Ask Dr. P. | Work-Life Balance

Ask Dr. P.


How can I balance school with a social life?


A personal/social life is a necessity, not a luxury. While getting good grades is vital to your academic success, taking care of the rest of you is essential to your overall well-being and happiness. Running at full speed for long periods of time creates stress, but slowing down at times to enjoy the people and activities around you is the best antidote to burnout and depression.

Some time management and study skill principles can be very useful in juggling your school and personal worlds:


Schedule breaks

The most productive people around you know how to fit a myriad of rewarding activities into their busy schedules, and they do so by scheduling their lives to some degree. From my own personal experience, I know the value of a semi-scheduled life. When I was at my busiest with deadlines galore, I was able to survive with some life-sustaining breaks in the work routine. At the very least, I managed to save Saturdays for exercise and social activities, such as playing tennis and outings with friends in the evenings. Without those welcome breaks, I would never have made it through challenging times.


Study two hours for every hour in class

With respect to your academic world, the basic rule of two hours of study time for every class hour is still a good one. That means if you have 15 hours of classes, you should plan on an additional 30 hours of study time per week. Try to schedule study time for the same class at the same time each week so that you can develop habits around studying (habits are much easier to deal with because you’re on automatic pilot and don’t have to wrestle with yourself about when to study). It’s a wise idea to schedule about 2 hours to work on writing a paper, about one hour for reading a chapter, and much shorter periods (15- 20 minutes) for memorizing material.


Memory aids: meaningfulness, organization, and repetition

Keep in mind that you can remember better the material you are learning if the information is meaningful, organized, and repeated. To make it meaningful, you need to try and understand what you are studying and relate it to material you’ve already learned. Organization also helps; creating an outline or numbering some of the items will aid in retention. Because of all the memorizing involved in anatomy courses, medical students often rely on rhymes and other memory devices to make it easier to remember all parts of the human body.



In addition, remember that sleep is a key component of memory. Sleep is a critical element in the coding of material from short-term memory into long-term storage in your brain. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll lose it, that is, you’re more likely to forget what you studied so hard to learn.


Effective reading

In reading a chapter, the Survey Q3R method can be very helpful.

SURVEY relates to looking over the chapter (what are the headings?; are there questions at the end?) to see how the chapter is organized.

Q deals with QUESTIONS, that is, asking yourself questions about the material so that you get more involved in the information.

The first R relates to READ, that is, reading the chapter to answer your own questions, the second R deals with RESTATE or rephrasing the answers in your own words, and the third R means REVIEW.

All of these steps are designed to increase your learning of the chapter materials. If you like to highlight with a yellow marker, don’t do a lot of highlighting because it will make it harder for anything to stand out.


Organized writing

Before starting to write a paper, the best thing to do is create an outline and jot down points you want to include under the appropriate headings. That way, you will have an organizational scheme beforehand to aid you in writing a logical and coherent paper rather than a rambling one.


Personal/social time

If you figure that you have 168 hours in a week (24 hours/day), 49 of which you devote to sleep (7 hours/night), 45 to classroom attendance and studying (15 credit hours + 2 hours study time per credit hour), and 42 hours to meals, showers, laundry, and walking to and from classes, that leaves 32 hours for your personal/social life, which can be divided into a few large chunks and some smaller ones.

You can figure out your schedule any way you choose, as long as you utilize the 32 hours or thereabouts for your personal and social needs. For example, Saturdays could be your break day away from schoolwork, in which you fit in your exercising and time to socialize with friends. Or, you may prefer to take a few afternoons or evenings away from the hard work of studying. If you don’t like to over-schedule yourself, you may want to consider giving yourself periods of “free time,” that you use in whichever way the spirit moves you.

If you need to have a part-time job, the allotted time for your social life, unfortunately, will be reduced. Nevertheless, use whatever time is available to socialize and/or engage in non-school related activities.

Remember that taking time to pursue whatever restores your energy and motivation is absolutely necessary for your mental health!


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

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