For career-focused and ambitious students, university is a time for chasing goals, ticking tasks off lists and striving to do your very best in your studies. But with the pressure of completing extra work experience and internships, as well as the looming stress of applying for graduate jobs, it can be difficult to keep your life in balance.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of feeling like I need to be constantly grinding hard to benefit my future, and that taking breaks was not a good move career-wise. The truth is, employers want happy, energised and enthusiastic employees.

If you are on the brink of burnout; stressed and overwhelmed, you won’t make for a good employee, no matter how good your resume looks. It is possible to have a high work ethic, work towards your goals and set yourself up for a bright future while still keeping a balanced and happy life.

Here are my best tips to do so:

1. Prioritise your perfect balance

Finding your perfect balance of all elements of your life is incredibly important to envision what your ideal life looks like.

A way to begin this process is imagining all of the elements of your life in a pie chart.

This can include work, study, exercise, social life, me time, etc.

We all have a different way we’d like the pie chart to look. For me, if I am not getting out and having fun with friends, I feel unbalanced, overwhelmed and really feel like something is missing. But this piece of the pie may be much smaller for others, but their ‘me time’ would ideally take up a larger percentage of their time.

This process can help you more effectively make decisions when weighing up whether you have the capacity to take on a new opportunity, if you’re doing too much of something and not enough of another, or if something is missing altogether.

2. You’re allowed to say no

If you’re seeking them out and you know the right places to look, opportunities will be all around you during university. Especially if you’ve been applying like crazy to anything you might remotely have a chance at getting (guilty!)

There may be moments where an opportunity might arise, and in university, it is usually volunteer and unpaid work. Sometimes these opportunities will align well with your goals for the future, and will be worth the time spent. Other times you may be unsure about taking it on.

For me, analysing if this new opportunity will align with ALL of my goals, keeping my desired pie chart of balance, is a great way to make this decision.

It’s important to remember that while something might look great on your LinkedIn, it might not be worth sending you into overwhelm and reducing your already low hours of sleep.

More opportunities will come. Probably those that will fit you better, too.

3. Set your boundaries

With any relationship in life, it is super important to set your boundaries early on. This is especially relevant in work and study environments. Sitting down with your manager and discussing exactly how many hours you will be working, the nature of the work, and which days this falls upon is key. If you’ve already got commitments (you have dinner with your Nan every Friday) or have some non-negotiables (weekend emails are a no-go), make sure to be upfront and let them know.

Setting your boundaries, firmly but fairly, will ensure that:

  1. You will remain in your perfect balance
  2. Your management are understanding, and are good people to be working for
  3. You’ll know exactly what you are taking on, and can plan your life effectively

4. Make change if needed

Not everything is in our control, but when things aren’t working, it’s unlikely that it will get better without change. Change can be scary, but sometimes it’s the only way forward.

Four subjects stressing you out at uni? Drop to three. One more semester might be better for you anyway to take the stress off job hunting.

Late night TikTok sesh getting in the way of your exercise goals? Set an app timer so you can get up an hour earlier for the gym.

Feel like you never see your friends? Set up a shared calendar to find a time when you are all free!

While achieving highly in your studies and completing work experience are avenues to open up career doors, it’s important to make sure that the other elements of your life are not being lost in the process. Finding your perfect balance, and taking steps to achieve it, are absolutely worth the time both for your mental wellbeing, quality of life and career prospects.