10 Strategies for Maintaining Work-Life Balance as a Student

Advice from a graduate student about staying organized while juggling personal and academic priorities.

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Grad school is a lot to handle. I am going into the third year of my master's program and while I’m definitely not perfect, here is what I have learned about staying organized:

Prioritize relationships

It is really easy to get completely absorbed in your work and spend days and days doing nothing but reading and writing, but your relationships will suffer if you do that. It’s important to make an effort to put time aside to spend with friends, partners, and family. You need them during grad school to help you during the tough times, so it’s important to make sure you spend time with them when you aren’t struggling and when you can have fun with them. Prioritizing the relationships in your life will also help you maintain your mental health.

Schedule your time so that you actually have a break from your studies 

I am terrible for working 12-16 hours a day until I literally crash—this is not healthy AT ALL. It’s important to have free time to do things that make you happy (I like to listen to audiobooks and knit!). By scheduling time away from studies, you give your brain time to rest and recover which will help maintain both your mental and physical health.

Use Google Calendar

I tend to have so much going on between working as a TA, research, and volunteering that I forget plans really easily. I recommend putting LITERALLY EVERYTHING into your Google Calendar and then setting up reminders 10 minutes before each event so that you have time to disengage from whatever you’re doing and transition into something else. This will prevent you from missing meetings with your supervisors or lunch dates with friends. 

Write in a journal

Sometimes feelings build up in grad school and you don’t have the time to process them because you are so busy. Journaling can be a great way to release those feelings in a healthy way and can help with your productivity! I have found that journaling has really helped me stay healthy and practice sticking to a schedule (which is important for thesis writing too!).

Set aside time every day to move your body

Whether it's gentle yoga, a walk, going to the gym, or whatever you have time for and the ability to do, movement is important to help with blood flow especially when you’ve been sitting for 10 hours straight. (Tip: Try to move around every 30-15 minutes!)

Do something non-academic every day 

If I don’t do something unrelated to my research every day, I find I can’t transition out of “research mode” and back into “human mode” where I can talk about non-academic things. So, I recommend trying to set aside a bit of time to do something you love that is non-academic! 

See a psychologist when things get too overwhelming

When things started to get overwhelming and difficult for me to handle without breaking down in tears everyday, I sought out a psychologist! Counselling and Clinical Services was so amazing and so helpful. They gave me tons of strategies to help deal with the things that were going on and I highly recommend that anyone else who is struggling reach out to any of U of A's Wellness Supports services. 

Don’t neglect your physical health

I did this. It was not great. My back hurt, my stomach was bothering me, and I didn’t realize until I went to see a doctor and physiotherapist that my back and stomach pain were preventing me from focusing on my research! Don’t forget that you have medical benefits with your student plan. You pay for it so don’t be afraid to use it! And you can see a doctor right on North Campus at the University Health Centre.

Practice time management 

There are tons of different time management strategies and tips out there! I recommend trying a bunch of different tips to see what works best for you. Check out Christine's story on time management to help get started! 

Remember to be kind to yourself

Grad school is HARD. I personally have a tendency to be extra tough on myself no matter what, and I’ve realized that sometimes you need to give yourself a break. You’re doing your best, you’re working hard, you’re doing everything you can but you’re also human. Remember that and be kind to yourself. 


About Laura

Laura (she/her) is in the third (and hopefully final!) year of her Master's degree studying Classical Languages. She can always be found with her nose in a book. Whether it's academic reading or for pleasure, she will read pretty much anything and she's passionate about languages like Middle Welsh and Ancient Greek. Laura adores animals and fosters the cutest bunny in the world and in her spare time loves to knit socks for her loved ones!