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Juggling full-time school and full-time life? Join the club. At the same time as handling classes, professors, and assignments, we’re dealing with kids, spouses, or parents, keeping up with our friends, or meeting the needs of our coworkers—sometimes all of the above. Chances are you’re struggling to give the people in your life the time and attention they want from you.

Managing school and rest-of-life is “very challenging but just about manageable,” according to 42 percent of the 450 students in community colleges and graduate schools who responded to a recent Student Health 101 survey. Six out of ten respondents felt they could have handled this stuff more effectively. Only 36 percent said it hadn’t been a problem.

Boundary defenses

  • Communicate with yourself : “This is primary. If you’re clear with yourself you can be clear with others,” says Lisa Kleitz. Remind yourself daily of your goals, including your future career and the importance of staying healthy for yourself and your family. Acknowledge your own limits.
  • Then act on your reminders to yourself: “Go outside! Get adequate exercise, nutrition, and sleep; you’ll be better equipped to handle every challenge,” says Jen R., a graduate student at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. She’s right of course.
  • Keep others in the loop: Share your schedule. Karen T., a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, uses a whiteboard to let her family know what’s going on for her each day. Remember, too, that communication doesn’t just happen at home. Discuss personal constraints with an advisor or mentor.
  • Be honest and open: “The guilt that may come from other people’s demands is best handled by a firm sense of self and honesty about your priorities and decisions,” says Aaron Goodson, success coach for the Office of Assessment and Student Success Programs at West Virginia University in Morgantown. “Inevitably there will be growth and change. Everyone involved with the student should know and understand that.”
  • Ask for help: “We don’t naturally ask for help when we need it,” says Lisa Kleitz. “Understand that asking for help is good practice for someone who has a lot on their plate.”
  • The art of “no”: For a positive way to decline a request or invitation, use the “Yes… and…” strategy, says Lisa Kleitz. For example, “Yes, I wish I could help you with that project, and my calendar is full,” or “Yes, that sounds really important, and I have other commitments that day.” Or try a counter-offer. Friends want you to go out on a weeknight? “Can’t make it work, but perhaps we can hike this weekend, or combine our errands and catch up?”
  • Quality > quantity: Make arrangements to spend dedicated time with special people like children, spouses, and partners. For others, small gestures (an email or card) are effective. Snail mail can feel more meaningful when you’ve recently moved away. Set up automatic reminders for upcoming events, birthdays, and anniversaries.
  • Remember, less is more: “You’re juggling school, extracurricular things, maybe a job, and then you add in family obligations and it’s a lot to handle,” says Dr. Damien Clement, assistant professor at West Virginia University in Morgantown. “When you start dropping things, that’s an indication that you’re doing too much. You always have a choice.”

The student balancing act

“I manage school, work, and family, but it’s rough when I also live with my mom and she needs help with things around the house,” says Edward M., a second-year student at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale. “I have to be clear with my siblings that school is a priority, and keep Mom in the loop with my schedule so she doesn’t worry.”

“I have a calendar, get things done when I feel motivated, take time off when necessary, and make phone calls/emails to important people when I have a few moments,” says Aneesa B., a first-year doctoral student at the University of Delaware in Newark. “I also carry bits of work with me everywhere, which has helped me integrate school more into my lifestyle.”

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