I am currently typing this from a New York City-bound Metro North train, somewhere between Mount Kisco and my third meeting of the day. Shortly after I arrive at Grand Central Terminal, I’ll meet with a donor for work. I’m frantically reading emails, trying to study for class, and drinking the cold cup of coffee I brought with me to give me an extra boost. As a part-time student, it's par for the course. Between Nonprofit Management classes, working full-time as a senior philanthropy associate, and serving as president of the SPS Student Government (SPSSG), the concept of “free time” is not a part of my vernacular.
But I take solace in knowing I’m not alone—my Columbia SPS classmates are full-time CEOs of nonprofits or board chairpersons. They’re parents returning to school for the first time in many years, somehow balancing family life and student life at Columbia. Others are getting their second or even third degree in higher education. And that’s the beauty of being at a school of professionals; everyone is busy, and there’s something to learn from everyone!
Though many of us have begun to already fall into the groove of work, school, home, repeat: I thought I would offer some of the ways that I’ve managed to stay relatively on top of a busy schedule.
- Make a plan(ner): For me, there’s just something about a new, fresh planner—preferably non-dated and leather-bound. Writing down all the things I need to accomplish, and meetings and obligations I have, and little reminders all help me to mentally unpack. When I know that my laundry list of to-do items is out of my mind and somewhere I can refer back to, I gain enough mental space to be present and focus on the task at hand. Whether you use a planner, Google Calendar, a notes app, or just a good, old-fashioned sticky note—write everything down and cross off each item one by one.
- Self-care is not optional: If you’re like me, self-care goes on the back burner when you’re busy. Who has time to do a face mask or paint your nails when your professor assigned 500 pages of reading by next week? The World Health Organization defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker,” which means self-care depends on the person; it can range from grooming and cooking balanced meals to dancing and meditating. I now book self-care as its own task—otherwise, it won’t happen! Whether it’s an entire day or just forty-five minutes to snag a pedicure, taking time to take care of yourself can work wonders for your mental health.
- Busy life or just a busy season?: As a fundraiser, my schedule ebbs and flows. The same is true in my life as a student: some months are easier than others. Something that helps to ease my anxiety during a busy season is remembering that it won’t be like this forever—things will slow down or trail out and you won’t feel like you’re in a rat race forever.
- Utilize campus resources: My last tip is use the resources available to you. The Office of Student Support offers tutoring appointments or peer academic success coaching, as well as a number of webinars on topics such as financial literacy or balancing priorities. The Office of Student Life and Student Government jointly host an array of student-centered events, such as wellness weeks or finals management hours. All of these events and resources are free for students, so use them! Why go it alone when you could have support? While I’m writing this, I may as well invite you to SPSSG Friendsgiving on Wednesday, November 16 at the Low Library Rotunda from 4–6 p.m. ET. Having a sense of community and support really goes a long way, whether you’re far from home around the holidays or just someone who needs a break!
As the semester begins to draw to a close and things feel more frantic than usual, I hope you’ll read some of these tips and maybe try something new. Maybe soon you’ll be able to slow down and enjoy the day-to-day instead of feeling like you’re scrambling. But in the meantime, embrace the busy seasons of your life—the 500 pages of reading and the cold cup of coffee included.