I think one of the biggest hurdles to overcome with any kind of study, but especially part-time and online study while working part- or full-time, is how you’re going to fit it all in.
In my previous post with my ideas for ‘Secrets to Success’, one tip I mentioned was making time to study every week, and ideally making it the same time every week. The idea here is that you build the temporal, social and mental habit of studying. I know that I need to create space in my time, or I’ll let it go by the wayside. So, how to do that?
You see, I am terrible at fitting things in. I squeeze in bits of time for an activity or multi-task when I shouldn’t – I’m a natural procrastinator and I tell myself that I work best under pressure. When the going gets tough and stressful, I will hone in, churn through and get it done. Reality is that, although I remain calm and focused under pressure and produce the goods, I’m actually better when I give ideas time to percolate and connect with all of the other gems of ideas or concepts that float around in my brain.
So, the big task for me in beginning my study is making and planning time for study – both the when, but also the how and where. In this post, I’ll look at the when.
1. Break down study into regular bite-size chunks
The first thing I did when applying to study was look at the suggested amount of time each week. In my case, the recommendation is an average of 16-19hrs/week (a staggering amount of time when one is also employed full-time!!!!), which might fluctuate depending on the amount of readings, tasks and when assessments are due. I know that I’m going to need practice at reading journal articles and academic content, and definitely with writing at an academic level, so I want to err on the side of 19hrs/week.
Basically, I schedule it out and, for me, a weekly schedule works for me and my life-commitments. At work, I live by my calendar – it has time blocked out for different activities, reminders for when things are due, travel time to get between venues – so I figure why not take that approach for my study too?
Let’s break that 19hrs/week down across a week. I ask myself – where can I find time amongst work and family commitments that I can regularly schedule in solo study time? Also, if there are synchronous commitments in the study timetable (e.g. online tutorials), how will I fit that in?
- 5 hours – Wednesday Luckily, I work at an organisation that supports professional development of its staff, so I have access to apply for paid and unpaid study leave. In goes a few hours on a work-day for study leave.
- 8hrs – Saturday, 2hrs – Sunday I also have an incredibly supportive partner who is willing to (continue to, let’s be honest here) take on the primary share of housekeeping and cooking while I’m studying. In goes a full weekend-day and a few hours on the other.
- 2hrs – Monday, Thursday I work in a pretty flexible team so I can alter my start and end time a little to suit my needs (as long as the work and hours get done!). In go a few hours at the end of a couple of work days.
Add that all up and we have 19 hrs. It looks intense, and it is. There’s no shying away from the fact that this is going to be tough, but the rewards will be worth it.
I’ve consciously tried to plan it so that I have three evenings and most of a weekend day free for being with the family/my own hobbies. By breaking it down in reasonable chunks, I can negotiate with myself to move things around if I need – say I know that I’ll want the full Sunday, I can move that chunk of time to one of the weekday evenings instead. The key is to bring things earlier, if possible, not later.
2. Put extra time and reminders for key activities in your calendar
The other component is blocking out extra time for your assessments and using things like calendar reminder notifications to give you that extra nudge to get started.
In my subject, we’ve been given a study plan in our first ‘orientation’ week that lets us know what we’ll be covering each week and, probably most importantly, when the major assessments and other activities are due.
I know that I’ve got a major assessment in Week 4 and one in Week 9. I can put that in my calendar now, with reminders and blocked out time to finish them off.
I know that I can’t swap around my study time in Week 9, because everything needs to be focused on getting my final assessment prepared.
I also know that it’s highly likely I’m going to need more time when major assessments are due. I can even put in an application for a day or two of leave from work – at least in my role, it’ll be a lot easier to negotiate this now, with 2.5 months notice, than at the last minute in 8 weeks time.
3. Make time for un-study
And finally, the third component to keep in mind is consciously making time to not study. I mentioned earlier that I planned for at least a couple of evenings a week where I wasn’t going to study, so that I can focus on being with my partner, my step-son, contributing to the house-upkeep, or just being alone with un-study thoughts and actions.
It’s really important to be mindful about balance. It sounds wanky and full-of-privilege, but one of the first things I did when I got accepted (and couldn’t do any of this planning stuff, to be fair) was organise a holiday with my partner during the term-break. I knew that the next 10 weeks was going to be intense for us both, so I wanted to make sure
These actions of ‘making time’ (planning out a weekly breakdown of blocks of study hours, putting reminders of key activities in your calendar and remembering the ‘un-study’ time is also important) seem deceptively simple as I write this. And perhaps they are, but simple is good:
- “It is always the simple that produces the marvelous.” – Amelia Barr
- “Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject.” – Thomas Mann
- “Complexity is impressive, but simplicity is genius.” – Lance Wallnau
- “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius
None of this is going to guarantee success though. You still need to do the work to read the readings, complete the activities, fulfil the requirements of the assessments.
Think of it like cooking a meal. Why do you think chefs have underlings to prep all the ingredients? Because then they can just focus on the process of cooking. In the same way, I hope that these tips will help you get all your ingredients prepared for the actual job of learning.
And remember, when it comes to making time:
Do you have any tips or advice for making time for study? Or examples of what not to do?