Published on 2015/06/09

The Ultimate Balancing Act: Work, Life and Business School

The EvoLLLution | The Ultimate Balancing Act: Work, Life and Business School
It’s critical for Executive MBA students to maintain a reasonable school-work-life balance if they are to succeed in their programs.

One of the biggest challenges Executive MBA (EMBA) students face is balancing school with their other life priorities, often work and/or family obligations. With so many plates spinning at once, students fear that those plates will eventually spin out of control and come crashing down.

In order for EMBA students to achieve a work/school/life balance (as opposed to work/school/life chaos) they must prioritize. They also need to make the best use of their time.

Flexible schedules help

In order to succeed, students should be advised to choose an EMBA program that best fits their own schedules. Many schools offer classes on weekends or evenings. If ongoing travel poses a problem for students, they should choose an EMBA school within driving distance of their homes.

Overall length of the program also can be a factor for time-crunched students. EMBA programs run the gamut from one to two years. While students in one-year programs earn their degrees more quickly, they also must deal with a highly condensed course load. Those in two-year programs must maintain their commitment and pace for the duration. These are factors that a student should take into consideration when choosing an EMBA program.

Setting priorities

Just because a student is enrolled in an EMBA program, that doesn’t mean it has to be all-consuming. Studies shouldn’t always take precedence over other areas of the student’s life. If a student puts 100-percent effort into an EMBA and neglects family or work, this could lead to resentment and, ultimately, their academic performance will suffer. That’s where prioritization comes in.

A little up-front effort will make the student’s life easier in the long run. Suggest that the student rank time demands, giving each a numerical value, with 1 being the most important and 10 the least. This will help the student decide which items deserve immediate attention and which ones can wait.

Setting aside designated time slots devoted strictly to studies reinforces the student’s commitment to the program and helps maintain much-needed focus. Advise students to use their mobile phones to set reminders. End times are as important as start times so that students can avoid becoming too immersed in a single task and end up asking, “Where did the time go?” hours later.

If a student needs additional help on focusing, numerous apps are available to limit online distractions and increase productivity:

  • To go cold turkey from surfing the web, recommend Freedom.
  • Just avoid social networks? LeechBlock, a free add-on for Firefox, does the job.
  • WriteRoom (Mac) and Dark Room (PC) turn the student’s computer into a word processor.

Support networks

Whether a student is single or married with children at home, it helps if a support network is available. A student may be driven and motivated, but knowing that others are in one’s corner provides a much-needed emotional boost. Beyond the emotional support, family, friends and colleagues can offer hands-on assistance to ease the student’s burden.

At home, a spouse can help by taking on additional responsibilities such as housework, yard work and child-rearing or pet duties. Depending on their age, children also can do their part to help around the house.

At work, it’s important that a student gets buy-in up front from his or her supervisor regarding EMBA studies. It helps to keep coworkers in the loop as well, so that they can help pick up any slack, if needed.

Friends, too, can offer support by simply being understanding when studying takes precedence over social invitations. A student shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it’s picking up the dry cleaning or bringing over takeout. True friends will be happy to chip in—and eager to get payback when they need a favor in return.

Time management

A calendar is quite likely the EMBA student’s best friend. Students should establish a schedule and stick to it. Some students are most efficient with a daily to-do list. Others may prefer a weekly or monthly overview. The best choice is probably a combination of short- and long-term goals. Students shouldn’t let the long-term goals overwhelm them; these can be made more manageable by dividing into smaller chunks.

Students should clearly mark deadlines in the calendar and, as they would for an office project, for example, work backward to ensure deadlines are met. Milestones help keep students on track and on task. If a milestone is missed, it’s not the end of the world—but that time must be made up somewhere else to avoid missing the deadline.

Stress management

Studying for an EMBA can be stressful. It’s more important now than ever for students to keep stress levels under control (easier said than done). Exercise, diet and sleep—three areas that could suffer the most—are areas that should not be neglected.

Studies have shown that exercise and proper nutrition have a positive impact on cognitive brain function. Likewise, lack of sleep can have a negative impact on one’s cognitive abilities. This means that, while there are only so many hours in the day, students should avoid burning the candle at both ends. Failure to take care of oneself could result in sickness, which could cause a much larger setback in the long run.

Hone study skills

Most EMBA students haven’t been in a classroom setting for years. That means they may need to brush up on their study skills. Numerous online resources are available and geared to the needs of adult students.


Lastly, students should ease up on themselves. A person can push only so far. That means a student should listen to their body and know when to take a break.

Thoughts of guilt can be self-defeating. The word “selfish” should be banished from the student’s vocabulary. Instead, the student should look at “me time” as a positive. Enrolling in an EMBA program is not just for the student but also for their company and/or family.

Participating in an EMBA program is definitely a juggling act. However, with the right attitude and plan of action, students can juggle school, work and family without dropping the ball.

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