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A Day in the Life of a World Campus Penn Stater

Barry BackI am an active-duty soldier who works in Retention for the U.S. Army Reserves and am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Finance at Penn State World Campus. I wanted to share the strategies that have worked for me to allow me to continue with my civilian education while working full-time and managing a family.

My leadership has always supported me in continuing my civilian education; without their support, the journey would be challenging, if not impossible. I was lucky enough to have a leader push me to where I currently am, and I will be forever thankful for Sergeant Major Gonzalez. 

Time management is the greatest ally I have in the battle to complete all my daily tasks. If I fall behind on any task, I end up making it up by spending less time with my family or sleeping less, neither of which is a desirable outcome. I have a four-year-old daughter and an amazing wife, and spending time with them is my number one priority. I treat my day as a training schedule — no white space is allowed. So how do I manage it?

 

Morning

I am up by 0600 to conduct Physical Training (PT) on my own. This can be as short as a two-mile run or as long as an hour of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Whatever your flavor — it just needs to get the heart rate up and get the blood flowing. Shortly after my workout, hydration is vital, but coffee is king. As I cool down from my workout, I make breakfast and get my prepared lunches packed along with snacks that my daughter demands I take with me. You never know when you will need a fruit snack break. From here, I am off to work.

Afternoon

Lunch at my desk is the norm, but I will get up and take a walk if it has been a particularly stressful morning. Lunchtime is when I get a lot of my reading in for the week. For this reason, I tend to get my books in digital format if possible. Having everything on my iPad is far easier to manage than carrying around three-inch binders with hundreds of pages. I stray away from doing homework on lunch break, as I am not usually in the right mindset. Reading is easy to pick up and go and easy to put down if my attention is diverted. Having earbuds in seems to keep the distractions at bay, even if I am not listening to anything.

Evening

I am home by 1800, give or take — it depends on the time of year and how well my mission is going. It is dinner and family time until my daughter goes to bed at 2000. As of late, it has been Barbie or LOL dolls, sometimes both. Once my daughter is down for bed, it is time to start chipping away at the weekly tasks for school. Taking the bigger assignments and breaking them down into manageable tasks and prioritizing what needs to be done is equally important. I never rely on the built-in calendar and always check what is due and when. Most classes I have had will have mid-week deadlines and end-of-the-week deadlines. This makes Mondays and Tuesdays critical to setting myself up for success later in the week. The semester’s beginning is the hardest, as I find myself trying to figure out a rhythm and knowing what the professor expects. For these reasons, the first three weeks are typically the toughest. I spend about two hours or less per night; after a certain point, I can feel diminishing returns due to my mental fatigue.

Sleep

From 2200 through 2300, I am winding down and relaxing before I am off to bed. The Army Wellness Center has told me anything less than seven hours of sleep is the equivalent of being drunk the next day and decreases mental sharpness significantly. Hitting eight hours of sleep in a night is a reality I do not live in that is reserved for when I am on leave or retired. There are many techniques out there for getting better sleep. For me, it is sleeping in an icebox (68 degrees) and refraining from coffee and alcoholic beverages at night. I am guilty of being on my phone just before bed and will probably never give that up. Figure out what works for you, do some research, and know that the Army Wellness Center is a valuable resource.

I hope that hearing about my routine and time management strategies helped you think of ways to balance your schedule.

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