Working whilst studying can be a great way to stay on top of your finances, develop crucial time-management skills and – if you are lucky enough to work in the same field as your studies – you’ll gain a unique insight into its real-world applications. However, balancing work, life and study is not always easy. Find out how MSc Mental Health student Elizabeth Mullenger schedules her time, manages competing deadlines and why she thinks it is important to be open and honest if you need support.

Stick to schedules

I’m Elizabeth, currently studying part time for a Mental Health MSc in the School of Psychology while working at another university within educational student- and staff-support. Working and studying requires a lot of organisation. Alongside my phone calendar (for uni appointments) and email calendar (for work appointments), I have a huge weekly planner on my desk. Each Sunday, I plan out the following week: when I’m working, when I’m studying, doing assignments, going to the gym, seeing my friends or writing blog posts. Whilst my phone and computer hold all the specific details, the planner gives me a quick glance at the week ahead. More importantly, using highlighters to colour-code tasks and events allows me to see how balanced my week is. If it’s full of work, study and no play, then I know I’m heading for burn out and need to schedule in some relaxation time.

Commit to deadlines

Everyone works differently. For me, I am most likely to meet deadlines if I know exactly what is required of me. So, I ask a lot of questions first, then tell someone my deadline – whether that’s a manager, a colleague or a friend. This way, I know that if I don’t meet a deadline, I’m potentially letting people down – or at least, that I will have some explaining to do! It’s the type of pressure that works for me. However, I will not commit to a deadline if I don’t think its manageable, or if my week is already full. I’ve learnt the hard way that being a ‘yes’ person, and agreeing to too many different things, means I won’t always be working to the best of my abilities.

Manage your workload

Recently, I had a few particularly heavy weeks at work. My responsibilities increased and deadlines shifted out of my control, to the point I was working long hours and my mind was constantly on my job. I was worrying about it at night, sleeping badly and yawning through lectures. I thought I was still balancing work and study well, because I was always present in class. But, when it came to starting my assignment I realised what little information I had actually retained. When I listened back to the recordings, I heard entire chunks of lectures which I couldn’t remember. Turns out, although I was physically present, mentally I had checked out. Fortunately, I had time to seek support from my tutor and do a lot of re-reading, and re-learning, before the assignment was due. I was lucky, but that might not have been the case, and the experience shocked me into talking to my employer about reducing my hours slightly during assessment periods. My job is important to me but this Masters affects my future, so I need to be able to balance both. 

Make time for you

I want to reassure you that it is absolutely possible to work and study at the same time, as long as you consider what you can genuinely manage and keep talking to people around you. There are lots of support resources at UoB to help you balance your time and stay on top of things. My final tip would be to ensure you make time for yourself too. What will help you stay happy, motivated and healthy? Add this to your schedule! For me it’s yoga, seeing friends or simply taking a few hours off to hideaway with a good book… or the latest Switch release. Taking the time to plan these activities around your classes, research and work makes everything more manageable, I promise.

So, take a deep breath, grab those coloured highlighters and get planning – you’ve got this.