Completing further studies whilst working either full-time or part-time can certainly present a challenge!
How am I going to find the time? Will studying this course set me up for burnout? Will I be able keep on track?
These are perfectly normal questions and concerns to have when you embark on a new qualification. Yet, studying for a course whilst you work can be straightforward, manageable and most importantly, enjoyable and rewarding!
With that in mind, this blog post aims to explain how to successfully strike a balance between your work schedule and studying for your new course.
Let’s begin with some tips from one of our Learner Support Advisors, Rachael Palmer.
Rachael has been with The Skills Network since July 2016. Whilst working full-time, Rachael has been able to attain three additional qualifications that complement her role, including Equality and Diversity, Business Administration, and Information, Advice and Guidance.
Rachael achieved these qualifications through distance learning methods and has just begun working towards her Level 3 Certificate in Customer Service to help her expand her current skillset.
Speaking about her experience, Rachael gives us her study tips:
“My best tip would be to really figure out from the outset exactly what is required from you to complete the course. From there, I recommend breaking down the units and questions bit by bit before you even start to understand how many questions you need to complete each week.”
“For example, for my last course, it worked out at two questions a day, which is not a lot at all and once you get in the habit of doing them every day it’s straightforward when you break things down into manageable chunks.”
“Another huge tip is to try out different times and places to study – I take my booklets into work sometimes and finish them on my lunch break to free up my time in the evenings. I chose to do all of my courses fully paper-based, which suited me as I volunteer a lot of my time with the Scouts. I could take my materials with me on outings – even when I had no access to the internet!”
Most of the distance learning courses available with The Skills Network can be completed by a combination of different learning methods, with a mixture of both online and paper resources.
For a full run-down from Rachael on successfully study whilst working, here are her six top tips:
Getting organised from the get-go (creating a plan)
Begin by establishing exactly how your course will be structured. What will your assessments look like? When are your deadlines? When is the planned end date?
We strongly suggest making a formal plan, including diarising important dates such as your submission, and scheduling in exactly when you will study each week. Creating a study schedule is ideal, this could either be a paper-based schedule or by utilising digital tools such as Google Calendar.
Bear in mind if you are working full-time that some evenings you will want a break from work or studying and to allow for down-time – this is important to avoid burnout!
Break the course down into manageable chunks)
It’s important to think to yourself – “Based on the units I have to complete, realistically how much time do I need to spend on my course and how is it best to break this down by each week or day?”
It sounds simple, but one of the reasons our courses are broken down into units is to make completing the work more manageable.
If you concentrate on a smaller part of the work, it’s easier to complete it without becoming overwhelmed.
Looking at your due dates and the time you have between them, set a manageable amount of work to do each day and stick to it!
Use your free time productively and minimise distractions
Between your busy work schedule and your distance learning course, it may sometimes feel like you have no free time whatsoever!
However, it is important that you don’t let the free time you have go to waste! Make sure that you use your free time constructively as this will really aid you in balancing your course and your work.
For example, you could log into your online learning portal or read your learning resources on your daily commute or even during your lunch break.
Utilising your free time productively will prove difficult if you don’t try to consciously minimise distractions.
Sometimes, finishing your current Netflix series, taking a nap or chatting with friends seems much more desirable than working on your coursework. But try your best to fight distractions and procrastination – it’s okay to say no to certain things, switch off your phone if you struggle to say focused, and ultimately prioritise your goals.
Don’t overdo it – tackling stress
Balancing work, your new course, and everything in between can cause you to feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Some people enjoy stress, and find that they thrive under pressure, whilst others struggle with conflicting pressures much more. It is important to remember that what is manageable for one person is not manageable for another, and that stress affects people in different ways.
Finding the time to do some exercise (even if this is just going for a walk a couple of times a week) will help alleviate stress, and so will writing down your thoughts, discussing your workload with your manager and talking to your friends and family if you feel overwhelmed.
Location, location, location – finding your best study environment
One of the most useful things about distance learning is that you can work on your course just about anywhere!
We’ve heard from learners working on their course during their commute to work, whilst waiting for their children to come out of school, in their local library and in the early hours of the morning!Whilst we might not recommend all of these, it is important to find an environment that you can work well in. If you find that you’re often distracted, or your attention is wandering, a change of scene may help you to refocus and complete your work.
Some key tips would be to create a distraction-free place for you to study at home, to visit a library or quiet café, or take advantage of down-time at work (such as before everyone else arrives or after hours).
Keeping motivated is difficult – everyone feels like they have little willpower and determination at times.
One of the most important tips we suggest is to keep your end goal in mind. Remember why you enrolled on this course: was it to better understand parts of your job, to work towards a promotion, or just because the subject interests you?
Even if the course is a mandatory part of your employment, gaining a qualification is never a bad thing. Write your end goal down and put it somewhere that you’ll see when you’re working to help you stay on track.
If you feel overwhelmed with tasks, we suggest tackling the hardest thing first!
However, you then risk leaving yourself insufficient time to complete the more difficult questions.
With courses available in childcare and education, business skills, mental health and counselling, accounting and finance, adult health and social care, team leading and management, and health and well-being, amongst many other subjects, we have the perfect course for you.