By Jennifer Berry
January 31, 2011
If you’re anything like me, you’re struggling to balance family responsibilities, a job (or two!), and time for yourself.
The danger in trying to do it all is that you risk things falling through the cracks. This can be especially true for women trying to go back to school.
The good news is that there are ways to make it work.
I recently spoke with life and career coach Meredith Haberfeld, founder of Meredith Haberfeld Coaching. She had a lot to share about how to balance school with work, family, and life.
Check out these 7 tips for balancing it all.
Tip #1 – Set attainable goals.
Pick realistic goals and focus on accomplishing them. Every success will give you more confidence to tackle the next goal.
If you can only manage to fit one business class into your busy schedule, for example, then just take one class and give it your full attention.
“When a goal seems big and daunting, one of the smartest places to start is to break it into the different pieces that will build toward the goal,” says Haberfeld. “When you break it into smaller bits, each bit is more manageable.”
Tip #2 – Make a schedule.
Ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done?
Try sitting down with your schedule to get a handle on how much time you actually have. Look for the pockets of time between your professional and family obligations and see where you can plan in the time you need for homework.
“That small amount of planning makes the experience of dealing with a full life profoundly more manageable and fulfilling,” says Haberfeld.
If your day still feels too hectic, consider going to sleep and getting up earlier. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish in the hour or two before the rest of the house wakes up.
Tip #3 – Stay organized.
“A place for everything and everything in its place” may sound simplistic, but the benefits of keeping your physical space organized go far beyond simply knowing where your car keys are hiding.
“Having our physical space organized makes thinking easier… When our physical space is hectic, our thoughts are more hectic,” says Haberfeld.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, Haberfeld suggests spending fifteen minutes to organize one small area in your home or office. It might be just the thing you need to bring order to your thoughts as well.
Another tip: Don’t forget to keep your calendar updated. If you can see deadlines coming, you’re more likely to prepare ahead of time and save yourself from pulling an all-nighter to finish a project or cram for a test.
Tip #4 – Take breaks when you need them.
Going back to school is a big commitment whether you’re in a one-year medical assisting certificate program or a four-year bachelor’s degree in business.
Feel yourself getting overwhelmed? Give yourself permission to take a break. That might mean closing the books to go for a quick walk – or taking a night off from studying altogether.
If you find yourself burning the midnight oil for weeks on end, Haberfeld suggests working downtime into your schedule. “It’s important to plan time to relax,” she says, “or you become less effective.”
Tip #5 – Stay focused.
When you’re at school, really try to keep your thoughts on school. Don’t think about the bills you have to pay at home, or who’s going to take the kids to soccer practice.
Likewise, when you’re with family, enjoy being with family. You can help keep these areas of your life separate by planning study time into your schedule – and making sure you use that time to study.
For moms going back to school, it might feel wrong to focus so much energy on class – but remember that if more training helps you land a better paying or more flexible job, it’s helping the whole family.
Tip #6 – Keep your eyes on the prize.
Trying to balance school with everything else in your life might be tough, so always try to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. A little sacrifice and effort in school now can pay big dividends when you’re taking that shiny new diploma on the job hunt with you.
It might help to write out your academic goals. How many courses do you need to take? What is your time line? Tracking your progress can be great motivation to keep moving forward.
Still feeling discouraged? Don’t worry – it’s natural to feel doubt when you’re struggling to juggle so many things. Just try to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Tip #7 – Don’t expect perfection.
Last but not least: Remember that as much as you may want things to go exactly according to plan, life often has a way of changing those plans for us.
So maybe you don’t cross off every single item on your daily to-do list. Do what you can do, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Tomorrow is a new day.