Man in a white shirt and jeans with a man bun, sitting at a computer looking stressed

Acknowledging your commitments, and knowing when to say no.

Who else can relate to the pressure of working two jobs, studying part-time, and participating in extra-curricular activities? It might seem like a lot. I mean… it is a lot. It’s great to be busy and to be taking each opportunity as they come, but how do you know when it’s time to just say no?

I’ve had my fair share of mini burnouts. They usually happen toward the end of a trimester when due dates; work and study-wise, like to rear their heads all at once.

Life moves at an extremely fast pace for many of us but throw in the unpredictable nature of a pandemic and many of us are finding ourselves exhausted so often.

However, life seems to be full steam ahead. So far this year, I’ve joined two public committees, said goodbye to one job whilst beginning another, and moved out of home.

I’m going to be completely honest and say that the above did impact my study schedule. At the beginning of this year, I cut down from full-time study to just one unit so I could adjust to my new job and living situation. Moving on to trimester 2 and I’ve enrolled in two units with the tenacity that I have a decent enough routine now that I can balance each of my commitments. Wondering if you’re experiencing burnout? We’ve got a blog on that here.

I’m not here to discuss ways to manage your study load,  but if you want to become the boss of your to do list, and stay organised whilst at University you could check out those links.  What this blog will discuss is how to acknowledge your commitments, what to do when you’ve got too much on your plate, and how to say no.

To help me cover those points I reached out to a few busy bees from our UNE student and staff community to find out ways they prioritise their day-to-day commitments.

Nick Troon is studying a Bachelor of Arts, he has his fair share of commitments with the Armidale Drama and Musical Society’s Mamma Mia, Austin/EPC’s Shrek: the Musical, UNEPAC’s The Pillowman, and works two jobs – you may have even heard him before, presenting on 106.9 TUNE!FM.

The same goes for Dominick O’Shea. You might have met Dominic at Café Life serving up delicious coffee. Besides Dom’s part-time work, he is also studying a Masters of Primary Teaching at UNE, and has also been part of the local musical, Mamma Mia too.

Alahna Fiveash is the powerhouse behind branding and marketing here at UNE Life, she didn’t really want to be featured in this blog – she can be shy, but I needed another contributor and I know she is a master at balancing 101 things! You might have seen her around campus snapping photos for the various channels she manages under the UNE Life brand. When she’s not at work, Alahna is managing her own art and graphic design business, volunteering her creative flare to the NERAM Culture Club committee or taking her dog Molly for a walk.

Let’s see what they had to say…

How do you decide which commitment of yours should take priority?

Nick: I like to distinguish between short-term priorities and long-term priorities. My short-term priorities are things like socialising, keeping fit, taking a break, or doing something I enjoy, whereas my long-term priorities are things like work, getting study done, and showing up to rehearsals. Study is a huge commitment and I always try to allow myself time during the week to get my study done, even if this means missing a night out with friends, showing up to a party late, or accepting the fact that I’ll need to go home early and so I can get up early the next day. Also, be aware of the impact of your presence, or lack of, on those around you. This is mainly for team commitments. In my case, when it comes to putting on a show, I need to let everyone know that I won’t be available for extra commitments because I need to focus on the one at hand. Same could be said for a sporting team, if you’re not performing at your best and not able to get to training, then you’re letting your team down.

Dominick: How I decide what commitments of mine should take priority comes quite easily to me. For instance, I tend to work at Cafe Life 4-5 days a week which takes up most of my time. The moment I finish work I always head to the gym for an hour or two, then a grocery run for the week. Once I’m home, I’ll do some study for a couple of hours and then spend the remainder of the night with free time until bed. I decided that the most important aspects of my commitments, being work, my Masters, and my physical health, should always take priority. Because if I can stay on top of them then I can find time for other things like games, D&D, theatre, and much more.

Alahna: For me this is all about organisation and balance. At work, deciding which commitment (or task) will depend on a lot of things – the time it will take, is it a vital business decision or a nice to have, is it achievable, do I need other people to help me out, and are they available. I like to reassess these things quite frequently. I manage my workload in Asana, using the Kanban method. Basically, I create a ticket for each task, with subtasks and timeframes, this helps me stay on track and also understanding how much I can balance in a day and a week. Once I’m organised, I can decide which commitments should come first and it also gives me room to be flexible, to move things around if need be – and if Im honest, this happens a lot!

