Are you too busy?


Nicole Schroeder

Running from activity to activity every weekday, it doesn’t seem to take much for students today to feel the pressure of managing a busy schedule. The average high schooler spends nearly 12.7 hours every weekday on school work, volunteering, sports or other recreational activities, according to a 2007 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Yet, to sophomore Lisa Zhuang, balancing her homework and studying with all of the other activities she involves herself in is no longer an occasional problem she faces. This year, managing her busy schedule has become a daily chore.
“In general, yeah, I think my schedule is pretty busy,” Zhuang said. “Besides schoolwork, I also have clubs within school, as well as sports and music. I have tennis, so I have to practice for that. Then I have violin, so I have to go to lessons for that. Then, for school organizations, I also have to participate in their activities alongside of homework and other responsibilities, so it can get kind of busy sometimes.”
AP World History teacher Katherine Sasser said Zhuang’s level of involvement and her subsequently hectic schedule are nothing new. Most of her students, she said, seem to grapple with the stress of their heavy workload on a daily basis.
“I will say that the students I encounter do seem to be busier than in the past. It seems that in addition to school responsibilities, students invest in a number of extra-curricular activities,” Sasser said. “Additionally, students dedicate large amounts of time to being excellent at these varied activities, resulting in a significant drain on time and energy.”
Still, Sasser said the stress of a busy schedule doesn’t necessarily weigh on students all the time. More often, it is only when work seems to be assigned simultaneously that students begin to feel worried.
“It seems there are specific times of the year for students that are more stressful than others,” Sasser said. “When multiple activities or classes are culminating in some way, this is the time when students have the most difficulty balancing homework and other activities.”
All too often, junior Ethan Forte’s schedule piles up in just that way. Along with the homework he is assigned in his classes, he also works to find time for his job, show choir and cello lessons, keeping him busy throughout the school week.
“If I have a lot of extracurriculars and work going on while I have a homework load that I also have to deal with. Sometimes my homework and studying doesn’t get done to the extent it should for me to be successful in school,” Forte said. “While school alone doesn’t provide too much stress, when I can’t do the stuff that would help my grade or my grade would go down is when it becomes the most stressful.”
Much like Forte, Zhuang knows the stress of a packed schedule first-hand, and said much of her time is taken up with excess work assigned by her teachers. While the practice can be helpful, she said it also contributes a lot to the heavy workload that some students face.
“I definitely think there is such thing as busy work in some classes,” Zhuang said. “Some classes, they just hand you sheet after sheet after sheet and sometimes it feels like it’s not really related, or other times it feels like I’ve been doing the same problem over, just on different sheets of paper.”
Though Forte agrees that some teachers assign busy work to their students, he doesn’t necessarily see it as having a negative impact on his schedule. Ultimately, he said, any work his teachers assign helps him to review the essential skills of a lesson through repetition.
“I think [teachers] give us busy work in the sense that they give us work that is supposed to help us, but takes up a lot of our time and then therefore is ‘busy,’” Forte said. “I can’t come up with a really solid argument for any of my teachers to stop giving busy work because I know there are teachers who give some busy work that probably isn’t the most helpful, but all of the busy work that my teachers give out has a purpose and is supposed to benefit me if I do it right.”
In contrast, Sasser said she doesn’t believe there is such a thing as busy work. Rather, she said what students see as extra or unnecessary assignments are simply those that the teacher didn’t justify well enough to the class.
“I think the nature of ‘busy work’ is more of an issue of the relevance of a given assignment being lost in translation. Teachers may implicitly understand the relevance of the work for their purposes but may fail to explicitly communicate that relevance to students,” Sasser said. “Moreover, what may seem relevant to a teacher regarding their curriculum and class goals may not be internalized by the student.”
Nevertheless, Sasser said she understands how involved some students are in activities outside of the classroom and suggests they reach out to their teachers or their peers if they begin to feel too overwhelmed by a busy schedule.
“Obviously if students are unable to stay on top of their expectations, it will increase their levels of stress, increase a sense of failure or helplessness and will negatively impact their grade,” Sasser said. “Organizational skills, time management, the ability to self-direct and advocate and stress management techniques can all help combat these issues. Most importantly, a network of support among family, peers and authority figures [like] teachers can be most helpful in creating a personalized plan for students so they feel equipped to take on all responsibilities.”
Forte agrees and said that both time management and prioritizing more important things can be helpful in managing a heavy workload. If students still feel overwhelmed, however, he said the best thing for them to do is talk with their teachers and find a compromise that will lessen the stress on the student.
“Even though it’s kind of hypocritical, manage your time. I wouldn’t have half as many problems with stress if I did and managed my time correctly,” Forte said. “Try and stay on top of it, because once you get behind it’s really hard to get back up and it kind of just creates a snowball effect.”
Like Forte, Zhuang said she thinks time management is a good skill for students to learn in managing their busy schedules. Even so, she said if students ever feel like their workload is too much to handle, they shouldn’t be afraid to make a change to make their efforts enjoyable.
“I definitely think being busy is a good thing to challenge yourself with,” Zhuang said. “But, if it’s affecting someone in the long-term and in a negative way…then they should probably try to change it up somehow to make it better, although it’s a really good challenge. It gets yourself prepared for whatever is coming.”
By Nicole Schroeder