Is School/Work-Life Balance Possible?

Professor provides five tips to help students juggle competing priorities.

Laurel McNall, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at SUNY Brockport, says that according to multiple surveys, a majority of people report a desire for better work-life balance yet find it difficult to achieve.

This also applies to students, who are commonly involved with juggling multiple roles such as a student, employee, family member, athlete, etc. In fact, 70 percent of full-time college students now work.

McNall conducted a research study that surveyed working professionals before and during the COVID-19 pandemic and found that “achieving work-life balance is not about maintaining equilibrium. Instead, it’s our appraisal of time, accomplishments, relationships, and well-being that we derive from our valued life roles, which will be as unique as we are,” she said.

“Even though the pandemic dramatically changed where and how most of us work, participants consistently reported similar ‘at their best’ strategies before and during the pandemic,” according to her research.

Essentially, don’t strive for a perfect balance between work and life. Instead strive to find better ways to navigate all of your various roles.

Five Ways to be your Best Self While Working


Good Time Management

Participants perceived they are at their best when they have time to plan, prepare, and organize for their week ahead. They felt at their worst when something unexpected comes up, which requires playing catch-up and putting out fires.

Students should practice developing time management skills, because time is our most valuable and limited resource. However, when we fail to manage our time, remember to practice self-compassion when tasks don’t get done. Do this by being present in the moment without judgment, offer the same level of kindness that that you would extend to a loved one, and remember our common humanity (i.e., no one is perfect).


Make Boundaries

Participants reported effective boundaries were critical for allowing them to focus and be fully present in one role at a time. Individuals should determine, reflect and make adjustments to their boundary preferences. When you’re at school, focus on school work. When you’re at work, focus on work.

But remember that one size does not fit all, and each person needs to decide how to set boundaries in a way that helps them meet their work and life goals.


Be Motivated by Progress

Participants consistently reported a sense of accomplishment when they were at their best, and research supports progress as one of the most important ingredients for motivation. By noticing someone’s progress, a person can feel like their contributions are valued. In return they may have a boosted perception of competence.


Keep Relationships Supportive

Before the pandemic, participants frequently indicated they were at their best when their relationships were going well, yet this was less commonly mentioned one year into the pandemic (perhaps due to remote work and social distancing).

Research suggests that a culture of support can be essential to feeling at your best.

People are encouraged to re-establish or create new social bonds.

Plus, college is a great opportunity for students to find their people!


Focus on Well-Being

Not surprisingly, participants described their best as higher levels of physical and mental health. Organizational cultures that support well-being rather than over-work are critically important.

Make sure to schedule you time! Self-care can include exercise, relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises and thoughts of gratitude. Maybe try muting those notifications when you’re off the clock. But again, find what works for you.

Being present in the moment is important for both personal and professional pursuits.