Concerned with how to get a college degree while working full time? Making time to study is a common concern among students who need to work. Managing the school-work-life balance is possible, but you’ll need to level up your time-management skills. Here are some tips for getting a handle on your time so you can earn the qualification you need to pursue a new career path.
Choose Your Program Wisely
First, make sure the college you choose accommodates students who work. At Altierus Career College, our programs are designed to help balance going to school with other obligations (work, family, etc.). Schedules vary from program to program, but some of the flexible, work-friendly accommodations we make include:
- Our programs feature focused classes designed to get you into the job market quickly.
- Many of our programs offer a blend of online and on-campus courses that can help you manage the school-life balance better.
- Our advisors can help you choose a program that fits your schedule.
- Technology helps you stay connected and complete assignments.
Choosing a school like Altierus, where faculty and staff understand you lead a busy life, is half the time-management battle.
Audit How You Use Your Time Now
The next step toward managing your time better is understanding how you currently spend it. Take an inventory of all the things you do in a given week so you can identify opportunities to create study time.
First, list all the things you have to do in a given week. These can include:
- Your job or jobs (include shifts and commuting time)
- Caring for children or family members (including school pick-ups, appointments, taking children to after-school clubs, etc.)
- Your classes (include travel time to campus)
- Religious worship, volunteering activities, clubs, or other important social engagements
Next, take an honest look at things you often do, but don’t have to do:
- Watching TV or playing video games
- Surfing the Internet or using social media
- Less important social engagements (“hanging out” with friends, as opposed to specific activities)
You can carve blocks of study time out of time spent on these activities.
Use a Planner
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” It’s true: when working, studying, and making time for family, you will never be able to accomplish everything that needs to be done, let alone remember it all, without mapping out a plan.
Plug all your non-negotiable activities into a planner—digital or paper, it’s up to you. Digital planners are handy because they often allow you to set reminder alarms. Some people prefer pen and paper, and there is some research which suggests that writing things down with pen and paper results in better retention of information than writing with a laptop.[i] The choice comes down to what works best for you.
Schedule Your Study Time
Whichever type of planner you use, fill it up. Then start finding places where you can schedule study time. A good rule of thumb for scheduling study time is the “two-hour rule”: for every hour you spend in the classroom during the week, plan to spend another two hours studying.[ii] So, if you are in class for six hours a week, you will need to find 12 hours to study.
This may sound like a lot, but many people have more free time than they realize. For example, a report from Nielsen Media Research found that the average American adult spent 4 hours 46 minutes watching TV every day during the first quarter of 2018.[iii] Even if you’re well below that average, swapping out half your daily viewing time for study time should help.
To free up even more time, you may also consider:
- Taking advantage of online grocery shopping, if it is available in your area
- If you’re responsible for the majority of housework in your home, delegating tasks to others if possible
- Reducing the amount of time you spend on the Internet or playing video games
- Enlisting help from family members with tasks like picking up or dropping off children from school
You can also go to bed later or wake up earlier in order to get your study hours in. However, losing too much sleep is counterproductive—you won’t be able to retain as much information or think as clearly without adequate sleep.
Stop Distractions Before They Start
When it’s study time, it’s study time. Turn off all phone notifications and, if possible, put your phone out of sight. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research suggests that “the mere presence of one’s smartphone may impose a ‘brain drain’”—lowering your ability to pay attention, solve problems, and think clearly, even if the phone is turned off.[iv]
Alert any people you live with that you’re studying for the next few hours and are not to be disturbed. If you can, go into a separate room and close the door. If not, put on headphones and face away from TV screens or other distractions.
Have a Plan for Your Study Session
If you tell yourself, “I’m going to study this afternoon,” you may be setting yourself up for frustration. “Afternoon” is a vague goal. Plan specific tasks instead.
You might say, “I’m going to study from 4:30-6:00. I’ll spend 30 minutes reviewing my notes and take a 5-minute break. Then I’ll spend 30 minutes outlining my research paper, take another 5-minute break, and finally spend 20 minutes writing down questions to ask my instructor.”
Consider setting a timer for each task. Writer Craig Jarrow, creator of the Time Management Ninja blog, says that “[a] timer sets a mental expectation that you can and will stay on your designated task.”[v] If you know you only have five more minutes to go before you pack up your books, you’re more likely to stick with them until the alarm goes off.
Get Family, Friends and Employers on Your Side
A major challenge of successful time management is making sure others respect your time. That means making them aware of when you need to study or be in class. You should notify your employer or employers about your class schedule as soon as possible, so they know not to schedule your shifts during those times.
Enlisting family members’ help can be trickier, especially if you have young children or a partner or spouse who works full time. If you are currently responsible for much of the housework, cooking, or supervising children, you’ll need to ask others to pitch in.
Most importantly, make sure everyone knows you will be studying regularly, and that you can’t be disturbed while you’re doing it. Friends and family who care about you will understand that you’re dedicating yourself to studying hard now so you have better career opportunities in the future. You may even find that they remind you to stay on task!