Last month, Alaska Sleep Clinic provided a blog focused on balancing sleep with graduate school. A lot of helpful information was provided to think about when thinking about going back to school. But this blog serves a different purpose to give a first person account of life in graduate school.
There are many families balancing kids, work, church, and extracurricular activities. It also extends to volunteering, housework, and exercise. Each is hard to fill in a 24 hour day. Throw in graduate school and life gets over complicated really fast.
Personally, I earned my master’s degree with a two-year-old and a six-year-old at home while working full time. I do not say this to brag, but I often discuss it with other friends going back to school that they can balance it all.
Now that I am back in school earning my doctorate, the process starts again with a six-year-old and 10-year-old at home with more activities than before and a new career teaching on faculty.
Here are tips I learned along the way to make certain school, work, life, and health are balanced well.
- Meal plans:
Like any organizational effort within a family, meal planning is vital to staying healthy and to saving time. With online grocery delivery or store pickup, meal planning is improving. There are apps with grocery lists loaded and apps to build recipes into your personal calendar. Freezer meal preparation was another avenue I started to take a half day, cook ahead of time, and freeze meals. It then turned into freezer meal parties with about five friends from the area who also were full time working moms in graduate school. Those four to five hours would create at least a month of meals saving time after a long day of work to prepare a healthy family meal. It also saves you money by planning meals and avoiding fast food after a rough day.
- Family Time:
Mark family time on your calendar or it will be swallowed up with homework. Make it a point to go out on dates with your spouse, go to the park with your kids, and plan family days around your homework schedule. It looks different for every family but no homework came out until the kids were tucked in bed. On Friday nights, I tackled homework so Saturdays and Sundays were free for my family.
- Maid Service:
I am a neat freak so I am meticulous about keeping a clean house. Or at least relatively clean. I finally gave up on my least favorite chore: bathrooms. About every 10 days, I schedule a maid service to come and clean my bathrooms. The cost is minimal since it is only for one service and saves me two hours each week. And to be honest it stays cleaner for longer and includes mopping and scrubbing tubs that I normally neglect.
- Lunch Breaks:
Get out of the office for awhile and take your textbook to someplace quiet. I would even close my door and put a note up that I was taking the hour to do homework. Those one hour blocks added up to more quality time at home and less time on email in the evening hours. Once a week I would make certain to take a walk or move around but for the most part, my weekdays were spent breaking up work with homework.
How can you build in exercise to an already full 24-hour day? For me, it was on my lunch hour when homework was light. During nice weather, it was evening walks with my family. When I had the chance, it was group workouts to stay accountable once to twice a week. Don’t misread that I am an exercise nut. I am not but I found that I slept and ate better when I would exercise. It also would help clear my mind for homework and projects.
- Saying No:
The hardest part about adding another task to your already busy day is saying no. And I had to say no a lot. I said no to hanging out with friends and dates with my husband on Friday nights. I said no to half day trips to the park or mini golf with the family to have some quiet time at home. I said no to expensive vacations to save money for books and to trade a beach for homework. But saying no helps keep you less stressed. If you are committing to graduate school, it needs to hold your attention after your family and career.
Time for yourself is equally important as time with your kids and spouse. Find what helps you relax and schedule time for it. For me, it was pedicures and massages. I would rotate depending on the season since snowy weather did not warrant pretty toes. But do not skip the time for anything else. That one hour away from work, homework, and stress will help you recharge.
- Accepting Help:
The hardest part of being a mom in graduate school was accepting help from others. My best friend would pick up my kids for an hour to play at the park. My husband cleaned up after dinner more times than I can count so I could unwind a bit with the kids. My coworkers gave me my lunch hour or reminded me to work on homework since they knew it was my tendency to work through lunch. Wherever it comes from, accept help. I am an independent person but once I accepted help from family and friends, it helped alleviate the stress of everything piling up.
It sounds crazy, but keep on a consistent sleep schedule. I am a night owl so Friday nights were my go-to study and homework night. But I also made sure to sleep in on Saturday and always had the full support of my husband. Without proper sleep, your work, home, and school life suffers.
Wherever you fall, make certain you weigh all the pros and cons to starting graduate school. No matter the length of the program, online or in the classroom, or what degree program, your life is going to change. Prioritizing your commitments will help the transition and school work go smoother.
Maybe you had some issues prior to rejoining the college-paced, daily grind and had issues with insomnia, snoring, or restless nights that have become a vicious cycle affecting your studies.
If you fall into this category, contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic. Free consultations are available and help is a quick phone call away.