Do you struggle to find time to study around all your other commitments?
Do you ever doubt your decision to work and study at the same time?
Or are you at the beginning of your studying journey, about to start a course while working?
This blog post will give you lots of ideas to help you fit your studying around your job.
I’m asked this question all the time so I wanted to create a collection of strategies you can dive into to create your own action plan.
Finding time to study around other commitments can seem near impossible at times. It can feel like trying to keep a row of plates spinning. Every time you feel you’re managing your job your study “plate” starts wobbling. Every time you get studying back under control you realise your home is a mess.
You are NOT alone.
Here are some statistics showing the number of part time and full time students in the UK and an idea of how many are working at the same time.
16% of all undergraduate students in the UK (336,190) study part time as do 43% of all postgraduate students (232,740). The Open University is the largest academic institution in the UK – 76% of its 173,889 students work full or part time.
Though these figures are only from the UK it is clear that studying while working has become a great option for many students.
There ARE going to be difficult weeks where you feel like all your spinning plates are crashing around you at once. But that doesn’t mean every week will be like that or has to be like that.
You CAN take control of your studying and this blog post should help you. Read through the collection of techniques below and make a decision to pick some to implement.
Most courses will give you a breakdown of what needs to be accomplished each month, or even each week. Make sure you know roughly how much reading you’ll need to complete and when each assignment is due. You don't want to fall behind because you underestimated the workload.
Everyone studies differently. Some people prefer to keep on track each week so they can submit their essays with a little less stress. I always strive for that but my willpower and motivation can desert me at times. Some people prefer to cycle their studying, not doing much one week and then cramming it all in the week after.
While everyone has their preferences, the latter can result in a lot more stress than studying consistently. I found this out a few months ago where I fell behind but told myself I could catch up. Then I caught the flu and was bedridden for 5 days and my plan fell apart. I had to plead for an essay extension and I vowed not to leave it so late again as you never know what hiccup or emergency might come up.
I find it easier to stay organised if I plan all aspects of my life in one place. I use a big A1 wall planner to record all of my essay and exam dates, tutorials/lectures, holidays and trips, doctor’s appointments, family birthdays…etc.
It really helps to see everything in one place and it means I can spot clashes and make plans for them e.g. by moving round appointments or booking some time off of work.
You may not have the time to study for hours and hours, so you need to learn to get stuff done in short bursts. The best way to do this is using the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer and study for 25 minutes with no disruptions (not even to check your phone). If a distraction pops into your head, write it down then carry on. Once the timer is up, take a 5 minute break. Then celebrate as you’ve just completed 1 Pomodoro. After 2 or 3 Pomodoros have a longer break.
There are two great things about this method.
Firstly, these intense but short sessions are easy to slot into your day. 30 minutes may not seem like a lot of time but you’ll be surprised what you can achieve when you’re focused. Try to fit one into your lunch break at work.
Secondly, the timings can be tailored to suit your learning style. For note taking you might want to stick with the 25/5 minutes, but for essay writing you might want to work for 45 minutes then have a 10/15 minute break. Use your breaks to move around, stretch, rehydrate, get some fresh air or grab a snack.
You may also need to be flexible with your schedule. Could you move things around to make more room for studying?
If you work out could you move this to the morning so you can study after work, or vice versa?
Could you get up earlier to study? Though I get up early most days to go to the gym my brain doesn’t seem to switch on for a few hours so this wouldn’t work for me. But I know of some students who get up and study for an hour before their kids wake up, or commute to work earlier (beating the traffic) then study for an hour at their desks before they start work.
You can also be flexible about your study methods. If you have a long commute could you listen to audio notes? After you’ve made your written notes record them on your phone and then play them back while you’re driving or through headphones on the bus/train. Near exam time take your written flashcards with you everywhere. When you’re waiting for a bus or in a queue in a shop take them out and test yourself.
You must accept there will be stressful days and weeks so don’t beat yourself up about it. Experiencing days where you’re not sure if you want to quit, cry, kick something or eat a whole tub of ice cream is normal.
While us working students are pretty flipping awesome we’re not capable of doing it all, all of the time.
So work out what you can accept to not give 100% to sometimes. That could be forgoing going out with friends, working out as much as you’d like to or keeping the house tidy.
When I was in essay writing mode I accepted that my house wouldn’t be tidy, that I’d get in trouble for not texting my Mum back quick enough and I probably wouldn’t wash my hair as often as society wanted me to! Once an essay is submitted or exam taken you can try to bring the other areas of your life back into balance.
There may also be times when you’re behind and you don’t think you’ll be able to catch up in time. You may have to look at the studying you need to do and cut parts of it out.
If you’re behind on your reading it’s better to leave bits out than give yourself no time to write the essay. If this happens then take a step back and look at the essay question. The guidance may tell you which sections you’ll need to cover or you might need to spend some time working it out from the question.
Focus on completing the reading for those key sections and then start the essay. If you have time go back and read the other sections as you may find some additional essay points to add.
You may be reading some of these ideas and thinking they’re just not possible for your life and schedule. If this is you then here’s some tough love.
Studying while working is going to be pretty flipping hard. But I promise you the rewards are great.
Completing my degree has made me a much stronger person. I am a lot better at focusing on tasks and I’m more productive so I get more done in less time. I’m not afraid of hard work and am willing to put the hours in to get what I want. I have a deeper understanding of my industry since I’ve combined my experience with education so more opportunities are opening up to me.
To get you through this journey you’ll need to take responsibility and make your own plan. Everyone’s schedules and responsibilities are different – work, family, caring, pets, friends, illness, disabilities all combine to create unique chaotic diaries. So while all my tips may not work for you, some of them definitely could if you let them.
Remind yourself why you’re doing this and search for spaces in your day – or potential spaces you could clear if you move around your schedule.
I hope these tips have been useful. Leave me a comment below with 1 tip you have for fitting your studies in around work.
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