SWE Members Give Advice about Work/Life Balance to Students Interested in STEM
As a SWE member with a full-time job and many other commitments, how do you manage your time? Do you find it difficult to balance your work life with your home life with your extracurricular life?
At times, life can be overwhelming as a full time student who is working, studying, and doing extracurricular activities. However, I know that I would not be doing these things if I didn't care about them. To manage my time, I stay very organized, by utilizing a planner and checking it several times a day. This helps me stay balanced so I know what priorities I have each day. My days are long, but I surround myself with positive influences to keep me going. I am sure to give myself breaks when needed, and I don't spend too much time on one thing.
As far as balancing home/extracurricular and work/school, I find that I have a very healthy balance. I go to school in the same town that I grew up in, so home is close by. Whenever I am stressed about school, work, or other things I have going on, I will spend the evening at home and relax. Having this balance in my life allows me to be even more productive so I can be involved even more.
Personally through the years I have learned that it is easy to overcommit to activities especially if you have many passions. Invest in a weekly planner and schedule time for your passions such as exercise, painting, reading, volunteering, work and other commitments you have. Set daily goals at work or school - that way you know what you are accomplishing. If you finish early, leave "on time," because the next day you may have to work extra hours or all night. Embrace every free moment you have. Also, this is critical.. work will always be there. The first three years of my career, I worked on average 11 hours a day plus weekends trying to get ahead of the work, but the truth is there will always be another task. Prioritize what needs to be done first (closest deadline, critical projects for the company) then set a time that you will always leave work. There are some days that you will need to stay later, but if you know your deadlines and prioritize your tasks and leaving at a specific time everyday, you should be able to manage your time appropriately. I have learned that you can always find time for everything you love in life if you stay organized. I work a full time job, volunteer at least 25 hours a month, exercise on a daily basis (hike, swim, run), am a board member of local SWE section, bake ridiculous amounts of cookies, and still have quality time with my puppy, family and friends. Sometimes it is difficult and you feel overwhelmed with all the things in life that you may have committed to, but you need to learn your limits, learn how much you can and can not do, and how much downtime you need to keep you happy and healthy.
As a working mom to three boys, ages 10, 8, and 5, for me, this is a continuous battle! But it's a fight that is definitely worth fighting. I don't really like the word "balance" because it implies that you give equal weight to each element of your life. I have found that striving for a perfect balance is nearly impossible. What I try to do is focus on what is most important. I spend a few minutes each morning with my journal, and I write down the 3-5 most important things that I want to accomplish that day. I don't spend more than 5 minutes on this, I usually can do it while my boys are eating breakfast and I'm drinking my morning cup of coffee. Some days the list is full of work related items, other days the list is family focused. Most days, it is a mix of both! I've found that for me, focusing on what is really important helps me to prioritize the rest of my day around those key things. I don't always complete them all, but just thinking through what they are has really helped me to keep my priorities straight.
At first finding a balance between commitments can seem very overwhelming, but the biggest things that have helped me are organization and moderation (in that order). Organization for me consists of making physical lists on paper, in my phone, wherever is most convenient. The lists contain all the things that I need to do or want to do and any deadlines that go along with them. My lists have contained school assignments, work deadlines, chores, social activities, everything. Where moderation comes in is determining the priorities. While I may have a social activity I want to do, if my list is already stacked with things I have to complete in the same time frame then those come first. On the other hand, if I have a list of chores that need to be done but aren't an absolute necessity then the social activity could be placed at a higher priority. The true key to success is to figure out what works best for you and what you have the discipline and resources for. Another tip is to find an app - or write one! There are so many choices out there that make organization super easy and each has lots of different options so you can find what works best for you.
Initially, I would say find the things you truly enjoy doing and keep doing them. Never let work or school completely take over your life and never give up everything that you love. After saying that, there will be times when you have to focus more on work and cannot do other things that you want. It is definitely a balance that depends on the individual!
I am a full time engineer and also the outreach co-chair for our SWE section. I enjoy spending time with friends and family and exercising. There is definitely a lot on my plate. I find myself prioritizing my activities on a daily basis. Some days the house work will not get done because I choose to spend time with friends, and that is 100% ok. Other days I devote solely to work and SWE and I may have to pass on a social event. I think people believe they have to do everything and be perfect in order to be successful. That is not possible and setting that unrealistic expectation for yourself is not fair. Be patient with yourself and figure out what balance of activities works best for you!