I was that girl who had zero free time during school. In high school, I was in concert band and competitive jazz band while playing three seasons of sports and working a part-time job on top of AP classes and straight As. In college, I was no different. I juggled chorus, jazz band, orchestra, being the soccer captain, playing tennis, and all honors courses while working and interning.  

Sometimes, it was really fun, but most of the time, it was stressful. I never felt like I could quit anything. But, looking back now, I wish I had. I learned the hard way that you can do anything but can’t do everything.  

Trying to do everything almost always ends up with you running ragged and even potentially getting sick. So, how can you do everything you want without dropping the ball? Here are a few things you can keep in mind.  

 

6 ways to find balance between academics and extracurriculars

1. Prioritize 

Use a matrix template to rank your activities by importance.  

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got a lot on your plate (and in your mind). Start by just making a list of everything you’re involved in.  

Then, write out how much time and energy each activity requires. If you’re unsure how long something takes, try setting a timer when you start it next time to get an accurate read. Don’t forget to account for commuting time if you have to.

Once you’ve got the basic metrics down, try color-coding or writing out how you feel about each one. Now, determine which of these activities are flexible. If they’re not your favorite thing and they take a lot of time and energy, you may want to scale back or drop them altogether.  

Here’s an example:  

Activity 

Time/week 

Energy 

Feelings 

Flexibility 

Homework 

8 

10 

I have to do it… but usually don’t want to 

I could probably do some during lunch and on the bus… 

Soccer 

10 

8 

I LOVE soccer 

Not flexible unless I quit 

Band 

3 

5 

It’s fun! 

Not flexible unless I quit 

 

Math Team 

2 

6 

I like it but not as much as soccer or band 

Not flexible unless I quit - It also looks good on college apps 

 

 

Have a hard time prioritizing? Try this matrix template! It helps you rank your tasks by comparing them one-to-one rather than jumbling them all up together. 

2.Create a realistic schedule

Organize your time so you can fit it all in.  

If you take the time to organize your schedule every semester during your first week of school, you may be able to sort through what you can actually handle before it’s too late to quit or change your schedule.  

Be realistic about the time needed for studying, attending classes, participating in extracurriculars, and self-care activities like exercise, hanging out with friends, and relaxation.  

You can use Google Calendar or a time-blocking spreadsheet. Then, color-code it by activity or add an emoji next to each activity to visualize your days easily.  

 

Your schedule might look like this: 

 

3. Learn time management

Figure out how you like to keep track of your time. 

Everyone’s brain is different. What works for Steph might not work for Liam – right? Now is the time to start to get to know your brain and what works for you. 

You might like using to-do lists, a project management tool (like Asana or Notion) to organize your to-dos, or maybe you’re more of a paper-and-pen person. Maybe you use a calendar app or maybe you have a paper planner. Whatever it is, find a way to manage the things you need to get done so they’re not just rattling around in your head and making you late. 

As much as possible, plan ahead for bigger projects, so you have ample time to get them done. Or, if you need the urgency that procrastination creates, line up a body double to help you get it done before you run out of time. A friend, classmate, or family member should do the trick. 

Time management is a practice. You won’t always be able to do it perfectly. You’re going to drop the ball sometimes. Sometimes, you’ll be tired when you tell yourself you’re studying, or a friend will invite you over when you book self-care time. 

It’s okay to be imperfect, as long as you have the tools to manage your time 60% of the time, you’ll likely reach your goals. Developing these skills will make your success far more likely. 

4. Learn to say no

Know your limits and honor them. 

Recognize your limits and know your consequences. If you don’t say no to some things, your schedule might become too full, you might start to feel burnt out, you could miss deadlines, or you may just be exhausted. 

You might also want to figure out how to know when your schedule is full. Just because you don’t have something specific on your calendar doesn’t mean you have “free” time. You’ll need to determine what your capacity is for homework, each hobby, friends, and anything else on your schedule as well as how much you’re committed to. 

That way, when something comes up that you want to add to your plate, you can quantitatively know whether you have time for it - rather than responding emotionally. You can do this with a spreadsheet, something like Notion, or even by glancing at Google Calendar if you keep it up-to-date. 

This is also a skill that will help you so much even after you graduate. 

5. Cultivate self-care habits

Get enough sleep. 

Sleep is probably the most important part of self-care. Of course, what you eat, how much you exercise, and whether you take time to de-stress is helpful, too. But we’re not looking for you to be the best at everything. You just need to be good enough at the basic important things. Anything above and beyond is just the cherry on top. 

At the very least, practicing good sleep hygiene will have the biggest impact. Good sleep hygiene can look like: 

  • Don’t scroll before bed
  • Go to bed with 8+ hours before you need to wake up
  • Try doing a breathing exercise, stretches, or guided meditations before bed

 

6. Ask for help

Who can you turn to for advice? 

Asking for help can feel… well, weird. Sometimes it feels like you should be able to figure all this out on your own. But, the truth is, a lot of these things are lessons you learn by experience. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a classmate, teammate, teacher, or family member when you're feeling overwhelmed.

You probably have a support network – you just might not know it yet. I like to keep a list of people I know I can reach out to. My friends, classmates, teammates, and family all helped me determine whether I had too much on my plate, supported me in quitting something when it became too much, held me accountable to my sleep hygiene goals, and supported me emotionally. 

If you can’t name people who could support you off the top of your head, you can join a study group, speak to your school counselor or therapist, join a team, or find help in mentorship programs. It might not always feel like it, but there are humans in the world who want to support you – you just need to find them. 

 

Be Intetional

Finding balance is a practice. You’re never going to “arrive” at the perfect schedule with all the right things fitting into place. You have to create that for yourself and make choices every week to keep that balance. 

It’ll all feel less stressful when you’ve gotten enough sleep, planned ahead as much as you can, and have support from real humans along the way. 

Remember, you can do anything, but you can't do everything — so focus on what truly matters to you. The rest will follow. 

Now it’s your turn. I’m sure I’ve missed some ways you find balance. Share with us! How do you find balance?

 

About the author

 Rachel is a freelance writer for EdTech companies. She studied Education and Achievement Motivation at Wheelock College. She made it through college on a trusty Lenovo Yoga. When she’s not writing, she spends her time adventuring in the outdoors, doing arts and crafts, and snuggling with her cat, Bonnie. 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/rmeltzer
Website: meltzerseltzer.com

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Parents
  • I like to form healthy habits and leave time throughout the day to relax or do stuff with the wife and kids as possible.

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  • I like to form healthy habits and leave time throughout the day to relax or do stuff with the wife and kids as possible.

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