Juggling school and work is tough – doing so with school and a business is tougher still. In that situation, you can never have too many tips on how to handle. Ellie Martin gave us 20.
From Facebook and Napster to WordPress, some of the most powerful and influential companies were started by students in their dorms. It’s no secret that university campuses are a hotbed for innovation, invention, and dreaming up the impossible, and these companies demonstrate that these ideas often transcend the dorm room to transform the business world outside it.
Managing both school work and business work can be a tough juggling act though, and oftentimes, great business ideas are set aside or abandoned because students fear they can’t balance both at once. Here are twenty tricks to make that balance more manageable:
1 – Clarify your priorities
Know what your short-term and long-term goals are and always be working to achieve them. Why are you working on the business now and not after graduating? What do you value about being in school right now that makes you not take time off? Keep your answers to these questions in mind so that when you have to make trade-offs and sacrifices down the road, you don’t lose sight of your end game.
2 – Choose the right classes
Before you committed yourself to running a business, you may have signed up for the maximum number of course credits you could for the semester. That’s very likely not going to work out with anymore. Be aware of your limitations when choosing courses, and if possible, take classes that will help you with your business.
3 – Know what makes you tick
Are you most productive in the morning or do you consider yourself a night owl? Does this change depending on the type of project you’re working on? Do you benefit more from hunkering down in a library or do you feed off of the external stimulation of a coffee shop? Does switching location or task every few hours keep you energized or do the transitions disrupt your workflow?
It doesn’t matter how you answer these questions, but it does matter if you know your answers to them and let that direct how you spend your time in order to increase your efficiency.
4 – Make a daily plan of attack
Whether you decide you’re better at ploughing through a project from start until finish or working in spurts, clearly establish your goals for the day and stick to them. Creating lists is a good way to keep focused and organized, plus it can also give you a sense of satisfaction when you know you’ve completed a task.
5 – Focus on the most important tasks first
Know which of your tasks are most important and hit those first, and hit them hard. Other things may come up later in the day that could throw you off, so the earlier you get the important stuff done the better.
6 – Look ahead
As important as it is to keep a daily to-do list, it is equally important to see what is coming ahead.
At most universities, academic work ebbs and flows in terms of a course’s demands and stresses. One week may be pretty slow, the next you may be firing on all cylinders with four exams and three essays to boot. You have to keep a strong command of your schedule, and do your best to manage your school and business stresses so they don’t all converge together in one totally hellish week.
7 – Take breaks
When you need to freshen things up, don’t just switch from a school project to a work project and back again. While it may not seem like you have much “you” time to spare, that might actually be the key to keeping you on track. Whether it be getting some fresh air with friends or sweating in the gym, don’t forget to take care of yourself. In order to avoid burnout, you need to actively build time into your day for recuperation and rejuvenation.
8 – Focus exclusively on the task at hand
Once you’ve sat down to work on business-related tasks, stick to the plan. Don’t check your school email and turn off notifications about study group meet-ups or upcoming class assignments. Be fully plugged into your business work. It’s less likely you’ll be able turn off your business-side in the classroom, but as best as you can, you should try and separate the two.
9 – Give yourself time-limits
Creating a sense of urgency can work wonders for productivity. Challenge yourself to complete a task in a short period – set an alarm and see if you can beat it. Toptal co-founders Breanden Beneschott and Taso Du Val constantly psyched themselves up in Breanden’s Princeton dorm room by renaming the space the “pressure cooker.” If you’re tired after a long day of classes, these motivations can help you keep grinding.
10 – Use the classroom to build your business
Opt into courses or extracurriculars that help you run your business more effectively, or complement it by making you think in new ways. You can do this by taking classes that are directly related to your business or by enrolling in a class that focuses on the psychology of business leadership, for example.
11 – Capitalize on your student access
As a student, you are given free access to a plethora of online resources and support networks, not to mention heavily discounted deals on student software. You should also be able to find reliable free WiFi and conference rooms across the campus. Put your tuition dollars to their best use by taking full advantage of these incredible resources in every way they can help you.
12 – Build strong relationships
What is a University if not a place to host the exchange of ideas? Your campus may have the highest brain-power per square foot ratio you’ll ever encounter. Reach out to professors and other students for guidance and collaboration.
13 – Hire students
For most students, college presents a lot of downtime. What that means for you is access to a lot of smart and eager potential recruits. If you need some extra help, look around your class and see if one or two of the highest achievers are looking to make some extra pocket change. AJ Forsythe and Anthony Martin founded iCracked while in school at CalPoly and UC Santa Barbara. They used their campuses not only to find their first customers (who breaks more iPhones than college kids?) but they also hired dozens of fellow students to get the company up and running.
14 – Maintain good health
You’re playing the long game with both your business and education. Don’t mess it up in the short-term. Sleep matters; exercise matters; seeing friends matters. These will all help you stay healthy and, as a result, productive.
15 – Unplug every once in a while
From lecture to homework to drafting business proposals, you’re going to feel chained to your computer. When the time comes to hit the sack, don’t bring your screens with you. Don’t let a text in the middle of the night interupt your few hours of shut-eye.
16 – Cut out the unnecessary
Where do you lose most of your time? Surfing Facebook? Playing on your smartphone? Chatting in the dining hall? Does one Netflix episode quickly turn into three? Set rules for yourself when it comes to these time-sucks. If you can’t stick to them, download productivity software to help you enforce those changes.
17 – Say “no.”
If friends ask you to go for a beer and you really cannot spare the time, just say “no” and don’t waste any time feeling bad about it. If they really are your friends, they’ll know you’ve got a ton on your plate, and they’ll ask again another time. If they don’t understand, then maybe you need to reevaluate who you’re spending your time with.
18 – Keep in touch with your support system.
Your family and friends want to help you. You need contact with them to keep a healthy perspective and to stay sane. Call your mom!
19 – Be grateful.
Research shows that people who write down what they are grateful for are actually more productive than people who don’t. Being grateful will help you to stay calm under pressure, manage your stress, and find creative solutions.
20 – Check up on yourself.
Always check in with yourself about the trade-offs you’re making. If you’re prioritizing your business to the point that you’ve stopped going to class, it’s time to ask yourself if you really are finding balance. If the business is taking up all of your time, see if there are ways you can make changes. If not, maybe consider taking a leave of absence. It’ll be much more advantageous to your professional and educational development if you take time off from your degree than to coast through the semester without getting the full benefits of the courses you’re taking.
Ellie Martin has been in the marketing business since 1999. Her works have been featured on Yahoo! , Wisebread and AOL among others. She currently splits her time between her home office in New York and Israel.