I work Monday to Friday in a full-time role. My days are long and there is always lots to keep me busy. I regularly spend time with my family and friends. I also have a partner (and a cat) and we have a mortgage to pay.
On top of this, I decided to start my Masters studies in April this year. Busy much? You bet!
I have previous experience balancing full-time study and work, having completed a Graduate Diploma in Career Development from 2007 to 2012. Even though it was hard work, it was one of the most satisfying learning experiences of my life, enabling to make a successful transition into the careers industry.
No, my story is not uncommon and I am sure there are many of you who are blending work with study. We all come with different reasons and sets of expectations. For me, I now wish to challenge myself by creating a project that adds value to my workplace. ‘Making a difference’ is a strong value for me. It sounds a tad geeky, but I also am motivated by the tangible idea of gaining a post-graduate qualification.
I’ve also spoken to people who cite other reasons – study is seen as a way to improve career prospects, it can enable a career change, it is a requirement for their profession, or it purely is out of interest (gotta love life-long learners!).
After talking to friends and drawing upon my experiences, here are my tips for successfully navigating work with study….
- Prioritise time for study. As much as I want to dabble in lots of my interests and hobbies, I know I need to put some of these aside during my studies. At the moment I love using Sunday mornings for reflecting and going over my study readings.
- Know thy deadlines. Work can go by quickly, and study is just the same. My online calendar is a vital tool and I make sure I block out key dates and times.
- Chat with your manager. Make them aware of your aspirations. They may be able to support you in different ways, for example, providing study leave and creating flexibility around working hours (check if your workplace has any study policies). Fortunately I work for an organisation that provides allocated days for study leave.
- Be realistic about what you can do. There is a natural tendency to want to do things as quickly as possible. However, I suggest starting small and working your way up. If working full-time, starting with one course is a great way to ease yourself in and acclimatise. In future you may be able to do two or more courses if it feels manageable.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re going to be busy. So be selfish with your time and make sure you ask questions. If need be, schedule an appointment to chat with your lecturer or tutor (yes, they are open to Skype too).
- Review at key points. During the semester it is important to step back and look at your balance. Where are the pressure points? What needs addressing?
- Know your support crew! Study demands also seep into the lives of loved ones. Talk to them about your studies and let them know how they can help you. It might be that they pick up key chores, or they simply fetch you cups of tea.
- Create a study space. Anchor yourself with a dedicated study zone. For me, I have placed a desk in my spare room downstairs. I have speakers set-up so I can play chilled-out music in the background (instrumental is best).
- Familiarise with online tools and resources. Check what’s provided by your university or institute (eg. online libraries, portals). Use FB, Messenger, Skype, Zoom or LinkedIn to easily communicate with study colleagues. This is especially important for those undertaking distance study.
- BALANCE. BALANCE. BALANCE. It takes a while to cope with all the competing demands. When things get overwhelming, breathe and take yourself out for a walk. A clear mind is a calmer mind.