This post was written by an external contributor. Lucy Skoulding shares her experiences on combining university study with working full-time.
Part-time study is becoming increasingly popular as students are now able to gain whole degrees and qualifications through distance learning.
These courses are often designed to allow participants to have full-time jobs alongside them. They are a fantastic invention which provide so many people with the opportunity to pursue their desired career whilst earning some cash on the side.
However, this is by no means an easy route to some extra letters after your name. If you work five days a week and go to night classes, there isn’t much time left for extra studying and life. As a current part-time journalism student with a full-time job, let me elucidate how I balance these commitments:
Recognise the commitment required
Before you agree to take a course while you are working, you need to have an honest conversation with yourself. Weigh up the hard work it will entail with the benefits you will get out of it.
Before even signing up to the course, calculate how much work it will involve on a weekly basis. That way you will go into the course with realistic expectations, as well as double checking that it’s the right choice for you.
Plan your time
The key to preventing yourself from transforming into a big ball of stress is to plan. That means planning when you won’t work as well as when you will. Plan time to socialise and relax, but also be ready to say ‘no’ to things. Be realistic with your goals; you probably can’t read 80 textbook pages an hour before bedtime.
Time planning is personal, so choose what works for you. I make weekly plans using my big old action diary. It’s not a traditional menacing timetable, but rather a list of things I need to get done that week to stay on track, and this means I can plan my studying around other commitments each week. If to-do lists make you feel queasy, try out an organisation app like iMindMap, which is more visual and creative.
Find sneaky ways to fit studying in
There are probably many opportunities in your day to fit quick bursts of studying in, including your commute, waiting for appointments, and your lunch break. These are some of my favourite ways to fit studying around a busy life.
Wherever I go, I carry something related to my studies. That might be my shorthand practice notebook or some class notes. If you mainly use textbooks to study, consider whether there is online material you can download and read on your laptop or phone. Perhaps there are even relevant podcasts to listen to and videos to watch while you travel.
Be healthy but realistic
One difficulty is the reality you might need to give something up, like another hobby, while studying. If you can do it all, that’s great, but don’t beat yourself up if something needs to take a backseat – you can go back to it afterwards.
Do everything in moderation. One of my goals this year was to eat more healthily and exercise more (yes OK, I have just described everyone’s new years’ resolution) but I also told myself I wouldn’t let this impinge on my studying. For example, I go to the gym during my lunch break so evenings are free for studying or other commitments.
Identify your motivation triggers
What motivates you to work after a tiring time at your day job? You need to work out what motivates you on both a short term and long term basis – what forces you to sit down at your desk to revise and what will motivate you to complete the course?
Short term motivators could be anything; from giving yourself TV breaks, to eating a sweet treat, to planning something fun to look forward to. Long-term motivators are more likely to be reminders of why you are studying – write the reasons why you started the course on post-its and stick them all over the room.
When working, be productive
When time is already against you, don’t waste it even more by working inefficiently. This means not getting distracted every few minutes by your phone, the internet, or your cat.
I love the Pomodoro technique for preventing me from getting distracted. This involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, working solidly during that time (not even answering the phone), and then having a five-minute break to do anything before starting work again. Other methods are putting your phone away or temporarily disconnecting from the internet if you don’t need it.
Accept short-term hard work
The main reason I am getting on well with studying at the same time as working is my acceptance of the need to work hard. I will often work late into the night or early in the morning, and I do that because I think regularly about how beneficial this course will be to my journalism career.
Cast your mind back to when you were taking exams at school or at university. Those weeks leading up to the exams were probably quite stressful and intense, but you got through them and benefited afterwards. During difficult times, tell yourself it will all be worth it and tell yourself that you will get to the other side. And don’t forget, if possible, to enjoy what you’re learning!