4 Ways to Balance School and Work

I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL from this blog—there’s not much to write about lately, workwise.  Plus, I have been trying to query a novel and finish another first draft so I can dive into a vast pile of research.  And teach myself how to write a screenplay.  While working full-time.  Argh.

In spring of 2014, I finished my last finals for the Semester of Hell (you can read my periodic whinges about that over on Graphomaniac).  I don’t know how I got through it this time.  Both classes were online, which helped.

How does a person juggle school plus work?  More people are taking the Money Bus to College Town in hopes of improving their job skills.  I’ve been through this once, and I actually managed to finish.  These tips helped me and I hope they’ll help you.

You can use these same tips for outside projects.  Like writing a novel.

Time management is key

This might seem obvious, but if you’ve never tried to do it, figuring it out can be a bear.

This one. 

This one.

Image:  Diane Krauss (DianeAnna) / Wikimedia Commons

Not this one:

Not this one, sorry!

Image:  Waugsberg / Wikimedia Commons

You can:

  • Make a schedule.  You can use a Gantt chart (hah, I learned about this one in school).  Click the link for more information about them.
  • If you have children and they are in school, and you’re trying to go back to school at the same time, you can make their homework time your homework time (and get a little done, anyway).  Seeing you study will also give them incentive, and you’ll be right there if they need help.
  • Cook healthy foods on the weekend and freeze them.  Seriously, I hate having to stop and make food when I’m this busy.  I usually end up shoving crap into my mouth and regretting it later.  Why do you think college students subsist on pizza?  It’s cheap, fast, and someone else does all the work.  If you’ve pre-made meals, you can just pop them in the microwave and still eat well.

Note:  Make sure you build time to relax into your schedule.  You will need it.

Use your lunch hour

This one is completely up to you.  Some people like to study over their lunch hours.  I write on mine.  When I’m not taking Buzzfeed quizzes, that is.

I’m Plankton!

I’m Plankton!

Image:  buzzfeed.com

I wrote most of my police procedural this way, dragging my laptop to work every day and tapping out scenes whilst I shoveled leftovers into my gob.  Now I use a flash drive, but the principle is still the same.

You may prefer to keep your lunch hour as Me time.  Go shopping, go for a walk, or read a book you know you won’t finish when you get home because you have too many assignments.

Leave your work at work

Once you leave for the day, you might have to go to class.  You won’t do well if you can’t stop thinking about your job.  Make it a point to disconnect once you walk out the door.  Blast your favorite music on the drive over, or listen to it on public transport if that’s your ride to school (quietly, please!).

If you have the kind of boss who texts you at 3 a.m. because she just woke up from a nightmare of  OMG DID WE PROOF THE TPS REPORTS CN U PLS CHK WHN U GET IN TMRROW, then the difficulty level rises.  If you’re hourly, you may not be able to deal with any emails outside work hours without clocking in.  Tell your boss that would be overtime—that usually kills it right there.



Image:  stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Set small goals each day or week, rather than one huge one

This is such common advice I almost didn’t want to include it, but so many people forget this.  Then they look at the giant thing they have decided to do and give up completely.

As with New Year’s resolutions, you can’t just say “I’m going to write ALL THE PAPERS this semester!” and expect it to work out without some kind of plan.

Almost all classes will have a syllabus—use it.  Put each due date on your calendar and make note of what you have to do each week before you reach that date.

Example:  You have a fifteen-page paper due in six weeks.


 Image:  cutestpaw.com

If you look at the example sentence, it’s huge.  It’s insurmountable.  It looks like a lot of work.  It is, but you can do it.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time, my friend.

Try something like this instead:


Period Task Due Date
Week 1 Choose topic; submit for approval 2/1/15
Week 2 Receive approval; research 2/8/15
Week 3 Outline 2/15/15
Week 4 Body of paper 2/22/15
Week 5 Bibliography/works cited 3/1/15
Week 6 Paper due 3/8/15

That is very, very broad, but you get the idea.  Each week, you have specific tasks you need to accomplish.  Don’t think about the entire paper at once; just think about what you have to do that week.

Below, see a screenshot from the spreadsheet I used to keep track of my fall 2013 semester.

Fall semester spreadsheet

Image:  Elizabeth West

The highlighting let me tell at a glance which tasks I finished and which were still pending (or which I forgot to mark as finished).  This is my general routine; your results may vary.


Just in case you’re still mired in despair, remember that I did finish two degrees this way.  I can tell you it is possible to work full time and still go to school.  Yes, I quit this time around, but I did it because I needed to write.  That was more important to me than school right now.

If you have any ideas or suggestions that might help other readers, please feel free to share them in the comments.


Desk Hacks!

