The honest truth about balancing responsibilities and doing it all at university

Wong Tsui-kai |

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As one starts university, it’s not uncommon to hear things like, ‘you’re an adult now. You need to be disciplined, independent and learn time management.” Yada yada yada ...

People talk about time management - and how going to university is great training for that - and how it makes you a better person. Like being able to juggle studying, classes, homework, a job and maybe some socialising and relaxing every now and then is a necessary virtue of life.

What people don't talk about is how you'll need more than 24 hours in a day; either that or skip sleep, which, to be fair, plenty of students do. 

Here is the plain truth: being able to do everything thanks to good time management is a lie. A sham. A scam.

I would like to think that I, as a professional journalist (hey, I’ve been paid to write things that appear in print, which makes that claim technically true ... the best kind of true) have reasonable ability to manage my time and work with deadlines. But now that I'm studying a full-time degree, I can say, through personal experience, that being able to balance everything is overrated. And so are the perks. Except the MTR discount, that’s pretty nice.

What really happens is that you either learn to prioritise your responsibilities, or your responsibilities get prioritised for you. How? You're forced to choose: your grades might suffer, you might skip classes, your group mates might resent you for being a free-rider (someone who does nothing in a team project, aka. the worst possible insult in uni), you might end up a social recluse ... you get the picture.

A good general guideline is the Rule of Two: school, sleep, and social life - pick two. Glib as it may sound, it’s just fact that you can’t do everything. Instead, you choose to give something up, or you choose to do less of something and redistribute your time. 

I don’t have tips on avoiding burnout and exhaustion beyond ‘do less stuff.’ Some people don't like to be presented with that option. (I call them overachievers.) However, I can share my experiences in prioritising, and how best to use your time and energy at uni.  

I’ve long since learned there is very little in this world worth losing sleep over, so sleeping less is out for me. Call me a bad student but I’m too old to pull all-nighters just whenever. Instead, I pull an all nighter when I have a paper to hand in and the deadline is smooshed together with four other papers. So, only when I have to. #adulting #somature

Skipping classes? Eh ... I like to think I show up to class to actually learn something, and not just to get a certificate at the end. So, also not for me. You can always choose to skip class though. Because that’s the thing about univeristy: as an adult you have to make your own choices about whether to go to class or not. Just realise that there will be consequences!

You can tell what I chose to sacrifice. 

Because I chose to work a part-time job and be paid, loath as I am to admit it, less time for a social life is what I chose to sacrifice. I used to interview people, and go out and find the stories. Now I sit behind a desk all day on the days I work at Young Post, and shuffle papers because it’s all the time I can spare that isn’t spent on school, sleep or, heaven forbid, de-stressing by way of my hobby of choice: video games.

Oh, and life tip: all work and no play does not only make for a dull boy, it makes a miserable boy.

With all that, I have (sort of) successfully managed my time to do ... okay-ish in school, work a bit every now and then, not skip class (much), get a good night’s sleep most nights and, most importantly, turn burning out into ‘merely’ being exhausted every night. But I can still sleep off the exhaustion overnight, move on to the next day and keep on chugging for two more years until I graduate, which is what really matters.