By: Viktoriya Kuzmanova
It was around 170 years ago when Abraham Lincoln famously said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Following a similar, yet more specific train of thoughts, somewhere in 2005, Stephen Covey introduced the concept of “sharpening the saw” in his famous book The 7 Habits of Successful People as a means to convey how important self-care is for every individual. Putting effort into maintaining the four dimensions of one’s being — the body, the mind, the heart (in simple terms, emotions), and the spirit — Covey said — was one of the important steps to self-actualization and success. But turning the theoretical basis for success into reality can be quite hard — especially in this limbo-like period of life when you are both at university and working, trying to strike a balance between being sociable, learning, and mastering not only work-related skills but also self-love as you go.
Having spent five out of my eight semesters at university while balancing my job have taught me that time management can be both your best friend and your biggest enemy, depending on how serious you are about it. So, in the spirit of January resolutions, I decided to prepare a list of tips and tricks for properly managing your time that really worked for me. Throughout this article, I also point out some handy platforms and templates you could use, so bear with me and embrace the spirit of #LaFamiliaX!
Normalise keeping track of time
Have you ever found yourself in this dreamy state where you spend double the time you normally would to complete a particular task? Consciously keeping track of time as you progress with whatever you are supposed to do was one of the best remedies that helped me minimise the damage of dreaminess. It, however, comes at the cost of carefully calculating the hours during which you can be flexible for every day of your working week.
To create my schedule, I usually rely on what I call “Macro planning” where I map out what the next couple of months look like for me, after which I break down every month of my schedule into several weekly planning sections, followed by a day-to-day planning list. The best thing to do, at least in my opinion, is keep all the plans into one place, either your notebook/planner, or an online platform, such as the Microsoft 365 OneNote application.
I allocate around 1 hour to build the basic structure of my planning documents at the beginning of each 4-month period. Afterwards, I spend around 30 minutes at the beginning of the week to do my detailed weekly planning and briefly sketch my daily tasks during the week. The workflow I follow when doing my plan is the following:
- Start off by including all the assignment and project deadlines and adding my exam dates. If you are to do it, use a different pen colour and highlight just to make sure that once the box gets crowded, those dates will be visible.
- Write in the blocks during my week when I am 100% sure I will be busy. In my case, this includes lectures, regular planning meetings for work, as well as the club meetings I have throughout the week.
- Write in the smaller tasks that I have looser deadlines for — i.e. I know that I have to brainstorm a marketing concept for an event at work on Wednesday at 5 pm, so I write down a 30-minute slot for brainstorming in the morning of this day whenever it fits the schedule.
- Allocate blocks of time for the different work or uni-related projects you will have throughout the semester. And stick to the slots — find a comfortable place to unleash your creativity and don’t get distracted as this will lead to “unexpected” timeline changes.
- Write in all the self-care rituals that I want to do during that week — this includes anything from gym time, through coaching sessions, my manicure appointment, and even having my meals. You can come up with quotas for the particular week that you are planning to fulfil and write them down on the right of your planning paper/add a comment — for example, if I want to go to the gym four times per week, I materialise my “want” on my planning paper and once I am ready with the rest of the schedule, I look for a plausible slot/slots.
- Plan your social activities — yes, you ending up in Under on a Thursday night can for sure be accidental but there are a lot of other social activities that you can plan in advance and write down, so that you don’t forget them. In the past, what often happened to me was to meet a friend from my pre-working period, agree to meet “next Tuesday” and never proceed to choose a slot and reconnect afterwards. What I advise you is to always use the SMART criteria for setting up those meetings — “Let’s meet on Tuesday at 7:30 and walk to Noar for dinner,” is a plan much more likely to happen, especially when written down in your planner.
Embracing self-respect to strike the Work/Uni/Life balance
Starting off with a simplified set of steps such as the one I shared is important but so is respecting your limits. Oftentimes, students who work aren’t realistic about calculating their time. While working four hours per day and spending the other 4 going to lectures is the perfect plan at a first glance, as soon as midterm week approaches, panic arises. Here are some tips to prevent that:
- Be open about your journey.
