Juggling full-time school and full-time life? Join the club. At the same time as handling classes, extracurricular activities, teachers, and assignments, we’re dealing with parents, keeping up with our friends or a romantic partner, or even working a part-time job—sometimes all of the above. Chances are you’re struggling to maintain your relationships and still find time for yourself, all while keeping your grades up.
Managing school and the rest of life is “very challenging but just about manageable,” according to 44 percent of the high school students who responded to a recent Student Health 101 survey. Over a third of respondents felt they could have handled this stuff more effectively. Only 10 percent said it hadn’t been a problem.
How boundaries can improve relationships
How can we minimize these frustrations and stay connected with the important people in our lives? “Boundaries” is an overused word—but an underused habit. You may not be fully in control of how you spend your time, especially when it comes to family commitments, but now is a good time to begin discussing boundaries to practice for the future. Setting boundaries, both for ourselves and others, has multiple benefits:
- More effective time management
- Stronger personal connections
- Less guilt
There are long-term gains, too. “This is an investment in your future professional life,” says Lisa Kleitz, a leadership development and career management consultant in Boston, Massachusetts. “Communicating about boundaries is good practice for similar challenges in the workplace.”
Stick to your boundaries
Communicate with yourself
“This is primary. If you’re clear with yourself, you can be clear with others,” says Kleitz. Remind yourself daily of your goals, including your future career and the importance of staying healthy for yourself and your family. Acknowledge your own limits.
“Using a planner/calendar app or even just making to-do lists has proven really helpful. It’s easier to plan and work efficiently when you can visually see everything coming up and can prioritize your assignments,” says Ashley, a sophomore in Virginia.
Prioritize downtime, too
“Allow yourself to have some free time once in a while because stress from school can affect your mental health,” says Ben, a freshman in Marysville, Washington.
Keep others in the loop
Share your schedule. Use a whiteboard to let family know what’s going on for each day. Remember, too, that communication doesn’t just happen at home. Discuss personal constraints with an advisor or mentor.
Be honest and open
“The guilt that may come from other people’s demands is best handled by a firm sense of self and honesty about your priorities and decisions,” says Dr. Aaron Goodson, assistant director of counseling and sport psychology at Mississippi State University. “Inevitably, there will be growth and change. Everyone involved with the student should know and understand that.”
Ask for help
“We don’t naturally ask for help when we need it,” says Kleitz. “Understand that asking for help is good practice for someone who has a lot on their plate.”
The art of “no”
For a positive way to decline a request or invitation, use the “Yes… and…” strategy, says Kleitz. For example, “Yes, I wish I could help you with that project, and my calendar is full,” or “Yes, that sounds really important, and I have other commitments that day.” Or try a counteroffer. Friends want you to go out on a weeknight? “Can’t make it work, but maybe we can hike this weekend or catch up after a study session?”
Quality > quantity
Make arrangements to spend dedicated time with special people, like parents and siblings, best friends, or a partner. For others, small gestures (an email or card) are effective. Snail mail can feel more meaningful when you’ve recently moved away. Set up automatic reminders for upcoming events and birthdays.
Remember, less is more
“You’re juggling school, extracurriculars, maybe a job, and then you add in family obligations, and it’s a lot to handle,” says Dr. Damien Clement, associate professor of sport psychology and assistant dean at West Virginia University in Morgantown. “When you start dropping things, that’s an indication that you’re doing too much. You always have a choice.”
How do other students find balance?
“As important as school is, you don’t need to dismiss other parts of life, like hanging out with friends and having fun,” says Edleen, a sophomore in Lancaster, California. “Keep in contact with them, make plans on days off when the workload isn’t massive, and maybe even come together with them to complete work.”
Recognize procrastination paralysis. “Get everything you need to do out of the way first so you have time to do what you’d like,” says Madeline, a recent high school graduate in Gilbert, Arizona. “Tasks that may seem insurmountable in your head are usually easily accomplished if you just decide to tackle them. It’s procrastination that makes them seem threatening.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for support. “Try talking with a counselor and letting them in on what’s going on personally,” says Jayden, a junior in Kansas City, Missouri. “They’ll try to find a healthy solution that works for you.”
Damien Clement, PhD, associate professor of sport and exercise psychology, and assistant dean, West Virginia University, Morgantown.
Aaron Goodson, PhD, assistant director of counseling and sport psychology, Mississippi State University, Starkville.
Lisa Kleitz, CPCC, PCC, leadership development and career management consultant, Inner Assets, Boston, Massachusetts.
Student Health 101 survey, August 2019.