Advice #43: How Can I Manage the College / Life Balance?

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I’ve been stuck in a real rut lately. Being a college freshman taking six classes, I feel like I’m running myself dry creatively, or perhaps more so, motivationally. I keep dreaming up all these grand ideas, but by the time I get back to my dorm I just want to go back to bed. I know schoolwork should come first, but I’m having a hard time focusing on that when I’m dreaming up creative design projects. I feel like I am putting all this time into useless projects for class and I’m losing valuable time for my personal projects and potential business. How can I avoid getting swept up into to the crowd of becoming just another college student?

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Do All Things With Love.

When you’re in school, the work / life balance can seem almost impossible to achieve. I know all too well how this feels (see below). But do remember that you have the rest of your life and career ahead of you — plenty of time to make your dreams a reality. I had the same issue as you — my mind was constantly racing with ideas for personal projects during classes but time was scarce. What I have since realized is that just because you can’t act on your ideas right this second doesn’t mean that they’re going to suddenly evaporate or become less-thank-awesome. My solution was to carry a notebook everywhere with me to jot down those ideas. And, I did come back to many of them later on.

Though it’s hard to see now, while the projects you’re working on for class might not seem directly valuable to you at the time, the takeaway is usually more abstract. It could be that you’re learning a particular skill or gaining experience that you’ll be able to draw upon years down the road.

When I was 26, I began my second and final year of design classes. My schedule looked like this for a full year:

Monday: School // 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Tuesday: Agency Internship // 9:30 – 6 p.m.
Wednesday: School // 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Thursday: Agency Internship // 9:30 – 6 p.m.
Friday: School // 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Saturday: Retail Job // 10.a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday: Retail Job // 11.a.m. – 5 p.m.

Notice that there were no days off. Looking back, the constant rotation of tasks with a new place to be each day often left me reeling. Balancing so many commitments on top of blogging five days a week (I’d started this blog the year before) was bordering insanity but I pulled through because I had a set of goals at the end of the tunnel: 1. I needed to finish my design degree to get into the agencies & studios I admired. 2. I had to work because there was rent and bills to pay. 3. The internship was at an agency I considered my top choice for post-college employment.

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Hold onto your inspiration. It’s not going anywhere! (source unknown)

If I hadn’t had goals, I probably would have dropped to the floor at some point, given into the exhaustion and cancelled some of my commitments. Even though I pulled through this stressful time, I won’t lie, it was definitely one of the hardest years of my life. But I got through it day by day, week by week and it taught me some key points:

1. Good time management

Even though you’re short on time now to work on your personal projects, this is something most of us will have to cope with for the rest of our lives. As we move from school to careers, to managing households, the time crunch doesn’t usually get much better post-college. School might seem like a drain now but if you have a very strict schedule and a very limited amount of time to complete particular tasks, you’ll find a way to make it happen. That drive to follow through with the seemingly impossible in a short window of time will come in handy later in your job.

2. Rating the level of importance of tasks

With a list of school assignments a mile long, you’ll quickly learn how to delegate and fly through completely different tasks in record time. When you’re at your post-college job and the boss rambles off a list of random items, you’ll be able to smile, respond with “no problem” and then rate, delegate and conquer.

3. Negotiation

There are going to be times where you’re expected to do two things at once. Or, worse yet, to be two places at once. During my final year of school, the agency I was interning at wanted me to come in on Fridays. One little issue: I had school on Fridays. It was in my best interest to work on Fridays because 1. the internship was paid and 2. it was where I hoped to work post-college. I negotiated with my teacher and she agreed that as long as I got my schoolwork done, I could work on Fridays instead. Think outside of the box when it comes to your schoolwork; most teachers are human and are willing to compromise with you if you show a willingness to meet them in the middle.

In Closing

While school can be a bumpy ride at times, remember that nothing lasts forever. You have an awesome opportunity to gain an education — try to embrace the experience now instead of rushing through assignments. Your ideas will still be with you once you’ve graduated and the life skills you learn in college will follow you through the rest of your career.

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