Communicate the fact that you are both working and studying with your manager and colleagues, as well as with people from college — students, professors, assistants, etc. When it comes to work, your manager is the first you need to talk to to present your schedule and possibly plan in advance some days off to use during midterm week and final week. At approximately the same time you send your schedule to your manager you should also send it out to the people you work in a team with — the ones that will cover you up if something urgent comes up. Be honest about lectures and block your working calendar during the time you will be out of work. Also, negotiating for a flexible working time is always a conversation you need to have with your team — people are more understanding than you think, so don’t be shy.
2. Learn to ask for help or extra time for finishing a task.
Let’s face it — your employer already knows that you are both working and studying and, ideally (if you explained your priorities and schedule) that you won’t be available all the time. Working and studying is a long marathon during which tactical planning can come in handy when you are calculating your workload. Most people my age don’t do that and they end up working at 12 pm, trying to catch up but also risking burnout. There is an important conclusion you need to come to: overworking yourself will only lead to poor performance and losses both for you and your manager. In simple words, just don’t. If you happen to need more time for a particular task, explain the reason behind your manager. The better thing to do is clarify in what ways a project delay will benefit the project itself — are you going to have more time for research, clarification, or customer validation? As soon as you clear out the answer to this question, you are good to try negotiating for an extension. If you use a proper planning scheme where you also include the time you need to finish a task, the chances of you needing an extension on a daily basis are low. It’s magic!
3. Take time to rest during this marathon
Repeat after me: resting == productivity. No matter how busy your schedule is, find time to rest and perform any physical and mental activities you enjoy. Here’s a list of things that can actually help refresh your mind in between meetings, lectures, and projects:
- A short walk — be it from your dormitory to the canteen, the library, or even the park between lectures.
- Light gym exercises — at least a couple of times per week, the dopamine boost is guaranteed.
- Group sports — now is the time to take one or two evenings off to finally learn some national folk dances, jujitsu, Zumba classes, anything.
- A short coffee break — go find someone in the cafe and reconnect.
- Nights out — as mentioned before, schedule them in advance, take the time to prepare yourself and look like an actual human being again.
- Wine and movies/board games in Skapto — my personal favourite.
- Theatre or cinema nights — what a better way to spend a small portion of your salary for a cultural experience.
- Drawing, sewing, reading, building lego sets — those are very relaxing, especially when you are too tired to move outside of your room.
My go-to list of free softwares/websites for planning:
- If you love to plan with pen and paper, Canva has a handful of cool templates you can print out and use (Pro tip: make sure to edit the template of choice to make the writing space wider)
- If you have a Google Account, Google Calendar is quite user-friendly for putting recurring events that are part of your schedule. I have also used Google Documents and Google Sheets for my daily task planning, as well as to brainstorm ideas regarding different campaigns I did at work.
- Calendly — Definitely not as widespread as Google Calendar, Calendly is a great scheduling automation platform that helps you set up your meetings calendar in a quick and easy way — you just have to select the time slots where you will be available for a meeting and forward your unique calendar to anyone that would like to book a meeting with you, which is great for people with busy schedules. Here’s a tutorial.
- ClickUp — while drafting this article, I came across this super intuitive free daily planner app. The way the app’s calendar looked, allowing you to see your schedule in several different layouts grabbed my attention the most, plus that it allows one to create several different schedules, according to the different fields they operate in (i.e. you can have a work calendar and a school calendar in two separate pages)
- Notion — a.k.a. my new obsession, Notion is a productivity and note-taking web application that contains hundreds of templates which were pre-made for one to personalise to fit their own planning schedule. Apart from planning, the application is also good for keeping track of your notes and creating lists of tasks. Here is how my “Reading list” template looks — I get the freedom to add or change the assigned reading texts and open each one in a subsheet where I can take notes, add photos, videos, and more:
- Todoist — to iOS users, this application would look like a balanced combination between Apple’s Notes and Reminder apps but the to-do lists look quite well and the app has a lot of options like organising your daily tasks into subtasks, prioritising tasks, and sharing lists of activities to be done with your team.
That’s all! I hope you enjoyed this article and took one or two go-to tips that you can use to slay both work and uni! Stay #exciTED and follow TEDxAUBG on social so that you don’t miss all the awesome events that are yet to come!
About the author: Viktoria Kuzmanova is a senior-standing student at the American University in Bulgaria, majoring in Business Administration and Political Science and International Relations. She has been a member of TEDxAUBG since her freshman year and currently is the Vice President of the club, responsible for leading the Speakers department. During her academic journey, she has worked as a journalist, marketing campaign manager, content creator, and social media specialist.