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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Starting Your First Job? How to Stay Organized and Sane

Like many other young professionals, I have a jam-packed schedule. A typical week for me consists of working at my 9-to-5 job, volunteering at two nonprofits, happy hours and hikes with friends, networking at professional events, getting in some “me” time, and even doing some contract work.

And I love this pace, but when I first made the transition from college to working world, I found that balancing a new job, a personal life, and a new city—and staying happy doing it—was a pretty big challenge. Sure, I did a lot in undergrad, too, but there’s something about adding a full-time job into the mix that requires a different approach to scheduling, planning, and organization.

If you’re feeling the same way, here are a few things I found immensely helpful in balancing my first few post-grad months.


Recognize Your Needs—and Meet Them

You’ve heard this advice in college, but here it is again: Know what you, personally, need to succeed.

Many of my friends from college struggled with the transition because they thought being in the “real world” meant being a whole new person than they were in undergrad. And yes, while your lifestyle—everything from your schedule to your social life to your living situation—will be very different from the past four years, you are still the same person. So, the things you needed to succeed while you were in college will likely be the same things you need in a job setting.

For example, if you know you need a full eight hours of sleep to function properly at 7 AM, then figure out how to get it—even if it means calling it an early night when your friends are still out. If you crave exercise to calm your nerves, make time for it—even if it means you’re not the first one in the office. I’ve never been skilled at multitasking, so I deal with it by setting a schedule that lets me devote different periods of the day to different aspects of my life.

Remember, you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors if you’re not on top on your game.

Organize Your Time

If you weren’t a time management guru in college—well, it’s time to become one!

The first thing I found very useful was making lists: From grocery lists (keep a basic one in your phone so you don’t have to recreate the wheel every week) to to-do lists (ideally separate ones for work, life, and anything else you have going on) to pro-con lists (so helpful when you’re making a decision!), write things down. Do it daily, weekly, monthly—whatever works. Whether they’re formal or informal, online or on paper, lists are all about getting your thoughts down, so you can visualize and conquer without fear that you’re forgetting anything.

In addition, I recommend organizing your big tasks—from projects at work to grad school applications to your friend’s bridal shower—with a timeline. Spread the work out over several days or weeks, making sure you have adequate time to devote to the task. Remember to prioritize and organize around the different activities on your plate, and give each one its own pocket of time. (Or, if you tend to be a procrastinator like me—who doesn’t work well with timelines—just set a couple of deadlines. Timelines only work if you stick to them!)

Stick to Your Priorities

If you’re like most, your highest priority is your job—whether it’s figuring out how to get ahead at your new gig or trying to find that first dream position. But, try not to let everything else fall by the wayside if it’s important to you, too. Just as your extracurriculars, your friends, and your hobbies were an important part of your college education, they’re an important part of being happy as a professional. I highly value my volunteer work and spending time with my friends, so I keep them high on my priority list, even if work is battling for my time and energy. Taking time to decide what you want out of life—and making those things a priority—will help you organize your schedule to maximize your happiness.

That said—don’t overload yourself. If you’re starting a side business, taking night classes to get a competitive edge, and trying to have a social life while still holding your new job—you may be in a little too deep.

I learned this the hard way when I tried to take on too many things when I first started my job, while continuing to live the same lifestyle I embraced in college. And the best advice I got then was this: You don’t have to do it all. Really. Finding balance in your new life is about being honest with yourself, knowing what you can handle, and setting priorities based on what matters most.

Photo of young professional courtesy of Shutterstock.

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