Let’s be real… we’re all busy. Whether you’re trying to find time studying between classes, working full/part-time or even casually, juggling family commitments and trying to maintain an inch of a social life, it can be all-consuming, and very overwhelming. Balance is something we all talk about, but how do we possibly achieve it with everything we have going on?
Our recipe for achieving balance might just be the answer…
Much like cooking, the key to balancing life/study/work is all about trial and error – finding and adopting a strategy that works best for you and your schedule. After all, each of us are different – with ranging priorities and time commitments.
So take our recipe with a grain of salt (pardon the pun) – include the things that work for you, skip the ones that don’t, and don’t be afraid to try, and try again until you get it right.
- One handful of goals
- One cup of scheduling
- One bowl of support
- Two large cup of motivation and persistence
- One cup of rewards and relaxation
- A generous dash of mindfulness
- A tablespoon of the unexpected
Step 1 – Set GOALS
If the only goal you set is to graduate from your degree, you’re bound to lose sight of this when things get tough. Having a long-term goal is great, but this should also be broken down into short-term goals. Accomplishment drives ambition, so setting yourself smaller goals on your quest to your biggest goal will help keep you motivated and focused.
Your goals should also be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, you might set yourself a weekly goal to finish your 10-12 hours of study per unit or to have a draft of your assessment finished by a certain date.
Why not assign an emotion to each goal you have too? For example, achieving this goal will make you feel ‘proud’, or completing this task will make you feel ‘empowered’.
Step 2 – Pour in prioritisation and scheduling
Life outside the classroom will often impact your time and influence decisions you make about scheduling your studies. So achieving balance is all about pouring in prioritisation and organisation into a realistic schedule which fits your lifestyle.
Start with master timetable that covers all your units and assessment pieces, appointments and study time blocks. Scheduling will make sure study becomes a priority in your life – one that is just as important as your job, family meals and your social life.
Next, prepare a weekly planner that focuses on key tasks and activities. Break it down a little here. For example, you need to read Chapter 1, or you need to start your introductory paragraph. Once complete, put your planner somewhere conspicuous — on a wall near where you study, or on the fridge so your family/friends can help you stick to your timeline and keep you accountable!
Make sure to schedule your study time at a time when your mind alertness and energy is peaked, and don’t just schedule in study time – schedule your entire life! Pencil in social activities, family plans, appointments and exercise so that you’ll have a good grasp of what’s coming up, and where you may need to re-shuffle some things.
Scheduling will also make you aware of your time-wasters, aka the things that you don’t really need to be doing but are taking up a lot of your time. For example, scrolling through social media, or watching tv for hours on end. Identify your time-wasters, remove them from your schedule and see how much your time frees up!
Step 3 – Access Support
You’re not a superhuman and you won’t always be able to do it all, and that’s OKAY because none of us can. Let yourself accept help. Whether that be hiring a babysitter or letting the kids/partner/family do the household chores you planned to do (hey they might not be done the way you’d do them, but at least they’ll be done).
It’s important to surround yourself by people who support your goal – this could be your classmates who have similar ambitions, your work colleagues. Or why not try connecting with like-minded people through our social media communities?
There might be people in your life who at first might not understand your goal, and that’s okay – be honest with them about why it’s so important to you and chances are they’ll appreciate why it means something to you and be more open to giving you support when you need it.
Remember, CQUni also has support services designed to help you manage your stress – inside or outside the classroom. Our Counselling team are available to assist you with both academic and personal counselling services. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it might just be the best thing you ever do.
Step 4 – Gather Motivation and Keep Persisting
Write down why you’ve chosen to study your degree and what you hope to achieve. Keep this close to your study space and look at it every single day.
Persistence is a quality that is vital to successful study, and to many other aspects of life. When the going gets tough (and trust us, it will) it’s important to remind yourself why you’re doing this.
In order to persist and achieve success, it is also important to think about things from a positive perspective. Try not to dwell on negative thoughts such as “I can’t do this because it is new and unknown” or “I’m too busy, I’ll never get it all done”and focus on the positives like “I’ve tackled other new and unknown tasks before and have been successful, so I can do the same with this one” or “Yes I’m busy, but everyone has the same 24 hours and I’m going to make every one of them count!”.
