The idea of studying while coping with a full-time job can be daunting. Studying online is a great alternative for busy professionals, but you still need to manage your time effectively if you are going to make it work for you.
Here are five time management tips to get you on the right track from the start.
We've all heard the old adage "fail to plan, plan to fail" and while it's almost a cliché now, the sentiment is still valid. A good plan will be an important part of your success for studying while working full time. At the beginning of each semester, consult your course syllabus: make notes of your assignments and the dates when you will need to hand in papers. Keep a general calendar – Google Calendar is a reliable and free option - where you can see all of your important dates at a glance, and where you can request notifications of impending deadlines. We know studying whilst working can be overwhelming, but having all of your key dates entered from the beginning will mean it's less likely you'll lose track of critical targets.
In her popular Ted Talk "How to gain control of your free time" Laura Vanderkam, time management expert, extols the virtues of planning. She says the first step to spending your time better is knowing how you're spending it now. She suggests keeping a time log where you write down what you're doing every few hours for a whole week. This will give you a good picture of how you're spending (or wasting) your time, and insights when plotting out your study time.
Inform your employer
Your employers can play an important part in how smoothly your online studying goes. It's a good idea to inform them of your study plans from the outset; many employers will seek reassurance that your studying won't interfere with your day job. Being transparent with your employer could also enable you to arrange time off more easily, if deemed necessary, for 'study days' or to finish an assignment. You might even be able to negotiate a study-friendly schedule when you're close to critical dates. When studying for his Masters, Rory Cawley, Principal Implementation Consultant at Qualtrics, told Silicon Republic that because his employers knew about his studying, they helped him find ways of using his study as part of his job – including working on research papers to help solve work-based problems.
Find your comfort zone
Everyone is different and will have their own ideal time and place to study. You will need a place where you're at your most productive and not easily distracted. Set up your place for studying; have everything you need to hand so you don't waste time searching for your notes or a pen. Remove any distractions – your phone, tablet, email and social media. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that once interrupted, it takes people 25 minutes to return to their original task, if they return at all.
Your comfort zone is where you concentrate fully on your studying. Some people will find that their comfort zone is within office premises – you might be able to come to some arrangement with your employers enabling you to study at your desk after hours – while others will work better from home, in a library, in a quiet café or in a hotel lobby. Once you find the space, and time, that works for you, stick to it. Your brain will realise this is your study time and study place and you will be able to switch into this mode faster as time goes by.
Make use of your free time
Optimise certain times of the day including your commute to work, tea breaks or lunchtime for example. Make sure you use this time constructively: read some supporting research for your course, proof read your assignments or catch up on your notes from a recent session. By using these 'transition moments' to squeeze in extra study time, you can make sure that your actual free time is used to relax. Charlotte Jones, journalist with The Guardian, advises those working full time while studying to "never leave the house without something to read. A few pages here and there, on the commute or during a lunch break, quickly add up."
Studying and working at the same time means that every second counts. Simple things like developing a shorthand system for note taking can save you time, but don't forget to take advantage of all the apps out there that are aimed at people like you. It's all about maximising your time for important tasks like studying, completing assignments and sitting exams.
Apps can help you speed up time-sink jobs like note taking, flashcards, research and administration. Evernote is a popular note-taking app that allows you to create notes in text, pictures, voice messages, videos and PDFs. In an interview with Fast Company magazine, digital lifestyle expert and Today show tech contributor Carley Knobloch highlighted Post-It Plus as her top time management app. "Capture all of your Post-Its in one photo, and the app breaks them up and makes them reorganisable and sharable," she says. "It's brilliant." Cite This For Me is a handy app that ensures you create correct references for your assignments or essays. There are plenty of apps that will keep you on track, but one of the more robust apps is OmniFocus, a personal assistant system, keeping you focused and on target with all your tasks.
Own your schedule
Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner once said: "Never let anyone own your schedule." This quote is particularly applicable to busy professionals who are studying online. To get the most out of your time you will need to carefully parcel it up. All of the tips above will help you to make the most effective use of the time you have, and more importantly, enable you to be in control of that time and how you spend it.
Studying while working full-time is a serious challenge but the rewards are serious too: you can fast-track your career and add relevant skills to your portfolio, making yourself invaluable to your employer.
Looking for another read? Discover our blog post about how online studying can help you to future-proof your career.
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