Finding Balance

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I have big plans for my future, and I’m willing to work very, very hard to get to the place I want to be. My plan is to go straight from college to a graduate school program before entering the working world. I am studying a lot in order to make this happen, but I’m starting to worry that I might be undermining my own goals.


Recently, I’ve been feeling really, really tired and worn out. I feel like I’m losing my motivation. I keep forcing myself to stay in the library or keep writing my paper or whatever I’m doing, but I get everything done more and more slowly. I have the willpower it takes to just keep slogging, but I’m becoming really inefficient, and it’s scaring me. Experts, what productivity tips do you have for someone in my situation?


Here’s a productivity tip for you: stop working!


No, not forever. But it’s quite clear that your breakneck work schedule has begun to work against you, and it’s worth examining why. We think that you’ll find that you’re overworking yourself, creating a situation in which your willpower is actually working against you by wearing you out and making you less efficient with the time you spend on schoolwork.


It’s called “burnout,” and it’s very real. Studies have proven time and again that if we work all of the time, we end up getting less done overall. Take this study, for instance, which proved that vacation-happy Europeans were actually more productive than their constantly working American counterparts. Contradictory as it might seem, the best way to work is actually by taking occasional breaks. You’ll get more done in less time if you spice up your life with some recovery time and vacations.


Americans are starting to figure this out, too. The pros behind a popular program that provides surfing lessons in Waikiki, HI say that it’s not uncommon to see modern businessmen and women on longboards as well as in the boardroom. In the drive to get ahead in a competitive business world, the hot new strategy is as counter-intuitive as it is effective: work less!


So how should you take a break? If you can, a vacation would work wonders. Perhaps your next school break is a good time for you to explore Henry County, Georgia, their tourism bureau suggests. And whether it’s spring break or the middle of winter, there are always great places to see on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Take a road trip with your friends, or go sightseeing abroad–whatever you would most like to do, consider it! If you can afford it, a vacation is a fantastic way to recharge.


Of course, when the goal is beating burnout, you need to tame your instinct for over-planning. The best way to recharge on vacation is to keep enough free time in your schedule that you don’t have to rush between commitments. But be sure to plan enough, so that you don’t feel stressed running around without a plan once you’re in your vacation destination!


You don’t have to go on vacation to recharge, though it’s a great way to strike back at the serious burnout symptoms you’re experiencing. It’s possible to recharge without leaving home, too! In fact, learning how to do so is key: vacations are once-in-a-while treats, and you need a burnout antidote that keeps you productive more regularly than that.


When we talk about avoiding burnout on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, we’re talking about “work-life balance”–that popular buzzword that so many smart professionals care about these days. The principles here are essentially the same as the ones behind using vacation time to take an extended break from your work once or twice a year, except that we’re looking at a smaller scale. Work-life balance is about things like making sure that you work reasonable hours, get to spend time with your hobbies and loved ones, and don’t over-stress or over-work yourself on a day-to-day basis.


There’s a lot that you can do to improve your work-life balance. Much of it comes down to setting up proper boundaries. You need your sleep, and you need free time. Set rules about when you’ll study, and make sure that you stick to them. It may be tough to walk away from the library when you feel there’s still more to do, but remember that you’re making a decision that is actually good for your productivity–if you have to, look those studies up again and read over them to convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing!


Of course, sometimes deadlines force us to work harder than we’d like. But the important thing here is that you are not letting lower-priority work keep you from recharging in between study sessions, homework, and classes. Set rules about where and when you’ll study. Keep your sleeping area free of work-related materials, and your work area clear of distractions. Boundaries are healthy!


There are other, larger steps that you can take to establish work-life balance, too. For instance, you could choose to attend graduate school part-time or online, say the experts behind several accredited online education programs. There are some work-life balance issues that can only be solved with major decisions like this: if you decide to work three jobs, for instance, you’ll have a really hard time setting those boundaries we talked about. As much as possible, you should keep work-life balance in mind from the start: when you pick classes for next semester, for instance, or when you decide where to attend graduate school or what job to take. Set yourself up for success, and assert your right to a life outside of your work!


It’s wonderful that you’re so committed to your future and that you have such impressive willpower. And it’s not always easy for us to walk away from work when we have goals we care about in mind. But, by working smarter instead of harder, we think you’ll find that you become more able to reach your goals while also feeling better about yourself and the tasks in front of you. Ease up a bit, and you may find that your workload gets easier with you.


“Better learn balance. Balance is key.” — Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid