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Noelle Krein

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Work-life balance on a cooperative study program?

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Good grades, successful studying and mastering your work duties are all important, and take time and effort. But at the same time, it’s important to still go out with your friends, take time to relax and switch off, and add a bit of variety to your life through hobbies such as sports or music. That sounds like a lot, though, and there are only 24 hours in a day. Pulling everything together can be quite challenging, but it’s not impossible. Planning and time management are the key to a good work-life balance.

Why work-life balance is so important

Work-life balance means striking the right balance between work and your private life. These two aspects must be in balance, because if we spend all our time working and neglect our private interests, we become very one-dimensional. We end up being less motivated at work, grumpier, and less efficient. It’s particularly damaging to our health to spend all day sitting at a desk without the counterbalance of physical exercise. 

How I approached the problem: My day-to-day life

My goal was always to stay on top of my work and studies, while still enjoying a decent social life Most of the time, this has worked well. When I embarked on my cooperative study program, I left my home town and moved to Stuttgart. So as well as making the transition from school to work and student life, I also changed location. I used to live at home with my family, but now I live in a shared flat. Cooking, cleaning and taking care of things like electricity providers were all new to me, and now take up a chunk of my free time. At the same time, I don’t want to lose touch with old friends in my home town, and am enjoying going out with my new friends in Stuttgart. I’ve always enjoyed reading, eating healthily and playing sport. I was determined not to neglect these aspects when I moved.

A group of young people sit together and talk

With clever management, there’s still time for some great nights out with your friends while studying for a cooperative degree.

At the moment it’s working out pretty well, but five months into my cooperative study program, there have of course been phases when some aspect were neglected. It’s been a steep learning curve.  Particularly when I was writing assignments, preparing multiple presentations and simultaneously taking care of my work duties, my private life got put on the back burner Now I am facing another stressful phase: the exams. I don’t want to make the same mistakes again.

Learn from your mistakes

The main problem with writing assignments was that I had never done anything like this before and had no idea of the challenges facing me during the writing process or how much time it would actually take. To begin with, I devoted a lot of energy to the wrong things, and I only realized my mistake when it was time to put the assignment together. What’s more, I was focusing so much on these assignments that I neglected the presentations and didn’t allow enough time for them. I managed to deliver everything on time in the end, but the approaching deadlines were always stressful, and there were days when I worked late into the night and didn’t have time for anything else.

I should have gone about it differently. With good planning, I would have had less stress and a better balance between my studies and my private life. Now that the exams are approaching, I have made a conscious decision to carry on exercising and seeing my friends. It’s working out much better than before.

Why is it working?

Two colleagues planning their tasks.

Lists can help you to work more effectively, and you can save lots of time with proper planning Lists can help you to work more effectively, and you can save lots of time with proper planning

I did some research, planned ahead for the challenges awaiting me at work and at college, and began my studies early. While at school, I had already learned to divide the material into chapters and make a study plan. This ensured that I was on time with my studies and passed all my exams. Lists and schedules in general are really useful for mapping out what needs to be done, both at work and in your private life. Often, I make a plan of what I want to achieve on any given day, and the order in which I will tackle the individual tasks. In my opinion, this is the key to a successful work-life balance.

Distractions and time-wasting are another important consideration. Particularly when studying, I have a tendency to look at my phone and get distracted. This is an inefficient use of time, and ultimately I could have finished my studying faster and had more time to exercise or see my mates. To minimize distractions, I sometimes set an alarm and ignore my phone until it goes off, or set it to flight mode so that incoming messages don’t disturb me. This means that I learn far more efficiently, and have more time for going out even during stressful periods.

I now also have a good idea of what my work entails, and what to expect. During the odd period when my workload is lighter, I take my coursework with me to work.

Some of my tips are more specific and will depend on your particular life situation. In my flat share, we’ve introduced a cleaning rota so that everyone knows exactly what needs to be done and when, and the workload is shared out fairly. Preparing food and cooking in large batches also helps you to eat sensibly during stressful situations. You can use social media to stay in contact with friends in the limited time available, and if there’s no time to meet up in person, you can still make a video call.

It’s just a phase, and stop being such a perfectionist

Remember that it’s impossible to successfully master 100 different things at once, and even top managers aren’t perfect all of the time. Bear this in mind, and don’t become frustrated too quickly. I always remind myself that this is just a phase. There may be periods when my leisure time is limited, for example, when exams are approaching or when there are time-critical projects at work. On the other hand, there are also more relaxed periods when I can use up my flexitime or take leave to concentrate on my social life.

All I can say is, don’t be afraid of a cooperative study program. I still have a good work/life balance,  and stressful periods can be overcome if you manage them properly. I’ve never regretted my decision to study for a cooperative degree.

Do you have any questions or suggestions? – If so, please leave your comments here 😊


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