Back to school – tips for studying while working

Getting enough time at the end of each day and each week to properly wind down ironically requires a lot of effort. So if you’ve just started, or thinking of starting a course or qualification while holding down a job on top of finding enough time for downtime, you might be wondering how you’re going to add studying into the mix.

I’ve done this before and despite being a bit of a busy-body, I’m not so naive to think it’s easy, nor will I lie to you by saying it is. However, what I can tell you is that, with the right approach, it can be done. It mustn’t be all bad if I’m considering doing it again by starting a masters-level course this month (CIPD Level 7 Diploma, if you wanted to know).

To make this work (or at least what has worked for me in the past), you need to establish both a structure and the discipline to stick to that structure. Miss one of these two and the plan won’t work; you’ll find yourself either having the ambition and can-do attitude, and applying it in an unproductive and unstructured way, or you’ll have a structure which you show little or no willingness to stick to.

Establishing a structure

Understanding how you’re going to fit studying into your life requires careful thought. It’s time to get brutal with your schedule and decide what you can sacrifice, shuffle around or change in order to accommodate studying. And ‘accommodate’ is the crucial word – your life and its schedule need to make room for this and that can only be done with a structure, not just for studying but for your new life that includes studying.

Setting a structure requires you to carve time into your existing schedule, be it waking up an hour early or going to sleep an hour late, settling down in a quiet place at work for an hour after or before your working day (particularly helpful for those with a noisy household!), or dedicating specific times in the evenings and/or weekends for studying. Once you’ve found a way of fitting in your recommended study hours (which your learning-provider will tell you) this structure needs to be written down for you to know and the rest of the house if you live with other people.

Of course this approach will need to be adapted for scheduling time for revising if your course requires you to attend classes, rather than distance learning. While classes may seem restrictive, they give you no other option but to attend at a specific time, taking the head-scratching for finding time out of the mix.

Establishing discipline

Establishing the amount of discipline needed to stick to your new structure is something that only you can do. One way this can be done is to clearly articulate why you’re going back to studying and the different life you will have afterwards. Whether it’s to stretch your knowledge to feel more confident in your job, or to improve your chances for that promotion you’ve been hankering for, or to learn new skills for an exciting career change, this forethought and anticipation will motivate you to work through the hard stuff.

And there will be hard stuff – discipline isn’t needed as much for easy stuff so it’s important you adhere to the structure with discipline.

Discipline, or more precisely self-discipline, of course relies on your attitude and mindset. Awareness of your discipline threshold will help you pull out the stops if necessary to make a conscious effort of improving your attitude to discipline.

I’ll end with something my husband and I realised the other day: studying for a qualification brings a great sense of accomplishment and personal achievement. To feel the full benefit of this you have to endure complicated, mentally-stretching and downright hard stuff before you get there. If it was easy, you’d feel less of the feel good feeling achievement brings. So while it may at first seem like there are a lot of things you’re missing out on, think of the things you’ll gain during and after your course.

Good luck!

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