By Nicole Alexander, NU Scholar (April 2018 Cohort)
Master of Science, School Psychology with PPSC School Psychology
Most of us here at National are attempting the impossible, the school-work-family juggle. But I assure you, it’s possible. Find your motivation and really get to know yourself, and you can crush it. My motivation is my two daughters. I want to raise strong, fearless, hard-working women and the best way I can think of is to practice what I preach. Find what keeps you going, because when you’re writing a report at 1 am and you have to get up for work at five, you’re going to need it. Once you are good and fired up, get to know yourself. Here are some things I’ve discovered about myself: I can’t study at Starbucks because I get too distracted by people-watching, my brain stops functioning at 11 pm, I do my best work with a side of sushi, and studying in bed = naptime. Once motivation and self-awareness are ironed out, you can focus on figuring how to override the laws of the space-time continuum and manage to get it all done. If physics isn’t your thing, here are a few tips to salvage some time for coursework without abandoning your family and your sanity:
This may come as a bit of a shock, but not everyone uses a planner… I know, it’s crazy. I can barely brush my teeth without my planner. Not only does it keep me from forgetting important dates, it houses my bevy of to-do lists. Yes, lists. I make daily and weekly goals that fit perfectly into their corresponding days. I also find it helpful to make a separate work list, school list, and home list. OK, maybe I’m the crazy one, but it’s easier to accomplish a few things per day than stare at one formidable, mile-long list. Many prefer having it all in their phone—I’ve tried it, it’s not for me. I do however like the “Stickies” program on my laptop for my to-do lists, if you’re the techy-type.
This trick is definitely my favorite. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t accomplish any significant progress in my school work in those little intervals while on my lunchbreak, or waiting at the DMV, or while helping my kids with homework. I can, however, schedule that dentist appointment, or pay my phone bill, or drop that bag off at Salvation Army that’s been in my trunk for a month. Solving small problems throughout the day will clear your mind, your to-do list, your car, and your schedule for more meaningful chunks of study time later. Added bonus: the tiny rushes of adrenaline from accomplishing tasks will build momentum for that report that’s waiting for you to write it.
Caution, this one can become addicting. Say no. Sounds simple? It’s not. This one is H-A-R-D but worth it and quite liberating. I enjoy painting, and baking, and creating. So, when someone appreciates my talents and asks me to help them paint their living room or bake my (amazing) cookies for a party, I struggle to say no. But there are only so many hours in a day, and it’s OK to put your priorities first. You have decided to accomplish the amazing feat of going to college, put some other stuff on the back burner, and go with the store-bought cookies.
Having fun is important in maintaining mental health. Definitely make time for guilt-free frivolity but be sure to get the work done first. How much fun can you really have with that deadline looming over you while you’re trying to bowl a perfect game?
If you are a college student with no job and no kids, congratulations, please go enjoy a nap on my behalf. If you’re like me, you have kids and they are adorable –but– physically, literally, metaphorically, emotionally and mentally preventing you from getting any work done. TGFG – Thank God For Grandma. Chances are, she’s super proud of you for going to college, and maybe willing to take the children away for an afternoon so you can accomplish something other than snack detail??
No grandma? Another awesome way to get some child-free time is the neighbor swap. I was lucky enough to have a neighbor with kids similar in age to mine, and we would swap kids. I would take all the kids for two hours, then she would take them for two hours. When you already have one or two of your own, what’s two more? Playdates keep the kids entertained, and you get work time without putting anyone out or paying for a sitter! Swapping is also a good alternative for when you’re contemplating getting rid of your kids all-together. (JOKING…mostly)
Utilize resources. I know, everybody says that, but actually do it. I once had a gal from the writing center sit on the phone with me for over an hour while I re-wrote a paper. Need a resume? Well, Chris in the career center can tell you that yours is missing an objective, has too many bullet points, and your name is spelled wrong. Not only do these resources offer priceless feedback, but having a scheduled appointment provides accountability and is one more step in getting those items crossed off the aforementioned to-do lists.
You won’t like this one, sorry. Usually the last thing I want to do after five hours in class is open that computer back up, but when the information is fresh, the work is easier and faster. And what a great feeling to have something done long before it’s due.
You will like this one, you’re welcome. When I’ve been wrestling over a single paragraph for the better part of an hour accomplishing virtually nothing, I give myself permission to close my computer and walk away. Even though it still needs to get done, I can make better use of my time and re-visit when I’ve given myself a brain break.