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How to balance full-time work and school

Whether you’re a professional going back to school at 30 or a 20-something working your way through your studies while holding down a full-time job, balancing work commitments with academics can make your statistics class look like a piece of cake.

For many of us, the inherent challenge of balancing two important obligations (work and school) is compounded by family and relationship commitments, social interests and other pursuits that demand our attention as we strive for a fulfilling life.

Here, we’ll explore some useful strategies for achieving your best learning outcomes without sacrificing your goals or leaving your family behind.

1. Priority, not parity 

Knowing how to balance work and school can help you achieve your goals without burning out. That means you need to think about your commitments in terms of priority, not equality.

Prioritization is about knowing your goals and understanding what’s required to achieve them. Through an honest self-inventory of your goals, you may discover that school or your job is the higher priority, and this can be a powerful realization in striking the right balance for you.

No matter which option is the higher priority, it’s important to recognize things change, sometimes weekly. Rather than try to evenly divide your time and effort between work, school and family, you may find yourself better served by considering which aspect requires the most attention during a specific time frame, like a day or a week. Then, fill in the remaining time with important activities for the other priorities.

For longer-term planning, consider:

  • Asking for more help at home. If you have a partner or children, or both, you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure that their needs are met and that you’re present for them each day. You may also need to enlist the help of others — relatives to babysit or hiring someone to help with household tasks — to make sure there’s enough attention to go around.
  • Downshifting or changing jobs: If you’re burned out or in a dead-end job, scaling back at work or even finding a more accommodating position elsewhere may make sense.
  • Seeking flexibility from school: If your job is the higher priority, you should consider an academic program that will accommodate your work coming first. Part-time school or an institution that caters to working adults might be worth considering in those circumstances.

The rise in remote work and online education may offer an advantage in balancing the two, since home-based work and school require no physical commute.

Even if your company requires being in the office for hybrid work you can still maximize your time by identifying an online academic program that doesn’t require regular trips to a campus. An increasing number of online degrees are also asynchronous, meaning you can sign in to your classes on your own schedule and participate via prerecorded lectures, assigned readings and online discussions.

2. Stay organized 

Making sure the tools and resources you use are organized can help you with balancing full-time work and school.  

Ideas for making sure you stay organized include:

  • Mark important dates on your calendar. These can include due dates for assignments, exam dates, when terms begin and end, and so on. Set reminders if necessary. The specific type of calendar is less important than the consistent maintenance of it. Just know your preferences when choosing a calendar. If you like to remember things better by writing them, invest in a paper planner. If you’re fully digital, explore some of the built-in tools on your devices or preferred platforms. There are popular brand names that include built-in tools as options.
  • Set up dedicated files on your computer to keep assignments organized. Create a folder for each class, which could also include subfolders for each week or assignment.
  • Have a file for paper documents too. Even if you are taking online classes, your school may send you important information through the mail occasionally.
  • Download and install required applications ahead of time. You don’t want to find out that it’s going to take hours to download a tool or that there’s a problem with setting it up two minutes before you’re supposed to log on. Make sure to keep the tools updated.
  • Save important email addresses to your contact list. These could be instructors’ email addresses, addresses where you’ll submit assignments, classmates’ contact information, the address for your institution’s administrative offices, and so on.
  • Keep a regular to-do list. This helps you see what you need to focus on in the coming weeks or months.

3. Eliminate distractions 

It can be tough to know how to balance full-time work and school if you share a home with a roommate, a partner or your family. Avoiding distractions can help you focus, which is important for coming up with ideas and getting your assignments done on time. Research shows that it can take up to 23 minutes to get back on track after an interruption, so minimizing them is critical to making the most of the time you’ve set aside for homework.

You might go to a quiet place, such as a library or café, for a few hours a couple of times a week. If you can’t get away, set expectations with your family or roommates about your need to be left alone for a few hours. You might put a sign on your door or your desk to remind them when you aren’t to be interrupted. You could also wear noise-canceling headphones or listen to music that helps you concentrate.

If you have small children or pets, you might ask your partner, a family member or a friend to watch them while you are busy with schoolwork and offer to return the favor sometime. You might also consider enrolling them in day care or after-school activities.

4. Take time for health 

Throughout life, especially in times of stress, taking care of our health is essential to supporting productivity. While a half-hour workout can feel like an indulgence when work and college commitments are weighing on you, the research consistently demonstrates that regular exercise reduces stress and improves mental health and mental acuity.

With that in mind, give yourself permission to go to the gym, take an exercise class or do whatever physical exercise you enjoy. If you can, go for a walk in a park or a forest preserve — studies have shown that being outside in nature improves cognitive performance as well as mental health. You’ll feel better, and there’s a chance your school and work performance will benefit as well.

Likewise, a healthy diet is a major factor in overall well-being and mental performance. It can be tempting to hit the fast-food drive-thru or throw a processed meal in the microwave when you’re pressed for time when studying after working hours. But staying mindful of the nutritional value of your diet and prioritizing healthy options over convenience will pay off in energy, focus and mood. Some foods may even help you improve mental performance. Leafy greens, fatty fish, berries, tea and coffee, and walnuts have all been linked to increased mental acuity and performance.

If you don’t have a lot of time to cook, consider setting aside a few hours every week to make extra portions of a dish and eat it throughout the week. Or sign up for a meal kit delivery service, a healthier option than eating takeout all the time.

