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How to integrate leisure and studies

Achieving a balance between study and social life in university can be challenging. University is a very stimulating environment that offers excellent opportunities for both. Finding a balance between the two may be more difficult, as there are many choices but far fewer structured activities than in high school. However, good time management will help you integrate the two seamlessly into your life.

If you decide to read only this far, at least take this away:

  • Hobbies and studies are both important, but depending on the time you have, one will often be more important than the other.
  • Don’t choose leisure as an escape from studying. Do things that intrigue you or that you genuinely enjoy.
  • No matter what you decide to do as an activity, give it all you’ve got. Otherwise, it’s a waste of your time.
  • Don’t blindly follow your friends in their choices. “Cool” hobbies quickly become less cool, while doing what you love will help you become your own person.

Although extracurricular activities are important, your studies should come first. If you always study at the last minute, you won’t be able to do as well as you could! That being said, remember that you sometimes need to relax, and that studying shouldn’t consume your entire life.

1. Get your timing right

Don’t start looking for activities as a way out during exam time or when you’re stressed. Participate in activities when your schedule allows and slow down (or even stop the activity) as exams approach or during stressful times. Summer is a good time to test and discover your interests. Learn about clubs, participate in sports and, if you’re interested in something, continue in the fall.

2. Choose your hobbies wisely

Believe me, sometimes you have to make difficult choices when it comes to extracurricular activities. I read once that when we confuse escaping with hobbies, finding the right balance becomes a problem, and I have kept this remark in mind since then. The real problem may be that you don’t like to study. So, everything but studying becomes a hobby. To avoid this, choose meaningful activities that you can do over the long term, things that really interest you.

3. Create a schedule, make a to-do list and revise your schedule!

Plan what needs to be done and when by prioritizing your courses. Making a to-do list will help you clear your mind and lower your stress levels. The Getting Things Done technique has proven to be effective for this. I’ll let you discover it.

See if you can schedule some free time with your friends. This doesn’t mean taking time out of your studies, but rather, reworking your study time so that you can enjoy your social time.

4. Take breaks and take care of yourself

Getting an A on an exam is a good goal, but don’t overdo it. Studying in excess, especially for long periods of time, is just as bad as studying too little. Take time to stretch and recharge with a snack. This will help you maintain a good level of concentration. To function at its best, your body needs a balanced diet, physical exercise and adequate sleep (plus a little time on Netflix — even better!). Feel free to use the Counselling and Coaching service or other  mental health services. Stop by the Undergraduate Office (Gendron Hall, Room 172) or the Science Mentors Office for contacts or references. Your well-being is the ultimate priority.

One example of a way to integrate breaks when you’re working is the Pomodoro technique.

Admittedly, your own method or a mix of methods might work better for you. We’re all different — what’s important is to recognize when a technique doesn’t work for you and make changes.


5. You don't have to do everything

For most students, the problem is not lack of time but lack of discipline, plus purposeless activities. It’s better to limit yourself to one or two activities per year that you can give your all to rather than to scatter your efforts and be more or less absent from all your groups.

If you do these activities to bolster your CV, remember this: employers and top universities are looking at why you have chosen to do these activities and what you get out of them.

6. Bonus tip: Resist temptation!

Learn to say no to long conversations with friends. The real trick is to use your free time between classes wisely to advance your reading and homework. If you spend this time chatting or hanging out online, you’ll need all your afternoons and weekends to study. You have to force yourself to stay focused to free up time for fun.

Stéphanie Abo
4th year Financial Mathematics and Economics student