There’s a certain irony in the fact that I’m writing this article in my pyjamas, having never gotten properly dressed, and only a few hours before the deadline. But haven’t we all been in a similar position? Occasionally for some, perhaps all of the time for others and never for a blessed few, work gets a little too much and we have to throw life in the bin. From writing this article and, ironically, as a result of writing things generally, my life’s been in the bin for a good three days now.
But how can we avoid this misery? Is it even possible to obtain the Holy Grail of student life: the coveted ‘work-life balance’? In this day and age, spoken aloud, the words slip easily from the tongue and linger in the air – ‘work-life balance’ – with the authority of a biblical tenant. But enough of filling the word count, what to do?
If you’re a person who likes to get involved in a lot of things at once, learn a lot in a short space of time or do nothing for a lot of time, the key to maintaining a ‘life’ is to get the ‘work’ down to a fine art.
First and foremost, organisation of said work is crucial. Buy a student planner, or download one on your phone, and use it. Studies have repeatedly shown: spending the time to plan your time maximises the efficiency of how you spend your time. Anecdotally, Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are all examples of extremely ‘busy’ and ‘successful’ people who plan their day to the hour. So, write down your official and personal deadlines, any times you’re required to be somewhere for something, and your activities like gym or sports training.
Buy a student planner, or download one on your phone, and use it.
Secondly, organise your environment. It makes for good cinema to picture geniuses surrounded by a mess of work, evidence of their mastery splattered about the desk, papers spilling out of every drawer and physics equations scribbled on the walls. Perhaps some truly successful people do live like this. But the reality is, an untidy working environment is a big hindrance to your productivity and life. Undoubtedly, an uncluttered environment produces an uncluttered mind.
But the reality is, an untidy working environment is a big hindrance to your productivity and life.
Once the organisation of your work and workspace is complete, it’s time to tackle the time spent working itself. How do we work with maximal productivity and, resultantly, the most remaining free-time possible?
Google has conducted numerous studies on this, and eventually implemented a rule in some of its offices that employees work fifty-two minutes followed by seventeen minute breaks. If you prefer to trust me over Google, I’ve found that working for one hour and fifteen minutes followed by fifteen minute breaks works well. Another working parameter I’ve tinkered with, though only when having to absorb information rather than produce work, is the Pomodoro technique.
Applying these methods according to the type of work you’re doing is also a helpful consideration.
Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the technique has you working for twenty-five minute bursts interspersed with five-minute breaks. After four sessions of work, you take an extended break of fifteen to thirty minutes. Ultimately, open a timer on your phone or watch and find out what parameters work best for you. Applying these methods according to the type of work you’re doing is also a helpful consideration. If writing, I tend to write until my mental energy lapses and I’m forced to stop, and that could be hours. But, if learning, trying to memorise something new, for instance, using a work parameter will probably be useful.
Ultimately, whether you are producing work, gaining knowledge or both, awareness of time is very helpful. When you sit down to begin a task, take note of the time and consult your planner to frame that work session in an understanding of how much time you have.
The work-life balance should fundamentally be a feedback loop. Sleeping well (above all), seeing friends, reading books, watching television or mindlessly scrolling through the internet are all necessary to recuperate your mental energy and for most also constitute ‘life.’
MAKE SURE YOU ARE WORKING ON THINGS YOU WANT TO WORK ON, HELPING PRODUCE THINGS YOU WANT TO PRODUCE.
Unless you follow Elon Musk’s advice. He says, to be successful at whatever you’re doing, one should aim to work ‘every waking moment,’ which isn’t particularly encouraging. Where’s the life in that? Well, this introduces my final piece of unqualified advice. Make sure you are working on things you want to work on, helping produce things you want to produce. The best work-life balance is surely only achieved when ‘work’ and ‘life’ become at least a little synonymous.