Balancing Work, School, Volunteer, Life. Is it possible?

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

There is not a fast answer to have a bullet proof plan to balance everything. When we are deep in the academic life, we often find ourselves either in classes or hunkered down with PowerPoint slides and notes. We need some kind of break, like work, volunteer, or an extra-curricular activity. It’s important to incorporate breaks into your schedule so that your mind can recharge. It’s also a way to gain experience and skills.

When I was in first year I was a competitive dance club, where practice was 2-3 times a week for 4 hours each. I also had a full-time course load and friends. In second year, I added a part-time job to my calendar. In third year, I dropped dance but replaced it with volunteering. In my fourth year, I was occupied with a full-time co-op placement for 12 months. In fifth year, the craziest yet, full-time school, part-time industry work, team lead for volunteer and friends. IT WAS CRAZY. I remember I had to plan when to take lunch and when to drive to work.

To start, it’s best to know what you already have on your plate.

  • School?
  • Work?
  • Family and friends?
  • Volunteer?

Then visually block your schedule.

I use Outlook as it is easy to rearrange when something comes up rather than pen and paper agendas. However, I did use hard copy agendas for most of high-school and the first half of my undergrad. Use whatever works for you!

Make sure you block out time exactly as you would be there. Block things like:

  • Classes
  • Study time
  • Food breaks
  • Traveling – commute to and from anywhere
  • Work
  • Volunteer
  • and if you’re really busy, Sleep
  • Game time

After you visually block everything, you can see where your “gaps” are. This can show you how much time you have to spare on another activity. In the rough example, study time is only planned on three days and only have classes for back-to-back courses. You know your schedule. If you cook daily you may need to add prep time on your calendar. Having a filled calendar does not necessarily mean you are being efficient or have planned for everything. Things change, like COVID. Adhering to your filled calendar is exhausting. Make sure to leave gaps for team work projects and for unexpected circumstances.

Calendars are meant to manage time, not dictate it. No time management plan is solid, most of them can be moved or adjusted.

NOTE: It is very important to plan breaks! Plan vacations or a small ice-cream break with roommates or your siblings.

You can colour code your calendar or even set reminders for important events like midterms and exams. Enter important notes in your calendar such as exams, project due dates, and reminders. If you are like me, who have a really horrible short term memory, I write everything down. If I didn’t write it down, it will not be done. Outlook can help you block in 30 mins intervals or to a custom time. You can set your blocked “meetings” as “free”, “busy”, “out of office”, etc. so that others who may want to look at your calendar know when you truly are away and cannot be reached.

Using this blocking strategy can help you reassure yourself that you do have time for everything. Or if you don’t, it will show you what you need to sacrifice. If you apply it to a professional setting, this can be used to show your supervisor your workload if you need to ask for more time. It can also help workaholics make time for everything else. As a visual person, this helped me plan my undergrad and my professional work schedule.

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