How to find your balance: making study work in your life

Studying at uni is a big deal, what with it helping your career and allowing you to pursue your passion. However, studying isn’t everything. You do have a life as well, after all. But how do you make sure you can balance studying with all your other commitments?

Well, we’ve talked to two people with experience in this area to get the lowdown on the top three strategies for getting the most out of your studies – while meeting all your other commitments as well.

Dr Shaunagh Foy is a registered psychologist and a student counsellor at Charles Sturt University (CSU) as part of our student support network. She talks to current students when they have any concerns or queries, whether about their studies or anything else.

Michelle Smith recently completed a Bachelor of Business Studies with CSU. And she had a lot of other things going on while she studied. “When I started studying, I was working full-time, had two children, helping my husband run his tree-surgery business and volunteering on the fundraising committee at the local Ronald McDonald House. I also did my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment while studying my degree. But I felt I wanted to do more study to advance my career.”

1. Be prepared

Dr Foy finds that time management and fitting study around other parts of your life is a common topic when she talks to students, so she has lots of professional experience helping people find the right balance. She feels that starting as soon as you can is one of the keys to a productive study experience over the course of a subject.

“One of the main tips that I would give is to read the subject material as soon as it’s available online – and often that can be up to two weeks before the subject or session actually starts. A lot of other universities don’t post any material until day one, week one of a session; at CSU students can get a head start with a range of essential information for their course. This can include compulsory readings, a week-by-week schedule and also the assessment items for the end of the subject. So you can open up the pdfs and see the extent of required readings, and make a plan to ensure you can get them done.

“Some course coordinators also post the options for assignment questions, so you can start thinking about it – even if you don’t actually mean to (you might be driving or mowing the lawn and find yourself mulling it over) – before you start studying. Touching base with your course coordinator regularly in the run-up to the course is a good idea, as they can tell you when the material is available and offer advice for planning your study.”

2. Involve your family

Dr Foy recognises that it can seem daunting to take on study when you also have a family to look after, and even more so if you’re a working parent as well.

“I recommend right at the start of your study you sit down with your family, including your children if you have any, and explain the study expectations and the goals for doing it. Explaining why you are doing the study, the career or life goals it will help you achieve, alongside how study will influence family life (in terms of having dedicated time to study where, for instance, you might need to say no to playing with the children) can really help at the start.

“It might be as simple as having to plan to bulk cook and freeze meals that can be reheated during the times when you need to do more study (at assignment time, for instance); explaining upfront is a good idea. Having a wall planner with such periods marked on it can also be a great help.

“If children know why you are doing something, they will more easily adapt to different circumstances. Also, by explaining why you are doing something and sticking to it, you set a great example to the kids in terms of following your passion, following through on it and completing something.

“It is also important, particularly for children, that you reiterate that while your studying will change things in the family, it is not for ever and it has a valuable goal. Depending on the age of the child, explain what you are studying, what you are reading or writing about, so they know what mum or dad is actually working on. Including the child and explaining things to them makes it a lot easier to ask for time to complete things. It also makes it easier for the child not to take it personally if a parent has to spend some time away from them.”

Mrs Smith certainly found that her family was central to her study success.

“It was tough at the start, but I have a very supportive family which helped me keep going. For instance, my 11 year old (as he was when I started my degree) would help with cooking dinners. I discussed what I would be doing with my family and they knew I needed time in my office to study.

“I also saw my studying as a good example for my son who was doing his HSC when I was in the last year of my degree. I would say, ‘Okay, let’s both go off and study and then meet back here in two hours’, and we’d go for a walk together or have a snack together, taking a break from our respective studies.”

Mrs Smith also found that when she was struggling with maintaining a good study–life balance, she could also get support from her CSU ‘family’.

“I studied online, and when I felt that my study–life balance was getting out of hand, the student Facebook groups really helped as I could reach out to get advice and support to help me through.

3. Make study a daily activity

Dr Foy also recommends making study a part of your day-to-day life – this can, in fact, give you more time for other things across your study journey.

“I also recommend doing something on your study every day. While there is a mid-session break, it is better to see this as study time without classes than a period in which to switch off. Even doing something administrative like checking that the format of your essay references is correct can help keep you attuned to your studies, and prevents last-minute accumulation of work – which helps keep the study–life balance throughout your course. It also helps reduce anxiety, as you are making progress with your studies every day, in however small a way.”

Mrs Smith found this strategy very useful during her business degree.

“It really helped to keep going, studying across three sessions and doing something every day. That didn’t mean we couldn’t have overseas holidays and days out; but doing something each day kept me in the study mindset.”

Tips to help make your studies a success

So to sum up, here are Dr Shaunagh Foy’s top three tips to help maintain your balance when it comes to study.

  1. Plan ahead as much as possible.
  2. Get your family involved.
  3. Do something for your studies every day.

Need more help? Check out some more great advice for busy parents studying at university, or contact us if you want to talk through your concerns before starting study at CSU. (And if you’re already studying with us, you can make an appointment with a student counsellor.)