This article was published Oct. 2, 2016.
If you’re feeling mentally (and physically) exhausted, your stress and anxiety levels are through the roof, and you feel like you have nowhere to turn, you’re probably on the verge of burnout—and before you completely lose your passion, it’s time to take a step back and figure out what you can do to balance everything you have going on.
I’ve been freelance writing and blogging for about a year now, even before I switched my major to English, and it’s always worked really well with my schedule. It’s been great to be able to work from home—or from anywhere—and it’s super convenient to be able to decide when I need to study and when I need to work. For the most part, I’ve never had a problem with balance—until this semester started.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I was totally prepared for school to start. I had all my assignments and due dates already in my planner, I had organized my schedule, talked to my employers—I was ready.
But it turns out, it’s really hard to take 18 credits (all but one of which are boring requirements), be editor in chief of the school paper, have three writing gigs, and have another part time job on top of that. With all of this, plus tons of meetings each week with important university officials for news stories and for my own advising and “just to chat,” finding time to spend with my boyfriend, my family, and (God forbid) myself was a serious struggle.
Luckily, I could work from anywhere. That was a good thing, right?
I soon realized that all the time I was spending with Ryan, my family, and my friends was being spent working. I was constantly responding to emails and working on my phone and my laptop while I was with them—we weren’t spending any quality time together. Then, I would still work and study all night as long as I could stay up, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to fall asleep with a book in my hand that I needed to have read for class the next day. It was exhausting, and it wasn’t fair to any of us.
So last month, they called me out on it. (Like they rightfully should have!)
I guess I didn’t realize I had a problem until they brought it to my attention, but when I went to class that evening, I was in tears over what they’d said—because they were right. I was missing out on my life just so I could get work done, and it wasn’t fulfilling or rewarding. I wasn’t happy—in fact, I was kind of miserable, I was just too busy to realize it.
I wasn’t having fun with my writing, or my classes (which I generally do enjoy), or even with my loved ones. I felt mentally and physically exhausted, like I had been worked to the bone and there was nothing left I could give. This is what it feels like to be completely burned out, and if you let it go on for too long, it can completely ruin your life and your passions. So at the advice of so many people who cared about me, I decided it was time for something to change.
I figured out how to deal with burnout the hard way, and I’m going to share with you exactly what I did, so hopefully you can avoid having the same problems I did! Firstly, my own little not-so secret:
The key to avoiding burnout is to balance your time.
I’m sure dozens of people have told you to manage your time well since you started college (and even in high school), but maybe none of them ever told you how to manage your time. That’s what I’m here for!
Step One: Manage Your School Work
Here are five small changes you can make to your daily life to make school and studying less stressful:
1. Keep a planner.
If you’re one of those people who can somehow remember every due date for every assignment ever in your head, then more power to you! But for the rest of us, we need to keep planners.
I’ve found that the best thing that you can do for yourself is set up your planner before (or soon after) the semester begins using the syllabi provided by your instructor. Just take some time to write all the due dates in beforehand, so you don’t have to worry later—you’ll have everything already written down and you can glance ahead as needed!
Of course, as much as we talk about how important planners are, it is often difficult to remember to maintain a paper planner. If you struggle with this, maybe an electronic planner is the way to go. There are tons of apps available, or you can even create a spreadsheet on your computer to track your assignments. You just need some method of keeping on top of everything—whatever you choose, make sure you stick with it!
2. Work on projects little by little.
This is an oft-advised time management technique, but it really does work. Cramming is a great way to not learn something. Instead, work on projects, essays, and studying for big tests little by little, doing only 20 to 40 minutes of work each day, if possible. You’ll be much more focused during these short sessions, and you’ll retain the information a lot better!
3. Be productive in your studying.
When it comes time to work on an assignment or to study for a big test, it’s important to focus. Eliminate all your distractions—either by putting them away, turning them off, or otherwise escaping from their area of influence—and get to work!
Another great productivity tip that I always tell my writers and groups I speak to who want time management help is to work on what you’re in the mood to work on. If you have math homework and an English essay due soon, and you’re dreading the essay, then spend your time hashing out your math problems, and do the essay later on. Don’t force yourself to do something that you just can’t seem to get in the groove of working on, because you’re just opening yourself up to distractions and low-quality work. You can absolutely move your study plan/schedule around to accommodate, too—prioritizing is A-OK!
