Finding Balance Within Chaos: Juggling Research With Other Priorities

By Elisa Shaholli, Peer Research Ambassador

Student Research Blog. Finding Balance Within Chaos: Juggling Research With Other Priorities. By PRA Elisa.Sometimes it may feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for all we have scheduled for ourselves: classes, clubs, self-care, assignments, work, meals, and more! With days where an overwhelming lineup of activities are on your schedule, research may feel like another stressful activity in a long list of ‘to-dos.’

Throughout my time at UConn, there are a few different strategies I’ve found helpful for those days where chaos seems to outweigh balance, and which have helped me with time and stress management. Compiled below are my top four pieces of advice on juggling research amidst a busy schedule, so that not only will you be able to enjoy the research process more by having a greater mental bandwidth for it, but also it will help alleviate current and future stress!

Tip One: Routine is Your Friend

Routine is an innate aspect of being human: our bodies even function on circadian rhythm! My first tip then includes crafting a routine that works for you, one that you can follow repeatedly throughout the semester. I’ve found that when I have an idea of what every Monday includes for me, for example, I have a better understanding of not only that day, but also that week.

If, for example, I know I’ll be meeting my research advisor every Wednesday, I should have my deliverables all done by the end of Tuesday. On that Wednesday, before I meet my advisor, I work on any last minute aspects of the information I’ll share, or brainstorm questions that I need to ask my advisor based on the latest work I did.

Having a set routine where you have a general idea of how each week will go helps alleviate stress by allowing you to have more control over your day. Of course sometimes what we plan doesn’t work out—a meeting has to get canceled because someone is sick, what you thought would take an hour for a writing ended up taking much longer, or you have an essay for a class that has been monopolizing your time away from research—but at least creating a general routine provides a landing spot for you to later adjust as needed. This gives you a sense of control when your schedule turns hectic!

Tip Two: Don’t Memorize Everything– Write it Down!

What I have found has helped me with not only time management but especially stress management is writing deadlines and tasks down. Although having everything you need to do written on paper can seem daunting once you look at a page full of tasks, keeping everything inside your head tends to be even more overwhelming. When we try to memorize what needs to be done, we can easily forget certain tasks, and this can make for a worrying realization, especially if it concerns any deadlines!

Writing down also helps when it comes to the first tip of creating a routine. By visualizing what we have to do, we are better able to create routines that can give us greater control of our schedules and time.

Tip Three: It’s Okay to Cut Back

It can be a difficult decision to cut back on certain activities or eliminate aspects of our routine, especially if we have never had to before. However, if you realize that your schedule has just become too much, it’s important to realize that stepping away from certain activities is okay! If you are at this stage and trying to figure out what to prioritize and what to step away from, it can be helpful to divide your schedule into necessities and wants, and find a balance between them.

For example, your necessities may include the classes you are taking this semester, research you are working on in a lab, and the part time job you have on campus. Your wants are the time you spend doing yoga at the Rec Center, the 2 clubs you are part of on campus, and the fiction book you try to finish each week.

Your necessities can’t be changed, but can they be cut down temporarily? Maybe in a week where you know you have exams, you can focus on a much smaller part of your research that requires less time. For your wants, which of these can be cut down on? Maybe between the 2 clubs, you can prioritize just one. Perhaps the goal of finishing one fiction book a week can be cut down to reading half a book a week.

It’s important to realize cutting back doesn’t equate to failure. If anything, it shows maturity and growth in realizing limits within ourselves! Everyone will experience this at some point: it’s not a matter of if, but when. Be gentle with yourself when you experience this as well.

Tip Four: Your Advisor is on Your Team

If you are facing chaos in your schedule or difficulty with certain aspects of your research, it’s important to discuss this topic with your advisor(s). Our advisors were once students just like us, and they intimately understand the process of research alongside the other tasks they themselves have to do: teaching, advising, grading, lesson planning, and their own self-care.

If you are facing hurdles in your research or feeling like research has become a juggling act amidst other activities, it can be a huge relief to talk about this candidly with your advisor. Usually, your advisor will not only empathize, but also help you in dividing up your research to more digestible parts. If weekly check-ins are too frequent, biweekly check-ins may end up being a more appropriate option. If coming to the lab a certain day isn’t possible because of back-to-back exams, maybe that day can be swapped with another.

You may worry that discussing these topics will somehow be negative, where your advisor’s opinion of you will be changed. It’s important to remember that faculty are people too, and they want to help you. Our advisors wish for us to succeed, not to struggle, and if you need help, there’s no shame in asking for it. If anything, I’ve found that faculty members have appreciated it much more when I was honest that I was confused about a topic or feeling overwhelmed, than not saying anything at all! Having conversations about my situations enabled faculty to provide resources to surpass hurdles: if I was having trouble writing a certain portion of my paper, for example, letting my advisor know enabled them to give me tips on how to do it well. It didn’t lead to them suddenly thinking I was not a good writer! Your advisor is on your team, and to work well as a team, communication is key.

Concluding Thoughts

When you’re trying to piece together your own schedule and how research best fits into it, I hope these four tips will be of help. Embracing routine and writing information down help with gaining control over situations that may feel hectic. Cutting back and reaching out to our advisors enable us to better understand our own limits and gain support to create better versions of not only our work, but also ourselves. While chaos can sometimes feel inevitable, these tips provide ways to create balance among frenzy.

Elisa is a senior majoring in English and Economics. Click here to learn more about Elisa.