Emma Worrall breaks down her experience of switching from an anything goes student lifestyle to keeping to office hours, and how this may be the secret to that elusive work-life balance.
Since the beginning of the year, I have tried to stick to a 9-5 or 10-6 office-style study schedule. Why, you may ask, would I ever give up the flexibility of a student schedule? Fair enough, the flexibility is great, but the downside is that for me and for many other students, this can lead to some pretty unhealthy habits.
I used to struggle with the intense combined pressure that you should be doing work all the time and the liberty of working whenever you want, or not at all. How many of us have spent a week binge-watching a show and then have to pull an all-nighter to finish an assignment? When I started working full-time last year, I found I really loved having the weekends to relax and catch up on sleep, without worrying about work. Plus, starting early in the day was rewarded with actually having time to exercise or cook a great dinner.
If you are feeling like you are struggling with the pressure to work all the time, are having issues with procrastination, or just want to make sure you’re able to take breaks on the weekends, I would really recommend trying out keeping to a regular work schedule. Worried about where to start? Here are a few tips:
Keep a timesheet
From my timesheet above you can see that I log when I start work, when I have a break and when I end. I try to stick to working between 9am and 7pm as much as possible. However, there is still room for flexibility – I occasionally do a bit of work on the weekend if I have to or in the evenings, often if I am near a deadline. The spreadsheet is programmed to add up my hours for the week (the aim is at least 35). I can also try to make up for shortfalls in previous weeks. Some times are busier than others, so it’s important to focus on the bigger picture. I also give myself a certain amount of holiday. Right now, I have 24 days to spend when lockdown hopefully eases!
If you are thinking of adopting this kind of a study pattern, it may be helpful to let the people around you know, especially if socialising tends to distract you during the day. If, like me, you happen to live with people working full-time hours at a job, syncing your work time to theirs can be a really good way to focus, and also means that you will have time in the evenings and the weekends to spend time with them if you want. If you live with other students, make sure that they know about your goals and can support you. For instance, you can ask them not to invite you out during the day, except maybe during an allocated lunch break. You can even suggest that they try this method with you, so you can hold each other accountable.
Be kind to yourself
Just because you are switching to more fixed study hours, this does not mean that you should not be taking regular breaks. Get up regularly to get a drink and have a stretch. Just make sure your ten-minute break doesn’t become a ten-hour one.
Also, remember that you don’t have to do 9-5 every day until your degree ends. I give myself ‘vacation days’ (I have 30 over the year), and of course do take days off if you are unwell or you really feel you need it. The point of this is to minimise stress, not make you work yourself too hard.
Hold yourself accountable
Ultimately, this technique will only work if you take it seriously, which is why I would recommend keeping a time sheet or log. Sticking to regular hours may require sacrificing some of the joys of having a flexible student schedule (socials in the middle of the day! Sainsbury’s when it’s empty!), but I hope you find that in the long-term it will reduce your stress and make you feel in control of your study.
This method is not for everyone! Many will feel happier knowing they can study when they want, and there are many night owls out there who don’t mind going to sleep late. Some environments or lifestyles will be better suited to this than others. But for those of us missing out on weekends or feeling stressed having to put in all-nighters for deadlines, this is one trick that might just work.