The timely unveiling of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at my neighbourhood Second Cup (Canada’s answer to Starbucks) deftly illustrates that it’s that time of the year again: for denizens of students all across the world, it’s only a few weeks more until it’s back to school. And for those of us gamers who have been basking blissfully in the freedom which summer brings, it’s a cold, hard reality that our favourite pastime will likely be given less of a priority once the school bell tolls.

Finding a balance between work and play at the beginning of September has always been somewhat of a struggle for me.  As a grad student, I attend school twelve months out of the year, so the autumn isn’t quite such a shock to my system, but it’s an adjustment nonetheless once my mandatory teaching duties resume. Between commuting, teaching, and doing research, there isn’t much time left for pursuing hobbies, and the little free time I do have, I tend to devote to working extra hours on my dissertation.

What I’ve discovered from my own personal experience, however, is that abandoning my hobbies entirely when the going gets tough actually has a negative effect on my work productivity. A few years back, I made the impossible decision to swear off games for the entirety of the school year, even going so far as to temporarily ‘freeze’ my World of Warcraft account so that it was virtually inaccessible. It was a horrible decision, and one which I will never repeat.

Keeping up with your hobbies, whatever they are, is an important step to remaining emotionally and mentally fit. But what makes the situation even more difficult for gamers is that gaming still isn’t recognized as a legitimate ‘pastime’ in the way that playing softball or soccer is. There are dozens of articles out there which warn about the ‘dangers’ of social media/gaming eating up children’s homework time. I still struggle to understand why organized sports, which can also be intensive and time-consuming, are not treated with the same caution when it comes to making time for homework. Of course, I don’t have children, so I’m really in no position to evaluate whether gaming actually detracts from children’s academic performance in any meaningful way.

What I am experienced in, however, is taking responsibility for my own gaming habits. After that disastrous, no-gaming semester, I realized that I must have gaming in my life, but it must also be managed in a productive and efficient way. I’m still working on finding that balance, but I’m hoping that with a little more experimentation, I’ll be able to hit that ‘sweet spot’ between work and play. In the meantime, here are three tips which have really worked for me when it comes to time management:

1) Use game time as a reward for completing difficult tasks. Finishing a hard school assignment is definitely a cause for celebration, and it’s fun to use game time as a well-deserved reward. Knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel makes you work harder and faster on your schoolwork, and also leaves you with a greater feeling of accomplishment when you are finished.

2) Take advantage of mobile gaming. Especially in college and university, there are many opportunities where you’ll likely be stuck ‘killing time’ between classes. Provided you don’t have any last-minute homework to finish, you can fit in some gaming using a mobile device. Games on a hand-held or cell phone are perfect for playing on public transit (if you commute daily to school or work) when there isn’t much else to do except wait for your stop.

3) Use a timer. If you are really struggling with parsing out your time, go the old-fashioned route and use a timer. Fifteen minute breaks spent playing Angry Birds can easily turn into an hour or more, if you don’t keep your eye on the time. Determine how long you are going to game for, and then set the stopwatch on your phone. It seems rather archaic, but it works.

For me, September is a time to reflect on what I have accomplished during the summer months, and re-prioritize my work for the fall. But that doesn’t mean that my hobbies need to be curtailed indefinitely. Finding the right balance between work and play is, for students and non-students alike, an endless struggle, but once achieved, it can enrich our lives in countless ways.