The Great Balancing Act: Law School & a Part-Time Job

We all know that life’s not easy. There are always going to be times when we are busier than usual, where we feel like there isn’t even time to sit back and watch the latest episode of MAFS or make it to a family dinner. There have been countless periods where I have felt like a hamster running on one of those wheels, constantly moving and pushing myself but never really getting anywhere.

It is very easy to lapse into these feelings when you are trying to balance a highly demanding law degree as well as 20+ hours of part time work a week. For most university students a part-time job is not a choice, rather it is a necessary means of gaining financial independence and being able to support yourself (beyond buying a totally unnecessary amount of Grafali’s coffee every week).

Over the past two and a half years of my law degree I have been one of those students who is never at uni and watches every lecture at home after an exhausting day at work. Albeit this is probably not the most conventional way of doing law school but for me it is necessary and after all this time it hasn’t been until recently that I have found my ‘perfect balance’.

Luckily for you, my struggling through the last two and a half years has led me to develop some ‘tips’ for finding the perfect balance between work, uni and life. By no means should my tips be taken as gospel because I am far from perfect and am yet to master any aspect of my life, but they are just some small hints that I wish I had been given before embarking on my journey. So here they are:

1. Time management is key

This is my first tip because I believe it to be the most important. It is almost essential to have good time management skills – this applies to most things in life, not just balancing uni and work. I am the first to admit that when I first started working during university that my time management skills were not up to scratch. It takes a while to develop these skills, but trust me, after a bit of hard work and a little less procrastination you will get there. This is not to say that you can’t enjoy some down time (as you will see in in my 5th tip) but it is just important to know when it is time to work, time to study and time to relax. In order to avoid falling into the trap of procrastination (which I am well known for) I would suggest writing up your own personal timetable every day that specifically states what you are doing that day and what times you are doing it.

2. Its ok to say no

There are often times where covering somebody’s shift at work seems like a far better idea that sitting at home and studying – you get paid and you don’t have to study, what a great plan! I soon learnt that this is actually not the best idea and that if you say yes to covering shifts too often you can be taken advantage of and almost expected to cover shifts in the future. Here I really just want to let you know that its ok to say no and not take on more shifts than you have committed to. Life is busy enough with doing your own shifts and uni, there is no need to stretch yourself even further.

3. Try your best not to let it slip

I am still working on trying not to ‘let is slip’. By this I mean try not to get too far behind on your lectures/notes that it becomes almost impossible to recover. I know first hand how easy it is to miss a lecture and then to tell yourself you’ll watch it next week, but little do you know you have even less time next week than you did this week so you never end up watching it. My advice is to write a to-do list and then tick each item off when you have completed it. It not only feels good when you do tick things off but it also helps you keep track of what you have done and what you haven’t and therefore stops you from getting that feeling of panic and anxiety when you sit down to study but don’t know where to start – now you just have to look at the list!

4. Its ok to ask for help

Although university is not very lenient or forgiving of students who work, there are other areas of your life that can be adjusted during busy times to allow you to spend more time on more important things (cough exams cough). One thing that I do that I find helps me a lot is to limit the number of hours I do at work in the lead up to exams. In my experience, if you are open and upfront with your employer and tell them that you have university exams coming up and need more time to study, they will be understanding of these commitments and will allow you to do fewer hours in the lead up.

5. Allow time for you

Last but definitely not least, make sure you allow a bit of time every day to relax and do something you want to do. Whether it be watching an episode of your favourite TV show, going for a run or catching up with friends for coffee, I believe is extremely important to take time out to do something you really enjoy. I have found that when I don’t take time off, I get very burnt out and not taking a break actually turns out to be counter-productive as working or studying too hard without an end in sight can be extremely demotivating. Although there is no strict time frame that should be allocated to this, I would say that at least one hour of down time each day is necessary.

With any luck after reading this you have got something to take away and apply to your own life. Most importantly, just remember that the whole work/uni thing is not easy an its totally normal to struggle with the heaviness of your law degree as well as your part time job. Throughout it all try your best to remain calm just keep chipping away at your to-do list- you will get there eventually! If I can do it, so can you!

By Claudie Opie

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