Help!  You’re in the middle of your workday and you’ve had a wardrobe malfunction, or someone stole your scissors.  What to do?

You’ve seen those lifehack articles—Use salt to clean your oven!  Your dustpan makes a great funnel to fill up the mop bucket!—for household use.  What happens when you have a little emergency at work?  Office supplies to the rescue!

  •  Use hand sanitizer to clean your purse mirror. Squirt a tiny bit on the glass and wipe it off with a tissue.

I probably wouldn’t try this on my phone screen.  It’s better to use a dry microfiber cloth, especially if you didn’t get a screen protector (why didn’t you get a screen protector!?).  For you marketing people out there, DigiClean® makes little tiny sticky ones that work great and they’re excellent branding giveaways.  I have one I got at a job fair and I love it.


  •  A paper clip or small binder clip will keep that half-full mega-bag of chips you couldn’t finish closed and fresh inside your desk drawer. A large one will hold your hair up off your neck (seriously; I just did this while stair-walking).


  • Jumbo paper clips make decent makeshift barrettes in a pinch—they’ll keep those tendrils out of your face until you’re finished crawling under your desk to replace the monitor plug you accidentally disconnected.


  • And if that weeny screw in your glasses comes out, stick a paper clip in the hole to keep the temple piece on until you can fix your frames.

FYI, a safety pin works well for this and the glasses thing.  You should go buy some right now and put them in your desk.

Your new best friend.

Your new best friend.

 Photo: Haragayato/Wikimedia Commons

  •  Need to raise your monitor? Grab a couple of those unused phone books sitting around the office and stack them underneath.  Nobody will miss them, I promise.


  • Hit up your tape dispenser for emergency pants or skirt hem repair. It won’t leave holes like a stapler and should hold until you get home.


  • I didn’t make this one up, but if you lose a pierced earring back, save the day with the eraser end of a pencil. Just poke the post through your ear and the eraser on the end of the post.


  • Have to cut a piece of paper in half but don’t have scissors? Fold it, crease it sharply, then (carefully!) run your tongue along the edge of the crease.  Open the paper and slowly tear it in half.  It will be a tiny bit fuzzy, but it works better than tearing it dry—unless the person you’re giving the other half to is completely grossed out.


Eww, Marjorie, roll that thing back up.  Seriously.  

Eww, Marjorie, roll that thing back up.  Seriously.

 Photo: stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  •  Don’t throw that chipped coffee cup away. Use it to hold your pens and pencils.


  • Make friends with the person who buys supplies and when he/she orders paper, you can score a cardboard box to use as a footrest.


There you are—a few desk hacks to make your day a little less annoying.  If you can think of any more, please share them in the comments.


5 Things for Newbies to Know about Office Culture

Certain aspects of office / cube farm life can be baffling to the uninitiated—new grads, etc.  If you’re coming off a food service or retail job, you already know how to handle customers (I hope), so I don’t need to mention that.  Here, in no particular order, are five things you should know before you start your first office job.

It’s more formal

You’ll probably have a dress code, and it probably won’t include sneakers and jeans, unless you’re really lucky and the company is okay with that.   I spent a lot of time working on things that got me dirty while wearing business clothes.  Every time I wore light-colored pants, the copier ran out of toner.  Every.  Stinking.  Time.

Club attire won’t do either.  Your shirts and pants should cover your bits, always.

Nice try, but no.

Nice try, but no.

Image:  photostock/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s less noisy (sometimes)

Unless you’re in a call center or someplace where people are going to be on the phone a lot, chances are you’ll be slightly creeped out at first by the quiet.  All those people are working.  In some offices, you can go a couple of hours hearing only the clacking of computer keys.  I’ve worked in an office or two that was like a tomb—I even forgot certain coworkers were there.

Don’t whistle, hum, sing, pop gum, etc.   Yes, what Mrs. Nussbaum told you in third grade was actually relevant.  Other people are trying to concentrate, especially if you’re in an open plan office or a cube farm.

It’s not your house

Your cube is your space, but it’s still a workspace.  Plenty of companies allow you to personalize it to a degree.  But it’s unlikely you’ll be able to hang thrash metal posters or naked Arwen Undomiel photoshops on the walls, or play country music all day, unless you are allowed headphones.  Leave the following at home:

  • Burning candles or incense and chanting at your mid-afternoon meditation time
  • Draping the entire cube in black fabric because “I like my privacy”
  • Bringing your entire collection of 450 Disney bobbleheads just to keep you company
  • That spinning wheel you bought to make your own yarn because it’s so relaxing and you can do it at lunch (just bring your knitting instead)
If you’re lucky, you work somewhere that lets you do this!

If you’re lucky, you work somewhere that lets you do this!

