College brings not only an increased workload with reading, papers and projects but also hefty obligations. It’s the first time many students live on their own and become personally responsible for managing health and well-being, finances and interactions with both educators and roommates. Students are juggling new relationships, old friendships and family at the same time, which can be a challenge. It’s an introduction to adulthood, and it’s stressful.
Though much of it is good stress, it’s stress just the same. This is what makes the college years such an opportune time to begin practicing work-life balance. But what exactly is work-life balance, and how can you achieve it?
What Is Work-Life Balance?
Put quite simply, it’s the practice of dividing time effectively between responsibilities, relationships and leisure activities. When it comes to balancing life, it’s never too early or too late to start.
However, beginning to balance work and life while still in college allows students to reap the benefits for the rest of their lives. The balance enables students to maintain harmony later on when working in chosen professions, starting families and taking on increasing responsibilities.
Before practicing work-life balance, you need to prioritize. The first order of business is realizing that decisions made now will affect the course of your life, which is pretty heavy when you think about it. It’s ok if it seems a bit overwhelming: it certainly can be! But acknowledging how important your current decisions are is empowering if you allow it to be. When you’re a student without a career, there’s still time to think about the life you want to live. The best part is, you can choose the life you want.
A study from Stanford indicates that some lives are characterized by happiness, while others are characterized by meaningfulness. In some cases, the two may overlap. However, people seeking happiness typically live different lives from people seeking meaningfulness.
Happiness, which is cultivated by living in the present, definitely gets way more attention than meaningfulness, which is cultivated by tying the past, present and future together. Happiness, the Stanford study reports, is characterized by a more self-oriented life in which “things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied…difficult or taxing engagements are avoided.”
Meaningfulness may be characterized by stress, struggle and challenges. People striving for meaningfulness may be unhappy in the moment but also have a stronger sense of purpose in the long run. Meaningful lives are also more likely to make positive contributions to society. Which matters the most to you: happiness or meaningfulness? The question is deeply personal, but there isn’t a wrong answer.
While students still have time to figure out the type of life they want to live, it’s still something to keep in mind during the college years. Planning for your desired future can mean the difference between having a personally fulfilling career and life and not having one.
After graduation, and even more so once you begin your career, there is less time for such contemplation. In your pursuit for answers, think about your passions. Do you want to help people in some way, be an innovator, work in law or politics or be an artist or musician? Are you entrepreneurial? Weighing these questions early on can help you set a path best suited to the future you wish to have.
The first part of work-life balance addresses occupation. For students, that means college. Obviously, your studies need to be a top priority at this point in life, as this is your job — or one of them — if you also happen to work. Think about your academics as a whole. How much time do you need to allocate in order to attend classes and complete assigned work?
The amount of time required for studies can vary greatly from one student to the next or one major to the next. Some students may find that time requirements vary from term to term, depending on the particular course load and their personal capabilities in those subject areas. Consider options which may allow you to condense your work time. Can you balance your life better if you complete some, or all, of your classes online? Do you learn more quickly in study groups or independently?
Once you account for work-life, it’s time to think about…well, everything else. This is the personal and more highly customizable part of life. What does your life look like now, and what would you like it to look like going forward? What is most important to you? What is it that you need in order to feel whole? Is it relationships with friends or family? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? Sports? Parties? Downtime? Travel? Activism? Think about which of these are desirable and which are necessities. Once you’ve figured that out, try to find time for them in your schedule. Understand that work-life balance sometimes dictates that you sacrifice your desires — even if only temporarily — for needs to be realized.
Well-being — which encompasses physical, mental and emotional health — matters, so start making time for it now. Find out how much sleep you need to function the best, and make it a goal to get that amount on a regular basis. If you’re experiencing trouble adjusting to college life or struggling mentally or emotionally, make use of on-campus counseling services.
It’s also important to give yourself downtime. To do this, identify outlets for stress. Note that the very same things identified as necessary for a balanced life may be outlets for stress, but they may be stressors. Personal relationships are a perfect example of necessities which, depending on the people or situation, can be either stressors or stress-relievers.
Meditation and yoga are two forms of stress release, both of which you can fit into free time and do in the comfort of your home. Running, sports and other forms of physical activity are also great ways to stay fit while relieving stress. Getting into the habit of taking care of yourself now makes it easier to create time for it later in life.
Being present is crucial to the practice of work-life balance. You’ve decided what’s essential for you to have a full and balanced life. Now, give each of those things the time you’ve allotted, and participate in them fully. Take Confucius’ famous quote, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart,” and apply it to your life on the most micro level possible.
When with family, friends or significant others, focus on them. Do the same while attending class, studying and completing assignments. It helps to put phones and any other distractions aside and truly be there. Learn about mindfulness, which is merely the practice of being present in every moment; nothing more than being fully aware of “what’s happening to what you’re doing, to the space you’re moving through.” It sounds simple, but like work-life balance, it takes some practice.
Do you feel like there’s not enough time for everything you’ve outlined above? Check out this study from Baylor University, which found that college students spend 8-10 hours daily on their cell phones. If you unplug for even half of that, you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish with the extra 28-35 hours it frees up in your week. This will be a great help for continuing work-life balance later in life. Studies have found that adults find it hard to balance work and life because they feel the need to be constantly tethered to their jobs, which results in taking calls and checking work email from their phones during “downtime.”
Remember that work-life balance is a practice. While it’s achievable, it’s not a destination. As life changes, priorities and the time available to devote to them will as well. Having a solid understanding of how to balance work and life will enable you to maintain a stabilized life with a bit of reflection and modification. Your future self will thank you for it.