5 Life Hacks to Balance College Academics and Play


Articles abound about the importance of work-life balance for adults—but what about college-age young adults? Does the fun end when the school bell rings? Are they doomed to a four years of all school work and no play?

According to Forbes.com, “Knowing what drives you, inspires you and fulfills you . . .  and figuring out how to balance this with the need to keep a roof over your head is what a happy life looks like . . . and often that learning comes from peer interaction, not (college) lectures.” The same article cites author William Deresiewicz who, in his book Excellent Sheep, argues, “an undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation is four years largely wasted.”

Of course, college students shouldn’t ditch their studies and strong work ethic quite yet. Read the fine print above again. The key is learning “how to balance this with the need to keep a roof over your head.” You can’t be all play and no work, either. Like anything in life, balance is the key.

Here are five life hacks designed to help you balance your academic work and your social activities:

1. Being organized is critical. At work and at play, knowing where you’re supposed to be, when, and with whom is vital to not missing assignments or missing out on any of the fun. Being late, missing critical steps, or forgetting to return emails, phone calls, or texts, is a colossal waste of time—for you, your friends, and your instructors. With today’s smartphones and tablets, there is no excuse for not having your schedule at your fingertips wherever and whenever you need it. Check out Tom’s Guide to the best calendar apps for iOS and Android.

2. Get plenty of rest. Whether your day ahead is earmarked for work or play, you need plenty of rest to get the most out of whatever you do. Remind yourself, “Staying up late may be fun, but it doesn’t add to the time I have for fun or to be productive if I simply sleep most of the next day away.” The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per 24-hour period for young adults, aged 18-25. How does that compare to the four hours you got after cramming all night for an exam, or after you stayed up to the wee hours at your friend’s party? Interestingly, NPR recently reported that a study of the sleep habits of tens of thousands of students, ages 18-22, found that college students average between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night, which appears on track with the recommended amount. Of course, that’s an average—meaning there are many that sleep much less and many that sleep much more than that. Plus, keep in mind the quality of sleep matters, too: alcohol and caffeine intake can greatly affect how well rested you really are.

3. Make a list and write it down (or type it). Making a list is more than just a way to compensate for a shoddy memory. According to Fast Company, “Lists gel well with the brain’s cognitive penchant for categorization. They minimize choice and make it easy to process data.” This is sage advice for busy students trying to juggle academics, social activities, and work responsibilities. Making a list helps us wrap our minds around those things we need to get done that, when conceptualized in the mind, might seem ominous and overwhelming. Seeing items on paper (or computer screen) not only helps us make sense of the jumble, but allows us to see how completing one task can lead to the next, and so on—bringing much-needed order to our chaos. Plus, writing things down can help encode that information in our memories, improving recall.

4. Eat well, stay well. Adequate sleep is necessary for good health, but so are good nutrition and seeking medical care when you need it. Most school meal plans offer plenty of health choices and on-campus options—and there’s always the local grocer to keep your refrigerator stocked. If money’s an issue, pool resources with your roommates or classmates to make sure you have healthy choices (fruits, veggies) available to offset the inevitable fried foods, processed foods, and sweets that make up a good portion of the typical college diet. Check out this Buzz Feed article for tips and ideas. On the topic of staying well, chances are college students are still covered by their parents’ health plans—even away from home. In addition, most colleges have on-site student health centers that can help you get over that bad head cold, intestinal distress, or other minor ailment, or steer you in the right direction locally.

5. Keep you dorm room/apartment clean. This is not the part where we begin to nag about picking up after yourself (your parents have probably done enough of that already). This is where we discuss how important a clean room is to feeling good about yourself, doing good work, and being comfortable enough with your environment to invite friends over to study or socialize. Mom and Dad didn’t nag just to cause you distress. They were on to something. Check out this article from Shape on “How Cleaning and Organizing Can Improve Your Physical and Mental Health.”

As the parent of a college age student, or a student yourself, what life hacks do you have to share? What has worked to help you achieve balance between your school commitments and social activities?

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