Image:  deezoid/deviantart.com

See more cool cubies here.

Mental work will still make you tired

You might be surprised by how exhausted a day at the office will make you feel.  Imagine doing homework all day long, and you’ll get what I mean.  You’ll feel mental fatigue all over your body.

Sitting for eight hours won’t help.  Try to get up and move around frequently, and stretch in your cube.

Every office has weird little rules, but some are universal

Most people enjoy popcorn.  Many people like microwave popcorn.  No one, and I mean no one, likes the lingering, nostril hair-singing smell of burnt popcorn.  If you are from birth unable to nuke popcorn without burning it, eat it at home.


  • Don’t throw stinky food leftovers in the wastebasket at your desk.
  • Don’t talk smack about your boss behind his/her back.  It will bite you.
  • Your former workplace might have been super friendly, but please don’t touch/hug/air kiss/flirt with your new coworkers or your manager. (See letter #3 at the link.)  It will make them uncomfortable and you could get in huge trouble.
  • If you empty the ice tray, fill it back up.
  • Ditto the coffeemaker; if you take the last cup, brew another pot.
  • Clean up after yourself in the bathroom (If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie—wipe the seatie.  You know this one.)
  • For God’s sake, WASH YOUR HANDS after you go to the bathroom.  The first time you walk out without doing it and someone notices, don’t be surprised if people avoid coming anywhere near you after that.  (I even have to tell you this?  Come on.  You’re an awesome grown-up; surely you know.  But you’d be surprised how many people don’t.)
Whee! Thanks for the ride, lady!

Whee! Thanks for the ride, lady!

Image:  jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lest you think working in an office is just a boring, soul-sucking experience, it can be fun.  Some things I’ve done with officemates include:

  • Closing the office and walking to a nearby bar for sandwiches
  • Having potlucks
  • Pranking other officemates (this is definitely material for another post, LOL)
  • Waving signs at a presidential limo

Remember that you’re in a more conservative atmosphere now; you can’t goof around the way you did at Burger Barn when you stuck the EAT ME sign with a French fry stapled to it on the cashier’s back (true story), or like that summer you worked in the warehouse during college and made a pyramid out of wooden pallets (not true, but I’m sure somebody did it).

Congratulations on your first office job!  Just keep it professional when you’re at work and you’ll be fine.

Hell No, I Won’t Go–Dating at the Office

Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady, did a great post over at WiseCareers about office romances.  Since I’m on the market now and just started working at a large company, I checked it out.  You should too.   Find it here.

My personal rule is no dating anyone at work.  I have two reasons for that:

  • I don’t want to see my significant other all day, especially if we have a fight.  Bleah!
  • I cannot afford to lose a job over a guy, no matter how hot he is.
Yeah, this would be a tough one.  Okay, maybe this one time….

Yeah, this would be a tough one. Okay, maybe this one time….

Image:  imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve only done it a couple of times, but it didn’t go well the first time and the second—well, luckily I had moved on to another job before we broke up.  Not gonna do it again.

There is another reason not mentioned in the article:  office gossip.  Who needs someone asking you about your boyfriend / girlfriend all day, or breaking both their legs to tell you she saw him with Marcy in Accounting and are you mad?

No.  Just no.  I’ll find my dates elsewhere, thank you.





What can’t you live without at work?


I got a job!

Image:  Ondrejk / Wikimedia Commons

 I’ll be proofing consultant reports for a local company, so not only will I be making actual money, it’s actual writing/editing!  Woohoo!

This afternoon, I was reading an older article on Corporette about what toiletries people keep in their desks.  It made me think about how much time we spend on the job and what we feel necessary to have with us.

When I left OldJob, I had a ton of stuff in my desk, and even more in my purse/tote that I hauled back and forth.  I know when I start at NewJob I’ll have to get used to the office, what’s available there, etc.  But I’m pretty sure there are a few basics I’ll want no matter what.

This can stay at home...for now.

This can stay at home…for now.

Image:  buycostumes.com

The bottom drawer is my stash, and this is what it usually has:


I keep a few munchies in my desk, just in case I can’t make it to lunch or I need an emergency snack.   Usually it’s dry goods that don’t stink, and they have to be in sealable containers.  I don’t want the Orkin® man zeroing in on my drawer.

  • Trail mix—the kind with nuts and dried fruit is best.
  • Soup—microwaveable bowls, or ramen packages)
  • Candy—a little dark chocolate will cheer you up on a heavy day.
  • Teabags—a must.  Green tea, peppermint and breakfast tea.  I have a cup with an electric coaster to keep it nice and hot.

OldJob provided cocoa (yay!), but if NewJob doesn’t, I’ll add that to the list.

