I notice that I am not only in a better head space to start the day, but also my entire body simply feels much more awake.

Increase Joy

Life is most certainly better without the added stress – however, I found that I also needed to prioritize the things that bring me joy. Because not having stress does not automatically mean that you’re enjoying the life you lead. So what did do about that? Here are some of the things that I found worked for me:

  • take time for yourself: the more my stress levels increased, the less I was able to enjoy being on my own. I did however remember that I used to enjoy this very much, as it gave me time to clear my mind, and simply re-center. Now that I have reduced my stress I actively take this time, and enjoy it, as these are the moments where I can solve many of the hindrances my mind throws at me.
  • include free time activities in your calendar: being in a relationship with another entrepreneur makes it oftentimes hard to not forget about quality time together. When it comes to that, we found something that works for us: whenever one of us has a particular activity in mind, or simply wants time-off together, we block the slots in each others calendars. This not only makes these events more tangible, but also asks you to commit to a happening, making it less likely that we cancel for random reasons at the last minute.
  • have at least one meal per day together as a family: I found this to be particularly important for our 5-year-old and our well-being as a family. Even though it often times meant skipping (parts of) an evening class, the time and joy it brought to our family was much more important to me than anything else. In addition to that – you can’t expect a 5-year-old to fully understand why you constantly vanish in the evenings.
  • spend more time outdoors: personally, this is one of the things that truly brings me peace. When I find myself overwhelmed with everything that is going on I go for a walk. It does not have to be a long and exhausting hike, often just a 15 minute walk is all that you need. Leave your phone at home, and enjoy the sounds, smells, and wonderful beauty of nature!

Be Grateful For What You Have

I learned the hard way not to take things for granted. To be precise, I really just learned it two weeks ago, when a diagnosis I received made one of my biggest fears in life a lot more realistic than I ever hoped it would be. So here I am now, in a situation where I have to get my life in order to slowly form back the severe impact all the stress I put myself under had on both my physical and mental health. 

Here I am, occasionally surprised by my own emotions, as tears roll down my face as I sit at my desk. Here I am, taking the opportunity I was given, accepting where I am in life, and living it to the fullest. 

Show up for yourself, stick to your routines, and balance will find you!