5 Tips for Finding Work-Life Balance in Graduate School

posted in: Tips and FAQs | 0
Aerial shot of five people working busily at a table. The table is full of laptops, papers, pens, coffee, headphones, cellphones, and snacks.
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

It’s that time in the semester when graduate school is starting to feel real. You’ve settled into the city, fall is fully underway, and life is getting busy. You’ve probably got project deadlines looming, pages upon pages of readings, part- or full-time work, and seemingly no time for yourself. If you’re wondering how to make it through the semester in one piece, today’s blog is for you. We’re going to share some tips for how to maintain a healthy work-life balance, even in the busiest moments of graduate school. 

Tip 1: Reflect and make goals

When it comes to time management and work-life balance, everyone has different needs and strategies. As you are thinking about what you need to feel well-balanced in graduate school, think about what leads you to feel burnt out. It’ll probably be different than what makes your friends feel overwhelmed, and that’s okay. Just figure out what the biggest stressors for you are.  For example, maybe you’ve got a 12-hour day packed with classes and work, which leaves you feeling exhausted the rest of the week. 

Once you figure out what causes you the most stress, brainstorm ways you can make yourself feel a little less frazzled. Maybe you can’t change your schedule, but you can bring a water bottle and plenty of snacks so that you have less brain fog throughout the day. Try to think about your past month, identify your most consistent areas of stress, and set some goals to help yourself feel a little more balanced and present during those times. 

As you start setting goals for yourself, be flexible! If you’re trying to start meal prepping or going to bed earlier, know that it’s not going to be a perfect system. Some days, life will get in the way and you’ll find yourself having pretzels for lunch or staying up late to work. When that happens, try not to be hard on yourself. The point is to try out strategies to make yourself feel less overwhelmed, so making your goals super rigid is only going to add to your stress!

Tip 2: Schedule your breaks

The busier you get, the easier it is to fill up every second with work and throw your work-life balance out the window. The problem is that you’ll get less efficient if you’re not giving yourself breaks every once in a while. So, working for hours on end will do more harm than good. If you’re like me, you have every intention of taking a break, but then get too distracted with all the tasks to finish. The next thing you know, it’s been 5 hours and you’re staring at your computer, brain dead. 

Try setting a timer to make sure you’re giving yourself adequate breaks. When you start a busy day, set a timer that goes off every hour to remind you to take a second, breathe, and step away from your task for a moment. That brief break will let your brain come up for air, which then helps you feel more energized and present. If you like to get in the zone for a few hours at a time, try scheduling a Google calendar event for a longer break every couple hours. If you have an hour already blocked out for a break, you’ll be more likely to actually give yourself that break. Sometimes getting a reminder on your phone or laptop is all you need to snap out of hustle mode, check in with yourself, and refresh. 

Tip 3: Make small substitutions 

Sometimes, it’s just not possible to take a full weekend to rest and reset. But just because you don’t have hours on end of free time doesn’t mean work-life balance is out of the question. Instead, try to find small slivers of your day that you could use more intentionally for yourself. 

A great place to start is thinking about your commute. If you use public transportation each day, you’ve got a built-in part of your day during which you can’t be on your laptop or doing work. Instead of doom scrolling through your commute, try bringing small things that help you get some time for yourself, such as:

  • Bring headphones and start listening to audiobooks or guided meditations. 
  • Put everything away to give yourself some silent space to prepare for the day and feel more present. 
  • Bring a book or crochet project. 
  • Whatever activity you choose, try taking some me-time on your daily commute, and I bet you’ll feel a little more refreshed and a little less overwhelmed!

Try to find other small times in your day that you could use more intentionally. The more you’re able to bring small moments of fun or relaxation into your day, the less you’ll feel like work and school consume your life.

Tip 4: Let your brain switch gears

As a student, you’re doing a lot of reading, writing, and thinking. All of that cognitive work makes it hard to relax with anything mental like reading or listening to a podcast. That’s okay! You don’t have to relax with brain-heavy hobbies. Instead, try out some hobbies that are more body-oriented. 

Some good options are taking a workout class, walking in one of Boston’s many parks, or doing some home yoga. One of my personal favorites is to stretch the muscles that get tight when I’m stressed. If full-body movement isn’t your thing, try picking up a crafty hobby! Knitting and crocheting are both great options, or you could try your hand at embroidery, collaging, cross-stitch, painting, etc. Even cooking and baking are great ways to get your body moving and give your tired brain a break. 

Tip 5: Get friends involved!

If being stressed out and working constantly are long standing habits for you, it might be hard to find work-life balance on your own. If you need some accountability, try getting your friends involved! Talk to them about how you’re trying to have more work-life balance in your day, and see if they want to try some of these strategies together. 

I recently started going on walks with a friend in my neighborhood, and since then, I’ve been more active than I would be on my own, simply because doing things with a buddy is more fun. This strategy can work for other things too, not just movement. Maybe you want to get better at taking time for yourself–try signing up for a book club or crafting classes with your friend to hold yourself accountable. If you’re working on grocery shopping and meal prepping, try making it a weekly outing with your roommates. Any way that you can involve others in your work-life balance will help keep you motivated and accountable. 
Hopefully today’s blog gives you some ideas for finding your own work-life balance. While everyone’s experiences and needs are different, we hope these tips will help you feel a little better about managing the busy seasons of graduate school. For more tips about graduate school and city living, be sure to check out our Tips & FAQs page.

Follow Olivia Wachtel:

Writing Assistant

Olivia is a second-year student in Emerson's Communication Disorders MS program. Originally from Ohio, she is loving Emerson and city life. When she's not writing for the Grad Life blog, she loves to read, bake, and crochet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *