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How to Prioritize Responsibilities When You’re Working and Going to School

By Treasure Barberich-Wyckoff, WVU Online MA Student, Higher Education Administration and WVU Online Ambassador | Wednesday, November 15, 2023

As a full-time WVU staff member and part-time WVU Graduate student, I know the trials and tribulations of prioritizing school and work responsibilities.

School on its own can be a tricky balancing act, especially when you include other facets of our lives, like clubs, social engagements, and family obligations. When you add a part-time or full-time job to the equation life can get even more stressful.

That’s why I am here to provide you with some tips and guidance on how to find that balance between school and work. Do I have it all figured out? Absolutely not. But I think it’s important to share what I’ve learned along the way.

Your Digital Calendar Is Your Best Friend

I know, some of us are attached to physical planners or calendars, but a digital calendar’s automation just can’t be beat—especially when you need a reminder that you have an assignment due next week or have a work function in a couple hours.

As soon as you know your work and class schedules, times of group meetings, etc., put all those times in your calendar, each under a different color—I like to set aside an hour or two every month to do this important prep.

Even if your work days are always the exact same, blocking off that time will provide a visual aid to help you know what time you have available each day.

Seeing the chunks of non-committed time across a week will help you better plan when you can dedicate time to work on school work. Using this strategy you will be able to map out the week ahead and more easily see where adjustments may need to be made.

While this may seem like a lot of work up front, it will pay off in the long run by providing you certainty, clarity, and alleviating stress so you feel better equipped to keep that school and work balance in check. Once you have a handle on time management, you’ll be able to more effectively do the next tip:

Make Time for Activities You Enjoy

Getting caught up in The Grind is all too easy. When we get stuck in this space it can negatively impact our mental health, particularly if we are not allowing ourselves space to find joy.

This can look like giving yourself time to catch up on your favorite show, going for a hike, scrolling TikTok (seriously, this counts), or whatever it is that will A) allow you to engage in something that doesn’t feel like work B) give your brain a chance to rest.

You may feel like taking this time will hinder your ability to manage all your school and work responsibilities but, in reality, prioritizing your mental health will set you up for success in work and school settings.

Ignoring your mental health or trying to “power through” can have negative side effects—trouble sleeping, burnout, lack of focus—that will directly affect your ability to perform at the level you may want at work and school.

If you need additional mental health support, WVU offers a few options for getting that support. Included below are some helpful links to mental health resources for WVU students.

Are You Isolating?

Hustling from school to work and back can make your ability to have a vibrant social life challenging. We don’t necessarily realize how important basic human interaction can be for our mental health—and this is coming from someone who is very much an introvert!

So carve out an hour or so to catch up with a friend or visit with family. Even something as small as going to a coffee shop with a good book can satisfy that need by just being around people.

This isolation can happen without you realizing it and can be quite detrimental to effectively balancing work and school—it may be impacting you more than you realize.

As an online student, I have experienced this firsthand. I am fortunate that my classes have all been taught synchronously, which gives me the opportunity to engage with other people over Zoom. However, it doesn’t necessarily satisfy the need for in-person connection.

Keep Your Employer in the Loop

While this isn’t a must, it can be helpful to let your employer know well in advance of any exams, project deadlines, or other school-related commitments. Not only will this be a professional courtesy, but this gives you the opportunity to work with them to make sure your work schedule interferes as little as possible with important school dates and deadlines.

For example, if you know you have a big exam coming up on a Wednesday, ask your supervisor a few weeks ahead of time if you can avoid being scheduled late Tuesday evening. Explain to them that you want to set time aside that evening to study and you don’t want to be up super late the night before a big exam.

Use ‘Em If Ya’ Got ‘Em

Vacation days, that is. If you work somewhere that provides you vacation days and you find yourself stressed about getting a project or paper done, don’t be afraid to use vacation time.

Using these days for school work may seem like a waste of your hard earned vacay time, but in a pinch they can be just the space you need to get that assignment across the finish line.

If you want to kill two birds with one stone, plan yourself a little getaway. My first semester in my MA program I had two final papers due at about the same time. I knew I was cutting it close and would be able to write higher quality papers if I just had a little more time. So, I opted to take a day of leave so I could have a long weekend to finish these papers.

My biggest hesitation was if I really wanted to "waste" a vacation day. This prompted me to think about a little retreat, if you will.

I booked an AirBnB in Thomas, WV—a place where I have very little cell service—and spent my days working on my paper. Then, after diligently working with no distractions from my creature comforts at home, I would reward myself by hiking in Blackwater Falls State Park or seeing a show at The Purple Fiddle. At the end of the long-weekend I produced 2 papers that both got “A’s” AND was able to have a mini vacation.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

As someone who is a recovering perfectionist, asking for and knowing when I need help are not always easy concepts for me. There is definitely a stigma and shame that society attaches to asking for help—there shouldn’t be. It is okay to not have all the answers!

Deep breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Say it with me: it is okay to not have all the answers. See, not so bad!

Asking others for help, whether that is with an assignment, picking up a shift at work, or understanding course material, is not a weakness or anything to feel badly about.

Arguably, having the insight and courage to ask for help is a show of strength and determination. For example, as an undergrad I was, for whatever reason, nervous about scheduling office hour appointments with my professors. As a current graduate student, I know just how valuable these chances to meet one-on-one can be. Plus, those office hours are there for a reason. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of them. I know when I’ve signed up for office hours I always come out of it grateful and more confident than I was going in.

Below are some helpful resources we have here at WVU. I encourage you to check them out and incorporate them as you need them—tip: add these to your bookmarks bar so they are easy to remember and access!

Overall, the biggest tip I can give is to check-in with yourself. Be mindful of your needs. Once you’ve assessed those needs, then you can evaluate what the best course of action is for fulfilling those needs.

By engaging in this practice, you will set yourself up for success in your work and school lives, and be better prepared to balance the two effectively.

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