Have you ever had to cut down on your workload?

Nick: Yes. I’ve had to cut down my workload recently because I have been performing in Mamma Mia. I was getting extra days at work before performances which was great, but I knew in advance that when it came to performance time, I would need extra time to recharge and relax. Musicals can be very mentally and physically demanding especially when you’re doing 4-5 shows a week. Also, I’ve committed myself to a collection of theatre projects. These projects are Mamma Mia,  Shrek: The Musical with EPC/Austin , One Man Two Guvnors through THEA202, directing a THEA333 production, and playing the lead in The Pillowman run through UNE Performing Arts Committee and directed by Honours student Jake Hunt. With all these commitments I knew I wouldn’t have the mental energy or time to properly study 3 units in the trimester, and so I decided to take my time and study 2 units instead. I’m so relieved to have made this decision as it has given me much more free time to spend with myself and time to socialise.

Dominick: Multiple times I have had to cut down on my workload. It might be to work on my degree after falling behind, and other times, it’s been due to matters out of my control. I have always felt bad for cutting down on my workload, however, I have always looked back and thought that if I hadn’t of done it, it would have made my life more difficult and affected my mental health quite negatively.

Alahna: Yeah, it’s only natural for us to go through different periods in life where we’re a little more overwhelmed or stressed. It can be hard to step back and reassess sometimes, but it’s definitely something I have had to do.

When might it be necessary to say no?

 Nick: It might be time to reassess your schedule if you’re struggling mentally or feel as though you don’t have the time to fully commit to all of your projects.  If you are not finding time to relax during the day, then you need to reassess your schedule. You may be able to keep up with an overactive lifestyle for a week or two, but soon, you will experience major burnout. If somebody else can fill your spot and it doesn’t affect you in a major way, then let them fill the spot. If you haven’t had a night off in a few days then take some time to yourself or gather some friends and go out, stay in, watch a movie, play some board games, or whatever suits you! UNE Clubs and Societies can be useful in finding that work/life balance; because they can help you find like-minded people who can keep you accountable in stepping away from your study or from your work and doing something that you all mutually love.

Alahna: No, is not a natural answer from me, haha. However, I know it’s necessary to ensure I can stay on top of my workload and keep stress levels down. It might be necessary to say no if;

  • you’re already completely busy or feel like you’re juggling too many things
  • if you don’t see any benefit to your work, learnings, wellbeing or life…
  • or if you feel uneasy about something.

Why is it Important to say no sometimes?

Nick: Sometimes you need to learn to say no to look after yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. It’s important to have a balance between your commitments, recreation, and rest. Sometimes when your recreation is physically or mentally draining you can become swamped easily. I know this from experience since my “recreation” is theatre which when it comes to showtime, the line begins to blur between recreation & commitment. When talking about mental health, a lot of people focus on the balance between work and fun, but often forget that whether you’re an extrovert, introvert, or otherwise, you always need to make quiet time for yourself. It might be meditation, naps, relaxed singing, playing an instrument, or playing an easy low-stress game. Whatever it is, find something easy that you love, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be an expert at it.

Dominick: It is important to say no as there can be limits to what an individual can do. Or even if the task/question being asked is something that you wouldn’t wish to answer/do. It’s never something to be ashamed about, no one will ever think little of you if you say no.

Alahna: It’s really important to be able to say no sometimes. In fact, it’s a life skill. Being able to say no to certain things can help you set healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries can give others clarity about what they can expect from you, it can also help you stay on track, ensuring you’re able to commit fully to your other obligations.

Whether you have 2 commitments, or 5. The biggest takeaway from the above is to prioritise time for yourself. If you’re experiencing burnout, what is something you can step away from to give yourself the space to rest? And don’t ever forget – you got this!

You’re never alone at UNE! If you find yourself struggling with your study/personal load, there are services at UNE who are here to support you!

The team at Advocacy and Welfare offers confidential support to students! If you need support you can contact them they’re always available to point you in the right direction, as is the team from Student Success, who offer confidential counselling
Lifeline is also a 24/7 hotline and you can call them on 13 11 14