After completing his first term in Wharton’s EMBA program, Robert Chen WG’19, shares his tips for balancing work, family, and classes.

They warn you about it when you apply. You’re even asked to lay out your plan to deal with it in Essay #3. But it’s not until you live it that you truly understand the herculean task to balance school while working full time — and adding a second child to your family right before midterms.

Yet, having survived my first term, I learned a few lessons that might help others with this great juggling act.

Get focused

It’s easy when you have so much going on to feel that others have an advantage over you. Maybe they don’t have kids, or they are younger, or they seem to have a less demanding job. Thinking or complaining about these things is wasting precious time that you don’t have. You’re better off channeling your energy to focus on the next task you need to complete in that hour.

Also, there is a very good chance that other people have just as much, if not more on their plates than you do. They just handle it better. The good news is you can handle it as well if you get to work. Just put one foot in front of the other.

Create flexibility

Build slack for yourself by figuring out what you can outsource – cleaning, cooking, laundry, food shopping, etc. You can find countless resources online (i.e. TaskRabbit) for every possible need.

Also, cultivate strong relationships with these key stakeholders:

  • Significant other, family and friends
  • Your boss and work colleagues
  • Your study team

You’ll want to depend on these individuals to help you manage the unexpected when it eventually happens (and trust me, it will happen). Communicate early if you think you need help. This gives others time to make the necessary adjustments or to marshal the right resources. Like an athlete, flexibility prevents you from getting hurt.

Say No

People will make requests for your time. This could be your family, your company, or complete strangers. This problem is especially bad if you’re good at what you do. In addition, if you’re at Wharton, you’ll also be exposed to many awesome opportunities that you’ll want to take advantage of. The great news is you’ll quickly become a master at making trade-offs. The bad news is you’ll have to make trade-offs.
When people ask for my time, I use the rule of thumb from Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist: “Be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done.”

“Work” doesn’t always mean school work or work for your job. It means completing the tasks that matter to you and that help you achieve your goals. I find the mantra “less but better” helpful and periodically review my current activities to see if they still make sense. Activities that made you successful in the past may limit you now because you have outgrown them.

Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that you chose this life for yourself and that you will get through it. See these stressful moments as the training grounds for honing the skills to help you reach your goals faster and accomplish more in your life.

Posted: November 29, 2017

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