Workingmums.co.uk reported recently that over 40 per cent of female students from top universities in the UK are already worried about how they will balance work and a family in the future. A recent study at Clemson University in the US has also found that many students are struggling to cope with workloads, having to plan and execute complicated schedules in order to meet their demanding deadlines and maintain a healthy lifestyle – something that proves extra difficult for the students who are also parents.
The study asked students to describe their day to day activities and tasks and how they keep on top of all of these. The students who were parents – many of whom are mothers – all told similar stories of how they had to have very regimented schedules, with very specific time deadlines, otherwise they would miss out on valuable time with their families.
One post-graduate student described her routine: “I usually drop my daughter off at school and get here around 8am – maybe 8:15am – and I try to keep up with class readings and I’m teaching a course, so I’m trying to keep up with plans and grading. I have one course where I meet on Monday evenings around 5:00pm and then I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 to 12:15. Usually mornings are pretty crammed.
“I go to lunch with friends (other doc students) for about an hour or so. Then I come back and work on papers or try to get stuff done for my research assistantships for my professors. So basically from 8:00 to 12:00 [I’m] really busy, then lunch, then from 12:00 to 5:00 [I’m] really busy.”
There is a clear recurring theme in the study: students have a huge amount of work to do every day. The students explained in detail how they calculate each specific task – a necessity in meeting deadlines as a parent and a student – and there was one common piece of simple advice: plan all available time in as much detail as possible and make sure to see friends and pursue hobbies.
So how should students manage their time and workload? How should things be structured to create the social, non-work time that’s so important to wellbeing? Two experts and the Student Support team at Mont Rose College give their views.
Coach James Bergeron says: “Chronic stress is the major factor which affects many students, business owners and executives, even though they may not aware of it – until it’s too late.
The human body is such an amazing piece of machinery, more complex than any computer available on the planet, yet we abuse it daily and still expect it to perform at the highest level for 60-70-80 years or more. Having a healthy work/life balance, whether it’s at college or at the top of commerce, is still vital for any sort of quality of life.”
He recommends four simple ways to have a healthier work/life balance:
Reduce sugar intake generally, and cut down on fizzy drinks – especially diet drinks – as most of them contain chemicals which have been shown to be affect the brain and concentration. If you’re thirsty, he recommends drinking water instead.
Take breaks, even short ones. He says it has been shown that short breaks, even for five minutes, can help break up the pattern and damage of stress.
According to Bergeron, writing helps relax the mind and allows us to develop new thoughts about challenges, possibilities and dreams. He says that without these we can get stuck in a negative routine or rut which becomes part of our way of thinking.
Bergeron says this has been shown to reduce chronic stress and improve mental and physical health.
Life coach Rasheed Ogunlaru says life should not be all work, work, work through a course or in the workplace. The secret, he says, is to ensure you balance all this with:
Make sure you take time where you can rest, relax, think and be. That means ensuring that you get the sleep and balanced diet and exercise you need and that you have time to enjoy your own company.
He recommends putting this time in your phone, diary or tablet so that it actually happens. He says it may be that you need to blend meeting in person or by phone or online at differing times based on your/their work, study and life.
Find time for hobbies, interests, pastime, gym, walking, dancing, skating, painting, reading. According to Ogunlaru, these things are often a great way or relaxing, but also to become inspired and re-energised.
The Student Support team at Mont Rose College of Management and Sciences in London provides extensive advice on work life balance to students. They say the key to a good work/life balance is communication: with yourself and others.
They recommend being honest with yourself and your limitations and working on improving these areas. They say: “If you ever feel like work may be too much take a step back and, if it’s really too much, try talking to a dedicated counsellor; struggling in silence will only make things worse. As a parent it’s vital that you communicate your concerns with your partner, and most importantly, don’t take your stress out on your children.”
They suggest making sure that you create the time to spend time with your loved ones. They say: “You’ll hear this time and time again and that’s because this really is one of the most important things you can do. Plan weekends together whenever possible, and if you’re very busy in the evening maybe make a family activity out of ordering takeaway.”
More information from Mont Rose College is available here.