How to Achieve Balance in University: A First Year Undergraduate Student Perspective
“Balance is not something you find, it is something you create.”
– Jana Kingsford
While it is extremely important to live a proactive life and to pursue your dreams, we often find ourselves stressed out by the fast approaching deadlines, commitments, activities and wonder if it is even possible to finish it all. However, even people with numerous achievements have the same number of hours in a day as any one of us. Accomplishing these dreams require determination and motivation; however, it can be detrimental to focus all of your energy on one goal and ignore all the other aspects of life. It is vital to create a balance by managing time well and following a schedule. This is the most important lesson I learnt from my first year at university.
I was extremely overwhelmed during my first semester of university, as there were major changes. In high school, I had a routine: attending school 8 am to 3 pm and then extracurricular activities during the evenings. This was not the case in university. My classes were scheduled at a different time every day. On Mondays, I might have an 8:30 morning class and finish my classes at 5:30 pm; on Wednesdays, I might start my classes at 12:30 pm and finish at 7:30 pm. Furthermore, I had inconsistent breaks in between classes. This lack of a routine resulted in me feeling overwhelmed as I was having trouble meeting deadlines and finishing all of the rigorous coursework. I did not know how to organize my day and every day felt like a new challenge. After feeling stressed out for the first couple of months, I re-evaluated my time management. I finally began to organize my time and to create a schedule to follow. This enabled me to feel more accomplished and helped me achieve more in the day.
In addition to my time management epiphany, I soon realized that my working and learning habits would have to change to accommodate the different teaching style and the tough coursework at university. Compared to high school, university is faster paced. Often, the same material in high school was reiterated through multiple assignments, quizzes, and tests. However, in university, you have to take initiative to review your coursework and to stay on task. After understanding these changes, I planned my studying to accommodate the academic demands of university. I also re-evaluated my learning style and tried to figure out the most efficient way to learn. For me, it was the most helpful to make schedules with assigned time limits and to set realistic expectations for the day. It was crucial that I studied every day and was caught up on my coursework. However, it is also necessary to avoid studying the entire day in the library. Snack breaks, exercise and other activities are essential. It is even more beneficial to insert these activities in between studying, as it will provide you with a break and reduce the chances of your being distracted during long studying sessions. Thus, the first step to a balanced life is expanding your horizons and accommodating other activities.
No matter how hectic your academic schedule is, it is vital to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating healthy, as well as getting an appropriate amount of exercise and sleep. When studying for exams, we often think that it is better to spend hours studying and preparing the night before instead of getting a good night’s sleep. However, a recent study published in Science explains the connection between memory and sleep. Your memory is improved if you study for a shorter period of time and sleep well, rather than if you study longer and late into the night and end up sleep deprived. (This is possible if you follow a schedule of daily review.) Often, sleep deprivation leads to lethargy and fatigue the next day, which can result in decreased productivity and an increased risk of health problems. Therefore, try to schedule time for sleep and healthy living every day.
Additionally, I would highly recommend that you take advantage of the wealth of opportunities that university offers. Each university has various clubs, organizations and activities that you can join. Through these channels, you can explore various interests, get help with your academic goals and become involved in the community. Also, these opportunities allow you to meet people with similar interests and to obtain new experiences.
While university can get hectic, you need to have time for yourself. This can be achieved through time management and organization. Attaining such a balance can help you avoid stress, while feeling more content and accomplished. The life balance wheel in the accompanying photograph is in no way supposed to overwhelm you. You should seek balance at your own pace and on your own terms. Since planning and proper time management takes experience, you should allot yourself the time to get accustomed to university. First year university is truly a learning experience!
 Yang G, Lai CSW, Cichon J, Ma L, Li W, Gan W-B. Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning. Science [Internet]. 2014 6 [cited 2014 June 28]; 344(6188):1173–8. Available from: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6188/1173
Image Credit: This About That