Working and Studying: How to Balance the Two in a Pandemic

By Jessica Larson,

People juggle work and school for a variety of reasons. Maybe you started back to school while you’re still working, to study for a new career or gain new skills. (You might have figured out you’re in the wrong job.) Or you got a job to put yourself through school. Or maybe you’re doing an internship. Whatever the reason, the pandemic probably threw your balancing act for a loop.

Thankfully, even now, you don’t need to put everything on hold. You just need to adjust your approach. If you’re working and studying remotely, you’ve actually got an advantage: You can do it all from the comfort of your home, in front of your own computer, even in your jammies if you like (as long as you’re not on a Zoom call, that is).

But you’ll have to do a few things to make sure it all works seamlessly — or at least with fewer seams — moving forward. Here are some steps to take that should help:

Get in your comfort zone

The more comfortable you are mentally and physically while you’re working, the less distracted you’ll be. So set up a home office that emphasizes warmth, convenience, and self-expression.

Start with an ergonomic workstation tailored to fit your needs. Find a mouse that fits well in your hand, to avoid wrist fatigue. Set up your monitor so it’s slightly below eye level, and your chair so your back stays straight and your feet are flat on the floor.

Create an emotionally welcoming place, too, so you’ll want to come to work. Add plants, family photos, or your favorite knick-knacks. Burn a scented candle, hang a favorite piece of artwork, keep the lighting warm. There’s no reason work has to feel like a torture chamber — and since you’re not stuck in an office or classroom, you’ve got more freedom to be creative.

Set up a schedule

It’s easy to feel stressed if you’re going to school and working at the same time, especially with the employment picture more uncertain than ever. The pandemic has created employment gaps for some and increased worries for others.

If you let school get in the way of your work, you may not have a job; but if you let work interfere with your education, you may be stuck where you are long-term. The best way to avoid or minimize such conflicts is to set up a schedule. Apps are available for school and for work, including some that blend facets of both.

Start each day with definite, achievable goals, so you can stay focused without feeling overwhelmed. And log off once you’re done: Avoid the temptation to keep working into the wee hours of the morning unless it’s absolutely necessary. (Procrastination is the enemy, and cramming for a test doesn’t work as well as being truly prepared.)

You’ll be pressed for time most of the time, but don’t forget to set aside a few hours to decompress. Find time to exercise, and set up a regular sleep schedule, too. If you get run down and start feeling under the weather, you won’t be able to give your all to either your work or your studies.

Know where you’re going

With some campuses open for limited on-site classes, it’s a good idea to know where you’re going. Spending a lot of time getting to and from classes, or being late, is the last thing you need when you’re trying to cram work and school into 24 hours. 

If you can find a floor plan of your campus, it’ll keep you from wasting precious minutes by helping you find the most direct routes between classes. (This logistical info also can help you predict and avoid the spots likely to be crowded with people as you move from class to class.)

While you’re at it, download a traffic app that includes alerts about accidents and road closures to save you time on the road. Many even include fast-food locations, so you know where to stop and grab a bite or cup of coffee at a drive-through on your way.

Don’t get swallowed up by the computer

If you’re both working and studying online, it might start to feel like you’re wired to the computer after a while. Take regular breaks to relieve the physical fatigue (everyone gets sore after sitting for too long), eye strain, and mental wear that comes with spending long stretches of time in front of a screen. Stand up and stretch, take deep breaths, drink a full glass of water.

Once school and work are done for the day, take a break from the computer — and from electronic devices altogether, if you can. Go for a walk instead of playing a video game. Enjoy some family time instead of watching TV. Read a book and listen to some tunes instead of scrolling the web.

Studying and working at the same time will never be easy, but it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge. The more you plan ahead, know where you’re going, and look after yourself, the better equipped you’ll be to excel at your job and achieve your educational goals — even during a pandemic.

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