4. Stick to a routine.
It’s a good idea to try to study around the same time every day. I tell my writers this as well; eventually, you’ll get into the routine, and you’ll feel bad if you don’t do it!
Additionally, did you know that your brain actually associates your bed with sleeping, so you start to feel tired just by sitting on it? It’s true! Make it a routine to only study at your desk, or in the library, or in another certain place—your brain will learn to associate that spot with productivity and getting things done.
5. Don’t fall behind—and if you do, catch back up ASAP.
We all know that procrastination is really just a giant hole, and once you fall in, it’s all but impossible to get back out. I remember once being four novels behind in an English class (not one or two—four). Trying to catch back up seemed impossible, because I couldn’t read fast enough, and my professor just kept adding books to the list. I eventually had to just lock myself in my room all weekend and read each of them, but I couldn’t tell you what happened in any of them now. It was awful.
Moral of the story: don’t be me. Stay on top of your assignments so you don’t fall behind, and if you end up falling back a little, make sure you put in the extra effort to catch up as soon as possible, or it will just keep getting worse.
Step Two: Find Out How Much Time You Can Spend on Other Activities
Whether you have sports, blogging, work, extracurriculars, or even loved ones who require attention (or any combination of these!), this should all come after you have your school work in order.
You may not have the time for everything you want to do—but here’s a formula to help you figure out how much time you can spend on outside activities:
You’ll start with 168 hours in the week.
1. Subtract the hours that you’ll be sleeping. A good goal is to get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep each night—I know I don’t do my best if I don’t get at least this much!
2. Subtract time for eating. Even if you work while you eat on occasion, you should still allot a minimum of an hour and a half to eat each day.
3. Subtract that hour you spend getting ready in the morning and getting un-ready at night. I know I spend way too much time on this, but it’s relaxing!
4. Subtract the number of hours you’re in class each week. At most schools, this will be the same as how many credits you’re taking! (Don’t forget to take your commute into account, if you have one!)
5. Subtract the amount of time you know you need to spend on homework and studying. Some say this should be at least the same as the amount of time you’re in class, especially for upper-level classes, but only you can know for sure.
At this point, I’m at merely 48 hours left. How much time do you have?
It’s up to you to decide how to spend whatever is left:
Step Three: Prioritize
Do you want to work a full-time job, and leave merely an hour each day to yourself and your friends, or do you want to work part-time, and spend the other 20+ hours with friends and family?
Do you have an internship that requires a certain amount of time? How much time can you give up to it?
How much time will you need to spend practicing for your sport? In club meetings? Blogging?
How much time do you want each day to just have fun and hang out with your friends or significant other?
Only you can decide the answers to these questions, but odds are, you aren’t going to be able to do more than one or two things—because, remember, you still need to have time for your friends, your family, and yourself.
Prioritize what is most important to you, and if you find that something just doesn’t fit into your schedule, it’s OK to say goodbye to it (or them).
Step Four: You’ve decided where you want to be and how you want to spend your time. Now, wherever you are, be all there.
This is what I struggled with the most, but it’s absolutely crucial to being happy, and for me, it really helps me lessen my anxiety.
Whether you’re in class, lying on the couch with your boyfriend, or eating dinner with your family, enjoy the moment. Focus on what’s going on around you, not what’s going on in your phone or at the office. Don’t miss out on your life because you were staring at a phone or laptop screen. (And if you can do this most of the time, your family and friends will probably be a lot more lenient when you really do need to be on your phone every once in a while.)
The Most Important Thing:
When you’re planning out your days, make sure there’s time for yourself. It’s vital to have alone time when you can just sit with yourself and your thoughts. Keep a journal, meditate, or even just relax and listen to music—it’s all good for you, and it can all help you stay sane with everything going on in the world.
Burnout is real, and it can affect anyone—and if you let it go on too long, you could lose your love for the activities and fields that you feel passionate about. You can’t let life, school, work, and everything else bog you down.
You may not even know you’re experiencing burnout until it’s too late—so don’t wait to get your schedule organized and your life together. You’ll thank me later.
Have you ever experienced burnout? How did you manage it? What other stress-management techniques have you tried? Let me know in the comments!
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