Whether you are starting your library school journey or nearing the end, many of us are juggling working while going to school. If you are like me, I was apprehensive about how I was going to manage a full-time job and attend library school part-time. Will I be able to get a full night’s sleep? Would I still have time for the activities I enjoy? Will my mental health suffer? Was it worth the inevitable stress and anxiety? All of these questions, and more, were running through my head as I entered my library program (and still are). Although we all are different and have varying circumstances, I hope what I have learned can assist you with your work/school/life balance so your library school experience is still enjoyable, no matter how hectic your life may become.
Even as an undergrad, the first phase I learned in handling work and school was to get organized and plan. As pursuers of becoming information professionals, we learn that structure and organizations are key aspects of our career, so why should our lives be any different? Every academic year I start by buying a planner (buying is not necessary, you can use your phone or computer/laptop calendar or using a plain notebook). Right before I start a new set of courses, I write out everything I need for that entire quarter/semester. I fill in each weekly calendar with my set work schedule and class schedule. I also fill in any major work and class deadlines and any pre-arranged social or family events I have; as well as plan my workout/mental health schedule (including breaks because they are necessary!). Finally, I fill in time for designated homework or projects to ensure I have enough time to devote to everything. When I am filling out my calendar, I use different colors for each event or task, so my work schedule is in blue and my class schedule is in red. This helps me better distinguish between my duties and see how much time is going into each obligation.
Three key aspects I have learned from planning out my weeks are learning how to protect my time, learning to say “no,” and how to become more proactive. When we are all managing work, school, family, and other responsibilities, it can be easy to swap out tasks or obligations at a moment’s notice. Although some life events are unavoidable, I do my best to stick to my schedule. I booked that time for a reason and it was important enough to schedule, so it is important enough to follow-through. This even includes protecting my social events and workouts. I consistently work out and have set times each week. Some weeks, I feel I could better use that time to work on a school project, but I remind myself that my workout time is time well spent and it is important to me. I can take one hour to set down my schoolwork (homework will always be there) and go on a run.
By doing this, I have noticed a huge impact on my mental and physical health. Plus, I come back to my work refreshed, and sometimes during my workout, I have thought of a better way to approach the school assignment. Scheduling out my time has also made me better at saying “no” or at least “no, not right now” to last-minute events or extra work. I know it is tempting to go hang out with family or friends at the last minute or take a colleague’s work shift, but I always remember this will inevitably add extra stress in my life and cause me to be behind on other important events in my life. It just never seems worth the trade-off. With all of that in mind, creating a planned schedule has made it difficult for me to procrastinate (which I love to do). If you have a set time to do your homework and you know that other time goes to work, family, and other responsibilities, you learn you do not have time to procrastinate. Plus, it just brings unnecessary stress to your life.
Although writing down every single task may not work for you (and may even make you feel overwhelmed), some variation of a weekly schedule will help build structure in your week and you know exactly how your time is being spent. So, if you are lacking in one area of your life, you can review what you are currently doing and make adjustments accordingly.
While going to school and working, I always try to apply the “double-dipping” method. Look, we are all busy and sometimes we are given assignments that are either similar to each other or we have total creative control and can make the project what we want. In these situations, I try to think of ways I can use the same topic, resources, or techniques for multiple assignments. For example, in one class I created a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in law libraries library research guide. The next quarter, I took a collection development course, and for my final project, I used that DEI in law libraries guide to come up with a diversity, inclusion, and social justice book list. Additionally, if you have a job that relates to your studies or could benefit from projects you are working on, this is another great way to take advantage of the double-dipping method. I was fortunate enough to work with my collection development librarian for that final project and I gave her my suggested purchasing books list on diversity, inclusion, and social justice, and she actually selected and bought some of those recommendations!
By asking if there was a project that needs to be done for work that fits within the guidelines of my class project, I was able to not only get a good grade but also gain new skills at work which made me look good. Finally, use what you have learned at work and apply it to school and vice versa. Although our jobs might not exactly correlate with our library schoolwork, we can still take our time-managing, prioritizing, delegating/supervising, and communicating skills into our schoolwork. Similarly, in school, I learned about design methods and have been able to apply that knowledge to my professional life. The double-dipping method, when used properly, can save you time, makes you more knowledgeable, and can help you apply that information in a variety of ways that can benefit your life.
Last, but certainly not least, is discovering your support system. It is important to remember you are not alone, and it is okay to ask for help and support from your loved ones, colleagues, classmates, and staff and faculty from your library program. Communicating with others about how you are struggling or how you need help when you are working and going to school can be one of the best ways you can avoid feeling burnt out or wanting to give up. Before I started my program, I discussed with my partner that, during this stage of my life, I would need him to do the bulk of the cooking and cleaning so I could have time to do schoolwork. You should also talk to your boss or supervisor about balancing work and school and see if there is anything they can do to make your life easier. Can they rework your schedule so you can take that in-person course? Can they offer you professional development time (aka homework time) while you are at work? Does your work offer some type of financial assistance or childcare for those in school? If you are unsure about what types of benefits your work offers, ask!
When it comes to my peers and group projects, I like to find others who also know what it is like to manage school while working. We all share a common ground that we cannot be working on school projects at all hours of the day and we understand that one of us may need forgiveness when we are late or not prepared. Even by just communicating your busy schedule at the beginning of any group work lets them know your availability, and you might not always get back to them right away. You have set your boundaries and they should respect that. Furthermore, remember there are counselors/advisers for you to utilize while you are in school. If you have questions about credits, classes, course load, or general advice about the program, they are there for you. Finally, when you are feeling overwhelmed, it never hurts to ask your professors for extensions on assignments. Especially during COVID-19, professors are being more understanding and realize your life is more than just the program. Forewarning, you must reach out to your professor as soon as you can. If you reach out the night before an assignment is due, they might be skeptical about your true reasons for the extension.
Although these tactics worked for me, I realize they will not work for everyone. I hope this information gets you to start thinking about how you can approach your work/life balance, and hopefully, you can figure out what works best for you. Tactics like creating a planned schedule, double-dipping, and reaching out for support allow you to take control of your time so your time does not control you. Just do what you can, stick with it, and remember this phase of your life will not last forever.
Marissa Rydzewski will be starting her third year of the MLIS program at the University of Washington. She is also a full-time employee at the Gallagher Law Library at the University of Washington School of Law. She has worked at the Gallagher Law Library for seven years, during this time she has completed a bachelor’s degree, earned a paralegal certificate, and stared an MLIS program. When she graduates in June 2021, she plans to become a law librarian.