How to Balance Academics, Social Life, Hobbies, Health, and Work

August 14, 2017

Hey guys,

It's been a pretty long time since I've posted, but right now I feel like it's a good time to write up a quick article on how to balance multiple aspects and pressures in life such as academics, social life, hobbies, health, and of course work. A lot of students end up going to University without a solid foundation in time management and they end up struggling to adapt to the fast pace of work and shuffling priorities. In first year, I had the same issues too, but I found by adopting only a few principles, I was able to manage my time more effectively and put out results where it counted.

In this article, I'll share with you guys the three guiding principles that I used and examples of how these principles work.

Principle 1: Your own resources (time, mental capacity, physical capacity) are limited

This principle sounds demoralizing, but it really sets the foundation basis for the next principles. We have to understand that nothing is unlimited. Shout out to ECON 101 for this, but in our world, we face scarcity. We cannot have everything we want. We cannot do everything we want. Much like how there is a limited amount of money we have, there is also a limited amount of time, mental capacity, and physical capacity that we possess. That's why we must make choices in the first place. If we could do anything and everything with unlimited time, there would be no choices in life. There would be no deciding whether you should party or study Friday night because you could do both with the unlimited resources you have. You would be able to obtain anything you desired, because you would never exhaust the resources you have.

However, we don't have unlimited resources. We have deadlines for essays and time limits for tests. We get tired after studying or working out for so long. We can't remember every single word in the textbook, or everything the prof said. We sometimes aren't competitive for a job, or we don't do as well as we thought we could have during an interview, and we can't dedicate all our time towards one thing.

The solution, of course, is choice. We have to choose what to allocate our limited resources towards. As a Political Science student, we were taught that politics is about choosing who gets what, when, and how. But this can also be applied to other things we do. In this case, it's about choosing what aspects of your life you want to focus on.

And that brings us to the next principle.

Principle 2: The more effort you put into one of the above aspects as you described, the less additional benefit you will gain from any additional effort.

Sound familiar? This is again a foundational concept in economics, which relies on rational choice. Think about how much effort you put into a task and what comes out of it. Most likely, you start off gaining big chunks of progress, but as you do more, the progress begins to slow down. I'll illustrate an example here:

Let's say, for example, that the task happened to be an exam you had to study for. If you only had a couple of hours to study, you could probably cram enough so that you could pass the exam with a 50%. Let's say you had double the time now. Your mark, of course, is not going to double. You might now be able to churn out a 70% on the exam. Let's say that your time was doubled again. You might now be able to have enough time and resources to now get a 75% or even 80%. Let's now say that you really wanted above 85%. You might now need to spend a couple days studying for that exam and making sure you know the content very well. Now let's say you wanted an A+. You might need to spend a week or even more studying for that exam.

The example above shows us the main point: the result that comes out of the effort you put in is not a linear relationship. You can put in very little effort and manage to get by. You can put in more effort and manage to do well. But there comes a point where the amount of additional effort you're putting in is not worth it anymore.

If you put all your time and effort into courses, sure you will get high grades; but you might be missing out on social opportunities or might not be prepared enough for Co-op interviews. On the opposite end, if all you do is focus on making new friends and seeking connections, you might not be able to achieve the grades you aimed for.

But now you're probably wondering about what the optimal balance of these things are? Should I spend half my time on courses? 20% on courses? How about 30% on social life? Well the answer isn't that simple. It depends a lot on what's happening around you and the circumstances you're in, which is what I'll talk about in principle 3!

Principle 3: The importance of these aspects constantly vary based on your circumstances

Now this is when your own unique circumstances come into play. Of course, it's very easy to create a strict schedule and delegation of aspects of your life to focus on, but that delegation might not be the best one at all times. At some times, certain aspects such as courses are far more important than social life or Co-op!

Again, I'll be mainly using examples to highlight how these aspects vary with circumstances.

Let's start off with choosing what to prioritize across aspects. Let's say you have many midterms coming up in a month. But you also want to head off to a Phil's sometimes, because your friends go every week and you want to meet some more people and dance your stress away. How would you prioritize your time? You would of course probably choose to be more social for a week or two, then spend the few weeks before the midterms to study hard and put social life on the back burner. Makes sense, right?

But sometimes we also have to choose what to prioritize within aspects. For example, let's say that you realize that you have 2 exams on the same day for important courses. One exam is worth 50% of your final grade, and one exam is worth 20% of your final grade. Your marks entering into the final exam are 73% and 96%, respectively . How would you prioritize your time? It's clear here that you would much more value increasing that 72% to perhaps something in the 80s and tank a few percentages on the 96%. Furthermore, the first exam is worth 50% of your final mark. With those two characteristics, spending time studying for that 50% weighted exam is far more rewarding than that 20% weighted exam. That being said, you would get the best benefit by allocating more of your time preparing that 50% weighted exam.