Surviving a Master’s Degree: Mastering the School/Life/Work Balance

By Deborah Tritt, M.L.I.S., M.S.I.T.

The decision to pursue a master’s degree can be a difficult one. Whether it is your first master’s degree in library science or your second master’s degree, there are inherent challenges in balancing all of life’s priorities. A master’s degree can provide an opportunity to achieve professional advancement, personal achievement and even the realization of a life-long passion. Though beneficial, obtaining a master’s degree while working as a library professional further complicates our efforts for a work / life balance with the addition of a third priority – school. As one who has survived not only one, but two master’s degrees, I can attest that with some good time management practices and creativity, you can succeed with only a few gray hairs.

Time is a critical consideration when balancing work, life, and school. Making time for you, your family, work, and school assignments is immensely challenging. While all elements are essential for a work/life/school balance, creating a schedule, balancing priorities and being proactive can help you stay on top.

Scheduling

The first step to getting a handle on your work/life/school balance is the creation of a master schedule. Within this schedule place all personal, work and school deadlines and obligations. A centralized dashboard of all your competing obligations will go a long way towards managing them. Google Calendar is an example of a great tool for coordinating your schedule as you can color code each time event.

Tip: create artificial deadlines for school assignments. The creation of deadlines for major projects and papers that precede the true deadline will help you align and balance your school priorities. Plug these fake deadlines into the master calendar and treat them as “real” deadlines. By getting things done ahead of time, you can help alleviate stress, avoid compromising the quality of your work product with rushed work and secure time for your personal and professional lives.

Balancing Priorities

Once everything is written down and scheduled, you must consider how you will balance and prioritize the scheduled activities within the reality of your daily routine. Scheduling goes a long way to help manage the addition of school into your life, but executing these great plans takes a daily conscious effort in order to provide balance.

So how can you add school work into your already busy life? Finding gaps in your day can be difficult, but through a creative assessment of your time, school work periods can be identified. Some examples of time for projects include:  

  • staying an extra hour at work 
  • working during your lunch hour
  • taking a vacation day / using a holiday 
  • getting up an hour early

It almost goes without saying that you will be burning the midnight oil and making sacrifices to accommodate your master’s degree program obligations into your life.  With this in mind, it is essential that you actively protect the other side of the sphere: your work and personal life.

Personal Life

Protecting the cherished time with our family and friends is challenging. For personal time, the biggest danger zone is the weekend. It can be tempting to push off school work during the week with the intention of a weekend dedicated to scholastic pursuits. This however is prime personal time. Making sure the weekends are a balance of life and school assignments is critical for a work/life/school balance. This can be accomplished by actually scheduling time for work as well as time for activities with friends and family  during the weekends After all, personal time can help reduce stress and provide opportunities for glorious laughter.

Work Life 

For many of us, the struggle in harmonizing our school and professional lives lies in balancing the weight of our responsibilities. Work and school are both heavily task-oriented, deadline-oriented and time consuming. To counterweight your academic obligations, consider carefully ways you can apply some moderation at work. This is in no way a recommendation you cut back on your core work duties, but you can, for example, serve on fewer committees or wait to publish that journal article. Finally, another method of balancing work and school is to design projects or papers that blend your work interests with your academic pursuits.

Proactive

While I am a pro at scheduling tasks and excellent at finding time for the tasks, what I struggle with is procrastination. Even the best intentioned plans somehow get side swiped by a Project Runway marathon, or an essential house cleaning. Because in my mind, everything has to be clean before writing the paper, right?

Procrastination is one of the greatest detriments to getting a handle on the work /life /school balance. Good time management efforts can easily erode with procrastination and this can have a negative domino effect on one’s attempt to maintain a balance. In the end, procrastination often causes stress and defeating procrastination is critical to maintaining a work / life / school balance.  In order to avoid the procrastination trap be proactive, follow your schedule, meet the fake deadlines, and get things done.

Making time for all the competing interests in your life while taking on a new time-consuming adventure requires hard work, dedication and determination. With a little creativity, time management and a conscious effort to get things done, you can find the time to successfully complete your master’s degree with your life still intact.

Deborah Tritt, M.L.I.S., M.S.I.T., is an Instruction/Reference Librarian – Assistant Professor at Gregg-Graniteville Library, University of South Carolina – Aiken.