  • Condiments—from takeout, mostly.  I also like to keep a small jar or bear of honey for my tea, with the outside kept washed so it won’t attract crawlies.

I try to bring fruit and yogurt with my lunch, and eat them midmorning and in the early afternoon, when the energy slump hits.

Drugstore items

Some offices provide lotion, sanitizer, etc., but not all do.  I prefer to keep other items around just in case.

  • Hand sanitizer with aloe—not so drying.  Avoid those with Triclosan, an antibacterial/antifungal with troubling side effects,that also contributes to superbugs.
  • Lotion—if it’s not in my purse, it’s here.  I like Gold Bond Ultimate Healing with aloe (I have eczema and it helps).
  • You ladies out there know what it’s like to get caught without certain monthly supplies.  In the desk in a discreet container, or in my purse.
  • Ibuprofen and Tums—it’s hell to be at work with pain or stomach upsets.  A friend of mine used to keep all sorts of OTC medicines in her purse; we called her Dope Lady.
"Pssst!  Need some Imodium A-D?  I gotcha covered."

“Pssst! Need some Imodium A-D? I gotcha covered.”

Image:  adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speaking of a chick’s most valued accessory, I like a small one tucked into a tote.  Here’s what I need to get through the day:

My purse

Wallet, makeup, phone, stamps, gum, pens, etc.  I have been known to leave it behind if I’m running an errand, but if I’m in one place for eight hours, I want it with me.  I could write another post on the contents of my purse, but no one since high school has cared what’s in there.


I write at lunch, or sometimes surf if allowed.  This is why I like a tote, so the dang thing will fit in there.  If I get a tablet, I might try that, but unless I get a keyboard too I doubt I’ll mess with it.  Kindle Fire, which I’m currently considering, is too small.

Flash drive

I keep a flash drive in my purse, so if I think of something I want to write about later, I can just jam it into my work computer and make a note of it.   WARNING:  some companies don’t like you to do this because of viruses, etc.  If it’s okay with your IT department, make sure you scan the drive every time you plug it in, just in case.

Of course, a smartphone may eliminate some of these gadget issues.  Yes, I plan to get one.

What do you like to keep handy in your desk, briefcase or handbag?

Social Media No-Nos

This article showed up in my online browsing today, and it reminded me (as it should remind you) that what we post on social media could come back to haunt us on the job.

In short, this woman took advantage of the relative ease with which we can post our opinions online to let everyone know how she felt about the 2012 election results.  While she’s entitled to disagree with other voters, what she said was racist.  She also used the A word.  I’m sorry, but anyone with any brains these days knows that posting certain terms is the equivalent of shouting the B word in a crowded airport.  You just.  Don’t. Do. It.

This word? No?

Image:  icanhascheezburger.com

The company she worked for fired her.  Do they have the right to do this? Yes, they do.  The worst thing about Miss Obama Hater?  She doesn’t understand why she lost her job.  I’m about to explain why.

While some people may argue that her post constituted free speech, the Constitution only covers your right to not have the government suppress speech—which they still can under certain circumstances.  Your employer can tell you to shut the H-E-double hockey sticks up all he/she wants.   The only protected option at work is objecting to adverse conditions, or reporting something illegal (whistleblowing).

What are some common workplace rights you only think you have?  Donna Ballman, an employment lawyer, lays them out on this blog post at Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home, and she does include this one.

You can also be fired for what you say outside your workplace.  Why?  Well, think about how your social media accounts represent you.  Unless you comment everywhere online using an alias, and avoid anything like Facebook where you’d use your real name, your face and voice will both be out there.

More websites every day are requiring comments be posted under Facebook IDs or using your real name.  You can, of course, decline to comment, but if it’s a hot-button issue, can you resist?

Must…correct…misguided…assumptions about Pokemon….

Image:  imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Sure, but what does that have to do with my job?” you ask.  Plenty.  At work, you represent your employer.  If your antics outside of work net you the wrong kind of attention, your job can go bye-bye.  See, employers want people who don’t court controversy.  And making racist tweets or posts about the president, or anyone for that matter, regardless of your employer’s politics, is bad.

The number one rule of social media is this:  do not post anything online you wouldn’t want your boss or your sainted grandmother to see.  You aren’t completely anonymous.  And as people like this former Burger King employee have discovered, savvy computer whizzes can track you down using your GPS tags and other neat little trackers digital devices and the Internet put on everything you post.

10 People Who Lost Jobs Over Social Media Mistakes

One reason I believe people are running afoul of this?  They’ve forgotten that being famous (i.e. going viral) and being notorious (going viral and having everyone think you’re a complete idiot and/or jerkbag) are two different things.

So be careful what you post, tweet, or comment online.  It could come back to bite you.