Step 5 – Reward yourself and remember to look after you
Make a point to celebrate when you reach your goals, so you can recognise your achievement. In saying this, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve a goal – instead look at what prevented you from achieving the goal, re-focus, and set another one remembering to keep it SMART.
After each study session, take a short break and reward yourself. For example, after a study session you could reward yourself by bringing back one of your ‘time wasters’ like watching your favourite TV show. You could also use this reward time to practice self-care by taking a walk in nature, or getting a massage.
Practicing self-care is an important part of the study experience, and is particularly necessary when feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Make sure to put some ‘me time’ in your schedule. I can hear the laughs of those juggling family, work and study responsibilities thinking ‘ha, what’s me time?!’ – but trust me, when you don’t make time for yourself, you can’t be the best you and if you’re not the best you, it means you can’t give the best to those around you.
We can’t all be ‘on’ all day, every day (as much as we might try to). In the long run, trying to juggle it all 24/7 is just setting us up to be stressed and unproductive. Make time for yourself a priority and see the resounding benefits in every aspect of your life- you can thank me later.
Step 6 – Expect the unexpected
Whether the kids get sick, work commitments change or your study workload fluctuates – always keep room in the recipe for the unexpected.
This is when it is important to repeat step 2 and 3 – prioritise what’s important and let go of what’s not – chances are there’s things in your current schedule which you could probably remove, or pass on to someone else.
Things don’t always go to plan, and you need to come to peace with the fact that you might miss that gym session, or you might not complete that draft of your assignment by the date you wanted to.
Learn to forgive yourself and rather than dwelling on the past (which newsflash you can’t control!), focus on what you can do ‘here and now’ to help make the future different.
This is where a cup of mindfulness comes in to the recipe…
Step 7 – Be Mindful
When done correctly, mindfulness can reduce stress, improve focus and help you to become more productive – inching you that much closer to your goals.
Mindfulness is all about paying attention to the present – the here and now rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. If you got a bad grade on your last assessment, let it go. Know that you can only control the now – in the hopes of shaping what happens in the future.
Mindfulness involves paying attention to our external environment through observing with our five senses, and prompts us to pay attention to our thoughts, emotions and feelings as they are happening.
Next time you sit down to study, why not try it out? Start with 10 deep breaths as you mentally prepare yourself for what goals you’re hoping to achieve in that session.
If you’re listening to a lecture, hone in on the voices speaking and pay attention to each word which is being said. Also, taking a minute to look around you and remind yourself of what you can see, hear, touch and smell can help to relax and focus you before a session.
It might seem a little silly and maybe even unhelpful at first, but stick to it and you’ll surprise yourself with how much of your self-doubt can be changed with a better mindset – and how much more of that assignment you’ll get done because you will have achieved ultimate focus.
But mindfulness can also extend beyond your study room – when you’re spending quality time with your friends or family, practice remaining mindful by making a conscious effort to be present (that means stop thinking about those impending assessment deadlines). I know it will be hard, but if you allow yourself to turn off, you’ll be far more productive during your study time.
“Mindfulness is simple but not easy. The simple bit is that mindfulness is about being aware and paying attention. The not-so-easy bit is having the discipline to practice regularly and the ability to trust in the process, no matter how wild your mind appears to be.”
WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE: GUILT
And don’t let ANY guilt melt its way into the recipe. You should never feel guilty for striving to progress yourself – after all isn’t that what life is all about? Remind yourself why you’re doing this. While it may mean short-term sacrifices, it will equate to long-term fulfillment. You’ve got this!
And there you have it all served up – to be happy and achieve balance during your time at CQUniversity, you need to set goals, schedule, gain support, gather motivation, be mindful and practice self-care.
To read more about managing stress and achieving balance, complete our Get Optimistic About Learning program which provides you with the tools, tips and inspiration to help you overcome obstacles and meet your full potential – from starting study, time management, self-esteem, wellness and stress management resources.