Learning should always be a continuous road that we take. I know you’re in the learning path since you’re reading this blog post, just like thousands of our readers and customers. Some of you might still be in school or for most of our readers, no longer in school, but still learning and working at the same time.
Learning can happen in many ways like when you’re doing your own research (reading blog posts, joining communities like the Dojo), attending conferences, online courses, as well as further studies. In any case, it can get overwhelming and exhausting when you juggle both a full-time job and your studies but it’s not impossible.
A few years ago, before I joined Asian Efficiency, I decided to pursue my MBA while I was a full-time employee of a nonprofit based in the US. And then, during the first semester, my school asked if I could teach a few undergrad classes because they lacked teachers. I wish I could say that it was a breeze. In reality, it was chaos during the first few weeks trying to juggle school, a full-time job, a part-time teaching job, and family duties. I got sick. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through the first semester… But I did and I’m confident that you can handle it as well.
You don’t have to sacrifice one over the other and in this blog post, we are going to share 5 tips that we used to overcome the hurdles of juggling work and studies (and not to mention family and self-care). As I have mentioned before, it’s not impossible.
5 Proven Tips to Juggling Work and School Successfully
1. Write down your priorities
The simplest of tips, but could be the answer to a cluttered brain. Ask yourself first why you want to go back to school or why you want to earn a certification. What do you want to get out of it? What are your short term goals and long term goals? When you have clear answers to these questions, it’s time to prioritize your tasks and responsibilities.
In my case, I went back to school so that I could help the non-profit (short term goal) that I was working for (at that time) and hopefully have my own non-profit (long term goal) in the future. My vision board helped me a lot. Before you laugh and think it’s tacky and corny, it was my constant reminder to my ‘why’ and helped me get through the bad days.
Your why will help you justify the time and energy that you spend working on your priorities. For example, “Do I really need to set aside an hour to study for my finals?” Remember your why and you know the answer to the question is a resounding yes.
2. Open communication with the people around you
When you decide to pursue further studies, those around you will be affected whether you like it or not. It means time spent away from your kids, your friends, and perhaps some of your hobbies. So don’t keep your studies a secret–they need to know. If your family, friends, co-workers, classmates, and even your professors know that you are juggling both work and studies, they can help you out.
This will allow you to better delegate and schedule tasks at work and at home. Let’s be honest, when it comes to family a lot of us are the go-to person. For example in my family, I am the tech person. Someone got a new computer, who are they going to call to set it up? Me. Someone’s phone is not working, they call me. But when I was in school for my MBA, they knew that I didn’t have the same bandwidth as before so they started to call on my nephew and I am glad they did. Now, I’m no longer the first-in-line family tech support because my nephew took over that spot during my MBA years.
When it came to school, because everyone relevant knew that I had a full-time job, we scheduled meetups during those days when I didn’t have work. I will forever be thankful for my classmate’s understanding (a lot of them were full-time MBA students).
Open communication also means you get to tap on your support network. It could be a form of an accountability partner, a mentor, or even your boss! There are people around you who will help you. You just need to seek it.
3. Manage your energy
I used to have a boss who expected everyone to be on call 24/7. If he sends out an email at 2 AM on a Sunday, I was expected to reply within an hour or two. His philosophy was “I’ll get all the sleep I need when I die” and he expected everyone to follow him. We don’t have superpowers and we can’t function on coffee alone. It’s the same when you’re juggling work and school. You need to get some sleep.
Do not fool yourself into thinking that you can make up for your lack of sleep on a Sunday. It doesn’t work that way. Why? Because you don’t need to manage your energy on just a Sunday, but all days of the week. What’s the use of feeling energized on Monday (because you slept well the day before) if from Tuesday to Saturday you’re in zombie mode?
Do you want more energy? Get some sleep. Your body and mind need it. Lack of sleep makes it harder for you to focus and be productive. You can set aside an hour of study time, but when you can’t focus, that one hour would just go down the drain. This is something Brooks experienced when he didn’t have energy. He’d be studying, but he’s just going through the motion, but not really retaining anything. This happened to me a lot of times as well. I’m pretty sure you experienced this too–reading the same page several times and still not understand what you just read.
Aside from sleep make sure you get your body moving (hello exercise), eat healthily, and most importantly do not forget self-care. Get a massage. Read a book. Take a break.
Yes, take a break. This was something I was terrible at. I felt that breaks were an unproductive use of my time and I would feel guilty whenever I took a break. If you’re also on the same boat, it’s time to break that way of thinking. Breaks are important since it’s a form of rest and reward. Use the Pomodoro method to incorporate breaks in your life.
4. Create your productivity system
You’ve got your why and energy covered, you have your support group, you know your priorities. Now to translate those to a system you can use to better manage your time and be more organized. When I was in school, I didn’t know about productivity systems. I had no idea what time blocking was or that there was a term for it–but it was the system that I used. I made use of my calendar (I used Google so that I had the ability to share) and used Asana as my to-do list.
Choose the system that works for you. Some examples are:
- Eat your frog (work on your most important task first thing)
- Maximize Calendar
- Time blocking
If you currently have a system that works, then don’t change it. You can always make small improvements (Kaizen all the way!).
Study time goes with further studies (no brainer there). So commit to it by setting aside time and space for it. Brooks has a funny story about where he studied and you can hear about it in a podcast we recorded about this same topic. You can check it out here.
5. Celebrate your milestones
There’s absolutely no reason for you NOT to celebrate. It’s good for your heart! Celebrating is like a pat on the back. My form of celebration was to go out with my kid and partner. We either ate at a nice restaurant or have a staycation (my daughter’s favorite place is a hotel room–I have no idea why). It was something that not only I looked forward to, but my family as well. My daughter was equally excited when a semester was done (meaning I’m done taking my finals AND grading my students) because it meant family time.
When you celebrate your wins, no matter how small, it will keep you motivated and it gives you a break from the everyday grind of work and school.
As much as you might want to start with tip number 4 (creating your productivity system), start with tip number 1–write down your priorities and find out what your why is. Once you are done with that, pick another tip to work on until you are done with all five.
Brooks and I talked about both our experiences and how we applied these 5 tips on The Productivity Show (Asian Efficiency’s podcast channel). You can listen to the recording here.
We would also like to hear about your experiences when you juggled (or still juggling) work and school. Please share those in the comment section below.