Balancing act

Tried and true tips on keeping it all together

I’m a huge fan of motivational, self-improvement advice.

I’ve Googled “how to not be scatter-brained,” I highlight every day, I make lists for fun, save Pinterest articles about improving memory – it’s practically in my LinkedIn bio. Yet only a few strategies have proven equipped to handle my genetic inclination toward forgetfulness and procrastination.

While it’s true that every person is different – we all have different goals, different learning-habits, different things motivating us – these are some strategies I’ve found to be fundamentally helpful with school, no matter your specific lifestyle or ambitions.

Have a “stop-time”

There are some nights you just have to work until absolute exhaustion takes over, which makes this advice counterintuitive. It can be hard to implement when you’re working under stressful deadlines. But do it. Set a stop time.

The best way to have a good morning is to go to sleep without loose ends. Set a deadline to stop working even if it’s as early as 10 p.m. Without a set deadline, it’s tempting to work half-heartedly until you just can’t go any longer, and if you’re staring through bloodshot eyes at a textbook, re-reading the same paragraph three times, it’s a physical cue that you need to stop.

Plan out what you’re going to wear and look at your schedule for the next day. What did you not have time to finish today? What absolutely needs to be done by the next day? What do you need to remember to bring to class tomorrow? What time should you get to school? Will you have time to make it to the gym if you wake up at a certain time?

Rise and shine

Set the alarm a half-hour earlier than you need. Use that half hour to do one little thing; whether it’s paying a bill online, returning an email, or just picking up things around your room. Or, just make some coffee or tea, then sitting on the couch and watching TV for a half-hour. Starting your day off right seems like a little thing, but it’s amazing how a bad morning can derail the rest of your day, especially if you’re easily discouraged or unmotivated.

“Eat the frog”

If there were a better metaphor to use, trust me, I would never repeat this phrase. But as far as I know, “eat the frog” is the only one out there... and it is the single best thing you can do for your mental health and your own success.

Take the thing on your to-do list that gives you the most anxiety, the thing you’re dreading most or get really stressed about any time you think about it: and tackle it first. There are some schools of thought which say you should get the little things out of the way first to give you a “sense of satisfaction.”

Say yes, then say no

The only thing worse than FOMO is going out because you have chronic FOMO. Now you’re mad at yourself and behind in schoolwork, and self-loathing doesn’t tend to motivate anyone. To find the balance between work and play, the best advice is to actually be very nerdy about it and designate time for going out.

For me, it’s best to commit to doing something Friday and make Saturday my night in, for the simple reason that Friday work sessions tend to be less productive than Saturdays. The reason for this is you’re burnt out from the school week and even if you do work for an hour or two, you’re more inclined to cut it short because you have the “treat yo’self” mentality.

Visualize it

When your motivation is lagging, it helps to remind yourself why you’re working so hard in the first place. This works for a lot of things. For example, I have a picture of supermodel Chrissy Teigen above my desk to remind me I probably shouldn’t eat another Paula’s Donut today.

I have a picture of my top law school to remind me that bio isn’t just a stupid gen ed, and I’m working for that A in this class because I need a strong GPA. Visualizing myself walking through a gorgeous campus in a new city someday is significantly more motivating than thinking about a transcript.

Sarah Crowley is the senior features editor and can be reached at