How to Balance Work and School When You’re Just Too Busy

About three months ago, I started a part-time MA program. So, on top of working full-time, spending time with my husband, mentoring a young girl, and running this blog, I’m also a student. Let’s face it, I’m busy. I love my life and everything in it, but sometimes it’s hard to balance it all, and I know I’m not the only one doing this.

There are so many others out there who are also trying to balance work and school – whether it’s full-time school and part-time work or full-time work with part-time school. If that’s you, I’ve decided to share some of the ways that I’m learning to balance work and school, despite being incredibly busy.

How to Balance Work and School

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Know Your Priorities

I’m going to start by talking about priorities. Yuck, I know. Priorities are big and scary and yet sort of floofy and intangible. Am I right?

But we’re never going to make time for work and school and everything else if we don’t know what’s important. It’s too easy for the things that don’t matter to creep up and steal our time if we haven’t defined what does matter.

The five things I mentioned above are my priorities: husband, work, school, mentee, blog (in that order). I have to be clear about my priorities, because if I’m not, things easily get jumbled up and I spend too much time on things that matter less and not enough time on things that matter more.

For example, it is so easy for me to focus too much on work and the blog, and then my husband ends up only getting time with me at the end of the day when I’m tired and distracted. But as you can see, he’s my top priority. Nothing else matters if I’m not dedicating enough time to our marriage. #priorities (I’m not a hashtag person, but that seemed to fit.)

Think about everything in your life that you’re currently juggling and decide what matters most. Is work a higher priority than school or is school a higher priority than work?

Decide When You’ll Work on What

We each have a set number of hours each week, and I think we all know that when you don’t plan something, it doesn’t happen. The same is true for work and school.

Chances are, you have a set schedule for work, but not for school. You may have classes you need to attend at a certain time, but there’s also all those papers and tests to study for. So, generally, you go to work or class and then come home telling yourself that you’ll just watch one episode of your favorite show before starting your homework. Three episodes later, it’s time for bed and no schoolwork has been accomplished. (Yep, guilty.)

The key to balancing work and school is to know each week when you’ll focus on work and when you’ll focus on school.

For me, work is easy to schedule. I have set hours (for the most part), so there’s little flexibility. But for school I need to spend at least half an hour each workday and at least 5 hours each weekend. On workdays, that time is normally after dinner, and on weekends it’s Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. My husband also works on Wednesday evenings, so that time is distraction-free school time for me.

If you don’t have a set work schedule, you’ll also need to decide when you’re going to work. Depending on your priorities, try to schedule your most important priorities during times of peak performance, when you know you’ll be awake and productive.

Take some time right now to map out your week and identify the times that you’ll focus on each priority. Your “map” can be a pretty chart or something as simple as this:

Monday-Thursday: 8-5
Friday: 8-12

Monday-Thursday evenings
Friday afternoon
Saturday morning

Friday & Saturday evenings
Sunday afternoon & evening

Saturday afternoon

Friday afternoon
Saturday morning (after finishing schoolwork)

Make Time for What Matters

If you did the exercise above, but found it difficult to find time for each priority, it may be because some of your non-priorities are stealing your time. You need to take a good hard look at how you’re using your time and decide if it’s really important.

Can you not work on school on Wednesday evenings because that’s when your favorite show is on? Maybe you need to consider cutting out that show for the time being.

If it’s too difficult to cut out certain time-suckers, it’s important to recognize whether or not that activity is a priority. You might not be able to cut out your favorite show because that show is a priority for you. If that’s the case, that’s fine, but you should acknowledge that the show is actually a higher priority for you than school.

I know it’s difficult, but the reality is that we don’t have time for everything, so we have to decide what matters and then cut out other activities that don’t matter as much.

Related: How to Work Less and Get More Done

Know Your Deadlines

With both work and school, there are assignments. When you’re juggling too much, it can be easy to let those assignments slip out of your mind until you’re three days away from the deadline.

The best way to fail at balancing work and school is to forget about a major deadline and not remember until it’s too late.

Instead, make sure you know when everything is due by writing it down and keeping it visible. I do this with my bullet journal (which is a dotted Leuchtturm1917 that I adore),  but you can also use a calendar, EverNote, whiteboard… you name it. It doesn’t matter how you keep track as long it’s something you’re going to look at often so that nothing sneaks up on you.

Break Assignments into Weekly and Then Daily Tasks

Once you know what’s coming up, it’s time break down each assignment into weekly and then daily tasks.

Let’s start with weekly. Look at each assignment and decide how far in advance you need to start. Is it a 10 page paper? You’ll probably want to start at least two weeks in advance. Is it a research project? You may need to start months in advance.

After determining when you’ll start, break down the assignment into smaller tasks and decide which week you’ll do each task. Breaking it down ensures that your plan is realistic and allows you to adjust timing at the front end, instead of freaking out at the last minute because you didn’t give yourself enough time.

Now as you get to each week, you already know everything you need to accomplish. All you need to do is decide what day you’ll accomplish it. Again, if you don’t plan something, it doesn’t happen. So plan out when you’re going to do each task, then when you get to each day, you’ll just follow the plan. Easy peasy.

One Last Note

Okay, I know it’s not easy peasy. Learning how to balance work and school is hard. It’s something I’m still getting the hang of, but setting aside time for school has definitely become a more natural part of my routine over the last month or so. The important thing is to remember your priorities and learn to balance work and school with everything else in your life. You’ve got this!

How To Balance Work and School When You're Just Too Busy


  • April Chagoya

    Hi there!
    Thank you so much for your input in how to schedule everything. I’m heading into my first quarter as a new grad student and with this pandemic messing with my plans I’m trying to figure out how to schedule work, commuting, school and my family. Thank you for not saying it’s going to be easy, it’s been making me feel so much better. I just hope to learn and make changes along the way. I hope everything is going well for you!

  • Tina Siuagan

    These tips are spot on, Mikaela. I so can relate. As a working law student myself, I know how daunting it is to strike a balance between office work and school/readings. Apart from time management, you just have to have the DETERMINATION to keep going. After all, we all want our goals achieved. So, if it means working longer and extra, we just gotta deal with it. 🙂

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