If you’re enrolled in an online degree program, you know that one of the benefits is flexibility – you can fit online classes into the rest of your work and life commitments. But just because doing it all is possible doesn’t mean it’s easy. Balancing multiple obligations while also making time for the last-minute priorities that always pop up is a skill that takes time and practice to master.
Get started with these six tips for making that balancing act a little easier this year.
Set Up A Designated “School Space”
With work, life, and online school often happening in the same building (or even room!), it can be hard to balance everything - it sometimes feels like you’re working on everything and nothing at the same time! If you’re taking online classes, it can help to set up a designated school space that you enter when starting your coursework every day. Don’t have a separate room to use for school? Try setting up an environment that alerts your brain to “school time”: put your work materials away, take out your course notebooks, even pull out the school logo mug and put it on your desk. Sometimes simple rituals like making a cup of tea for every school session can help your brain transition from one task to the next.
Use A Time Management App
It may sound rigid, but often keeping ourselves working in strict 20- or 30-minute blocks of time can be the most productive – and you get to schedule blocks for relaxing, too! A time management app can help keep you on track effortlessly, and many work on desktops as well as mobile devices. You can set different goals for different parts of life, and these even work for breaking down big projects into smaller, manageable chunks.
Only Keep One Calendar
Does it feel overwhelming to consult three or four different calendars and notebooks every time you’re making an appointment? Keeping one central calendar for everything will make planning much easier. Whenever you’re handed a new calendar (kid’s teachers, new work committee, online course registration dates, etc.), make it a habit to immediately transfer the information to your central system. There are many digital versions available if the paper ones tend to get lost in the shuffle.
Map Out Each Month
Now that you have one central calendar, make a habit of mapping out the upcoming month about a week ahead of time. Go through your work commitments, class syllabi, and any personal obligations and write them down. ALL of them! After you have everything on the calendar, look ahead to see any potential days or weeks with conflicts; do you have an important meeting, a project due in class, and a family birthday party all on the same day? Look at these potential bottlenecks and make a plan ahead of time - for example, draw an arrow from your class project to the week before and plan to complete it early. If you can see the whole month at a glance, you can prioritize your time and set yourself up for success.
Keep A Notebook Handy
When you have many responsibilities, it can be hard to “turn off” thoughts about projects in other areas of life. Cooking dinner and suddenly remember that you need to email a colleague? In the middle of writing a paper for class and think of a great point to make in tomorrow’s meeting? If you keep a notebook handy (paper or digital), you can write down these thoughts as they pop into your head. Once they’re written down, allow your brain to return focus to the task at hand, knowing that you won’t forget the important revelation you’ve just had when it’s time to switch gears later.
Learn To Say “No”
With so many things on your plate, it can feel like you constantly have to prove your ability to successfully juggle it all, and often that seems like you can’t “admit defeat” and say no to a new commitment. It’s time to re-train your brain and learn to say “no”. Only you can decide how to prioritize current and future commitments, so if your boss/fellow student/neighbor asks you to add another project to your list (can you organize the office potluck? take notes for me? mow my lawn?), you need to agree only if it really makes sense with your schedule. The more you have going on, the more important it is to say “no” when necessary – that leaves you open to say “yes” to the really good stuff.
Successfully completing online courses while working and maintaining personal commitments is no easy feat, but with some purposeful planning, you can set yourself up for success!