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.


Hobbits at the Office

Wow, I’ve been neglecting this poor blog.  And here I am about to do it again, by lamely posting something I’m sure you’ve already seen.  But it’s so funny I just can’t help it.

This past Saturday, Martin Freeman, star of Sherlock and the Hobbit films, hosted Saturday Night Live.  The show has been hit or miss for me for a while, but tuning in this time did not disappoint.

You might remember that Freeman also played Tim in the original U.K. version of The Office.  Well, in case you are one of the five people who probably didn’t see this, SNL and I present to you the best mashup I’ve seen in a very long while.  Enjoy!


Attention, Job Seekers–Discount on Alison Green’s How to Get a Job E-book!

Alison Green, work guru extraordinaire and owner of the excellent Ask A Manager work blog, is offering a discount on her book, How to Get a Job, for the next few days!

This e-book is a great resource for job hunters.  It helped me greatly when I was searching.  It contains advice on how to make your interview and cover letter awesome, and how to ace your interview.  And it has a new snazzy cover, too.

Soon, you too could be having this much fun getting a paycheck!

Soon, you too could be having this much fun getting a paycheck!

Go to this link immediately and get it today!

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.


Happy New Year! 2013 in review

Once again, it’s annual report time!  This blog got more views than my writing blog.  I got more spam comments on both, which means–well, I don’t know what it means.  But for all legit commenters and those non-bots who actually read my posts, thank you!  Have a great 2014!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,800 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

5 Cardinal Sins in the Workplace

Ah, the cardinal sin.  A concept in Catholicism, it means the most egregious of the bad things you can do to piss off God, such as murder, adultery, stealing, and calling your helicopter parents names and throwing their house keys into the sewer.

When I get my hands on you, you're going to regret that one, sonny!

When I get my hands on you, you’re going to regret that one, sonny!

Image: stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, God isn’t in your manager’s office, but you might want to avoid the following activities at work anyway.  In no particular order, here are the five sins you don’t want to commit in the workplace.

Stealing:  lunch, etc. 

Whether you snake your filthy paws right into innocent, defenseless lunchboxes or accidentally take a piece of cake Shirley the accounting lady brought from her granddaughter’s second birthday party but didn’t label, you’re scum if you do this. 

Okay, maybe Shirley didn’t write her name on her Tupperware cake holder, but that doesn’t matter.  See, maybe it was special sugar-free cake, because Shirley is a diabetic, and maybe she’s only allowed one slice of that per year, and little Tamara’s birthday was her one shot.  Or that sandwich the receptionist brought is vegan, and there isn’t a damn thing in the vending machine she can eat, and she doesn’t have any money to go out for lunch.  Congratulations; you just made another human being go hungry. 

I’m not even going to mention stealing from your company—money, office supplies, etc., or taking anything that isn’t yours off someone else’s desk (iPod, wallet, etc.).  That could land you in jail.  And you’d deserve it. 

You can get by pretty well in this world if you remember one rule:  if it’s not yours, DON’T TOUCH IT. 

Snooping in someone’s desk/purse/locker

No, there isn’t a commandment that says “Thou shalt not snoop,” but there ought to be.  Besides, do you really want to know that your coworker needs a midday application of specially prescribed hemorrhoid relief cream? 

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

 Image:  stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mind your own business, please. 

Smell offenses

You like the smell of burnt popcorn?  No?  Well, other people don’t either.  Most microwave popcorn burns because people walk away from it.  Stand by that microwave, or just wait until you go home and make it the right way, on the stove or with an air popper.  You don’t need to breathe all that diatacyl anyway.   

Same with your kale / tuna / hardboiled egg / Limburger casserole.  Blech. 

Excess cologne can actually trigger asthma, migraines, and allergy attacks in susceptible people.  Some offices have a no-scent policy for this reason, or simply because what smells nice to one person may gag another. 

One guy at a former job, Bob, wore a lot of cologne—you smelled him before you saw him.  A coworker making fun of him one day said sarcastically, “Hi, I’m Bob—I stink like a French whore!”  (Inappropriate?  Maybe, but I laughed my ass off.)  Another coworker told me about someone who predated me (we’ll call him Stinky Horace) who rarely took a bath because he just couldn’t be bothered. 

Don’t be Bob or Horace.  Your colleagues will remember you, but for all the wrong reasons. 


Grow up and deal with your coworkers like an adult.  If Trixie comes in an hour late and leaves early, that’s not your problem.  You’re not the time clock police, are you?  There may be some arrangement there you don’t know about.  And if you complain, the first thing a good manager will probably say to you is, “Don’t worry about Trixie’s schedule; get back to work.” 

If Trixie’s schedule legitimately interferes with your job, you need to be proactive.  Let’s say you need forms from her but she isn’t sending them before she leaves.  Talk to her first, politely.  Maybe Stinky Horace isn’t sending them to her, either. 

If you can’t work it out, then you might need to bring it up with your boss.  Alison Green at Ask a Manager recommends framing it as though you’re asking for advice about YOUR work, like “I’m having trouble getting data I need from Trixie when she leaves at three.  I went to her and asked if she could send it earlier in the day, but that didn’t seem to help.  Do you have any ideas about how I can finish the TPS report and maybe incorporate it later?” 

Gossiping is just as bad.  Speculation can severely affect someone’s reputation and in turn, their career.  You do not want to be seen as the office gossip; if you spread rumors, eventually, you’ll damage your own credibility and you can even be fired. 

Lame when you were a kid; lame now.

Lame when you were a kid; lame now.

Image:  Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Bullying in the workplace isn’t illegal, though many people think it should be.  Suzanne Lucas of Evil HR Lady argues against that here.  She also says it should be stopped.  And she’s right.  Just like it does in elementary and high school, bullying makes people feel afraid, helpless, and angry. 

This is a problem best handled at management level.  The workplace is for competent adults, not tantrum-throwing, bullying babies. 

If you’re a manager, don’t bully.  Either PIP or fire bullies on your team.  You’re not doing yourself or your company any favors by allowing this disgusting behavior to continue.  And if someone actually gets physically hurt (it can happen—some bullies like to throw things), you could be sued. 


Most of these behaviors are or should have been weeded out past elementary school.  If you see these with your direct reports, then you should really think about firing these people and hiring adults.  If you recognize your own behavior in any of these list items, STOP IT.  Regardless of whatever valuable skills people have, if they can’t get along with their peers, your company will suffer.