Your mental state is important too. Relaxation can help you release and manage stress that could interfere with your well-being and ability to concentrate. This could mean a regular meditation schedule or simply reading a good book, watching a movie you like or meeting up with friends.

Finally, don’t neglect your sleep. A vast body of research shows that sleep deficits negatively affect not only stress and anxiety but also cognitive function and physical health.

As sleep researcher Charles A. Czeisler, MD, PhD, points out, a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%, a common legal threshold for being considered drunk. Just as you wouldn’t show up to work or school after a few drinks, you shouldn’t start your day in a state of severe sleep deprivation. To perform your best, be sure to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and don’t feel guilty about taking a nap if your body needs it.

5. Ask for support 

Even the most organized people can face challenges balancing full-time work and school. Recognizing when you need help and being able to ask for it is an important skill to cultivate. There’s no shame in needing assistance from others now and then, especially when you have a lot on your plate.

Asking for help can look like:

  • Researching and taking advantage of tutoring services at your school or from private instructors
  • Joining a school discussion board for students to share tips and offer support
  • Calling a friend or family member
  • Talking to a counselor or therapist through mental health resources at your school, online or in your community

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you should be able to handle everything by yourself, but that can be unrealistic. It’s normal to need guidance or even to vent to a sympathetic ear now and then. 

6. Learn time management skills 

Regular school assignments, everyday work tasks and family obligations can keep you busy. And then there are midterms and finals, major projects or business trips, and big family events that lead to dramatic shifts in time investment for a given week. Time management can help keep things in order both on a regular basis and when your schedule gets extra busy.

In addition to a calendar, you may want to invest in project management software, which can help you see upcoming tasks, deadlines and events at a glance. Whichever method you prefer, proactively scheduling major events at school, work and home will help you to plan and make commitments effectively. If you know that midterms, which you can’t reschedule, are coming up in a few weeks and you’re making plans for a business trip, you can try to adjust the trip dates to give you time for midterm focus. Likewise, if you see well in advance that you have heavy workloads coming up for both school and work, you can set expectations with family and friends and ask for support.

Understanding how to balance work and school also requires you to think about how and where you work best. Some people like to tackle things that require a lot of concentration earlier in the day, while others might be night owls. You can schedule blocks of time for focused work and then use other blocks for meetings, emails, catching up on reading and so on.

Some people like to use time management strategies for adults like the Pomodoro® technique, which involves working for a set period followed by a short break. You can use an online app for this purpose or a simple timer.

Productivity expert David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, recommends habitual weekly reviews to ensure you keep your priorities straight. In a weekly review, you take inventory of your upcoming commitments and schedule, take time to consider which commitments may have fallen behind (or fallen off altogether), and organize your priorities for the week ahead. This habit can be powerful in reducing anxiety and resetting your focus on what’s important in the coming week.

7. Communicate 

Balancing full-time work and school can be a big change in your life. It’s a good idea to let your manager and co-workers know that you’re striving to further your education while continuing to work. They may be willing to help out when things get busy or allow you a little extra time on some of your projects or extend flexibility in other ways, such as letting you work outside of your scheduled hours. You may even be able to incorporate some of your work tasks into your assignments.

You should also communicate with family and friends so that they understand why you aren’t as available to do things or why it may take you longer to respond to phone calls, emails and texts. Most likely, they’ll be proud of you and want to support your journey.

Finally, consider sharing the benefits that your education will bring — such as being able to do your job more effectively or take on additional responsibilities. People may be more likely to support your goals when those goals positively affect them as well.

8. Celebrate the small wins

While graduating is the main goal, don’t wait until the finish line to celebrate. Recognizing the small wins can help you stay motivated over the long term. They can also lift you up when you feel discouraged or stuck.

Make an effort to pat yourself on the back for finishing a project on time, getting good feedback from an instructor, scoring high on an exam or even just finishing another week or term.

You can even set up little rewards, such as taking yourself out to dinner or buying a treat. These can also serve as incentives to finish what you need to do on time.

Choosing a school that sees and supports its students 

University of Phoenix recognizes life and school are not always easy. To support students in achieving their goals, the University offers the following resources:

  • Fixed tuition: No one likes surprises, especially when it comes to tuition. At UOPX, students lock in one flat rate the day they enroll.
  • Math and writing resources: Going back to college doesn’t mean starting from scratch. Tutoring and online resources are available to help bring you up to speed.
  • Life Resource Center: Sometimes you just have to talk to someone. Or listen. Or watch. That’s why students can access life coaching, counseling and more than 5,000 webinars, podcasts, articles and assessments to help them figure out their own path.
  • Career Services for Life® commitment: Available to UOPX students and graduates, this offering comprises complimentary career coaching, including guidance on how to build a personal brand and write a resumé.
Robert Strohmeyer


Robert Strohmeyer is a serial entrepreneur and executive with more than 30 years of experience starting and running companies. He has served in leadership roles at three successful software startups over the past decade, and his writing on business and technology has appeared in such publications as Wired, PCWorld, Forbes, Executive Travel, Smart Business, Businessweek and many others. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Headshot of Christina Neider


Christina Neider is the dean of the University of Phoenix College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Neider’s career spans more than 30 years in academia, healthcare and the U.S. Air Force. She has held several academic leadership roles at University of Phoenix, and she is the Vice President of membership for the Arizona Chapter of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.


This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.


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