5 Tips to Achieve Your Optimal Work/School/Life Balance

“I don't use the word balance’ at all,” says Carol Hoffman, Associate Provost & Director of Columbia University's Office of Work Life. She was talking about the demands of managing one’s graduate program, full-time job, and social life. “It's never going to be truly balanced, and it makes people feel bad when their professional and personal lives aren’t perfect.”

Ideal work/life balance may be a myth, but for the 85 percent of School of Professional Studies students who work full-time and study part-time, dedicating sufficient time to their endeavors is a challenge.

If you’re a prospective student, the dilemma of pursuing a master’s degree while working may weigh heavily on your mind. Here are some of the solutions that our students and alumni have employed in order to manage a healthy personal and professional life – all at the same time.

Reinforce your personal support system

When you choose to make a life change such as going back to school, it will affect your partner and your family – not just you. Especially if you’re caring for one or more elders or children, speak with your partner before you even apply for your program. Can he or she take on more responsibility at home? If the burden is too heavy for your partner, who among your relatives or close friends can pitch in?

Enrolling in a graduate program is a wonderful way to advance your career. Make sure your partner and your family understand this objective, support your decision, and are willing to lend an extra hand at home.

Lean on your professional contacts

Hoffman suggests that you talk with your employer to adjust work expectations. Mention that your studies will ultimately help you add value at the office so that your manager and colleagues are motivated to accommodate your new schedule. Inquire about flextime, delegating responsibilities, or working from home. Hoffman says that it can’t hurt to have a conversation about how to move forward.

Take advantage of online options if possible

Ruth Esponda, Strategic Communications alumna, faced scheduling conflicts due to work. Her solution? “I did both of my summer classes online,” she says. “My work schedule was so heavy that I just couldn't get to Columbia by 6:30 p.m. for classes, but I worked around it.”

Several master's programs offer online courses, so speak with a Columbia advisor about your options.

Shuffle your priorities

One saying goes, “You can have it all, but not all at once.” Consider which of your endeavors will be the highest priority during which semester.

For example, Prasad Malmandi, a Sports Management alumnus and a director at ESPN, structured his course load to fit his work schedule. “If it was the peak of the season...I was able to choose which courses I could realistically handle. Then I could take the tougher courses in April and during the summer when my workload at ESPN was a little lighter.”

Devising a strategy for handling work and school will ease these pressures and enhance your performance in both areas.

Cut yourself some slack

Make sure to take care of your own well-being, too. “Taking care of one’s health is really important,” says Hoffman. Though you may have to pull the occasional all-nighter, manage your time in order to get eight hours of sleep each night and a couple of hours of exercise each week. “These are things that are really important to maintain especially when you're under stress.”

Every once in a while, reward yourself for a job well done. Indulge in a dinner at a nice restaurant or a day trip out of town.

A rigorous education demands your time and energy, but it shouldn’t deplete your health, your professional life, or your family life. Have conversations with the stakeholders in your life early and often; discuss how you can help each other and what external support you may need. Occasionally, take a break and unwind.

Remember, graduate school is temporary, and the end goal is to advance your career. Let that inspire you to restructure your time as necessary, tackle new challenges, and remain devoted to your future.