Time management hacks for working full time and going to school
Working full time and going to school can mean packing multiple meals in the morning and rushing across town after work to make it to class. For others, it could mean logging onto the computer to complete an online assignment after tucking children into bed at night.
Balancing college and everyday life can be stressful even for full-time students. It only makes sense that adding full-time work on top of everything can increase those feelings.
“The adult learner is not a typical learner in that there are often other roles, responsibilities and tasks that are occurring simultaneously in their lives,” offers Dr. Jenny Good, assistant professor of psychology at Brandman University. “Adding school in the mix creates the challenge of working to balance all of these obligations.”
Luckily, you aren’t the first person to go back to school while working full time –
In fact, 9 out of 10 Brandman University students work while completing courses.
We reached out to some working students, as well as educators who have expertise working with adult learners, to uncover some time management tips that can help you in your journey.
7 Smart tips to manage working full time and going back to school
There are a number of ways to manage working full time while staying on top of your studies. Review the following seven time management hacks and see if you can start formulating your success plan now.
1. Create a schedule and stick to it
Use the week before the semester begins or the week of — if it’s calm enough — to make your own document or tracker for each due date. The format is up to you. Just make sure to have a personal calendar that’s separate from your work one. It should include everything — work hours, classes, important errands, study blocks and even study breaks.
Creating a calendar can also help you see just how quickly exams or projects are approaching. Significant exams and assignments often require more time and work than you think they will. Start early and try to work on them a bit each week. Near the end, you can work on formatting and editing.
Thomas Harris, owner of The Exceptional Skills, recognizes how important this is given his background working at a technical college. “Doing this helps you plan everything out so you don’t feel overwhelmed and you aren’t constantly trying to do things at the last minute,” he says.
And don’t forget to set aside dedicated time for relaxation. Taking time to unwind is key to your success. Whether this means taking every Friday night off to go out to dinner or scheduling a Sunday night bath, be sure you have a routine that allows for relaxation.
2. Protect your study time
Scheduling study time is the first step, but it’s also essential that you stick to it. This means you’ll have to say ‘no’ to certain things. Setting clear expectations with your friends and family upfront is usually the best way to go. They could become your biggest cheerleaders — offering encouragement and even practical help. After all as Dr. Good reminds us:
It can be helpful to surround yourself with people who, when things get hard, are able to remind you of the reason you choose to dive into this field of study.
Without a cluttered social calendar, you’ll be better able to focus on your coursework. Andrew Alexander, founder & CEO of Limitless Academy, notes that being choosy about how you divide your attention is essential. And he’s helped hundreds of clients manage their time.
“You’ll be amazed how much more you can accomplish if you put on the blinders and focus on only one thing at a time,” Alexander says.
3. Leverage your natural internal clock
You’ve likely noticed that there are certain times of the day when you thrive. At other times, you may feel more sluggish. As you create your calendar, schedule the highest priority items — studying for an exam or completing a report for work — for when you’re at your best.
If your workplace is supportive of your educational endeavors, ask your manager about the possibility of flextime hours to better accommodate your schedule. This would allow you to adjust your working hours either earlier or later than the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
4. Make good use of your PTO
If your work provides paid time off (PTO), don’t just save it for sick days or longer trips. As long as you follow your employer’s policy, you can selectively use a PTO day for study time leading up to a particularly large exam or presentation. And if your company closes shop during the holidays, consider using this time to plan the upcoming semester, study the syllabus or get ahead on your reading.
You may even be able to leverage your lunch break by using it to review material. Gabriella Grimaldo, a doctoral student who works a part-time job while running a consulting business, uses her lunch breaks at work to complete some of her schoolwork. This tactic also yields other benefits.
“I still wanted to socialize with co-workers, so I left Fridays open to go out to lunch,” she explains. “After all, you need to do fun stuff too.”
5. Make smart to-do lists
When your schedule indicates that you have thirty items on your to-do list for the day, it’s highly unlikely that you actually have time to finish everything. Dr. Marnie Elam, associate professor of psychology at Brandman University, says it’s better to divide your tasks more evenly.
“Because we get stressed when we don’t have the resources to meet our demands, spreading those demands out will make you more likely to meet them,” she offers.
Dr. Elam also warns about underestimating the time it will take to complete a task. Start by writing down every item you need to complete. Then, estimate the time it will take you to finish each task — be generous. Use your calendar to block of time for the highest-priority tasks, and adjust your to-do list to ensure you’re only focusing on items you know you’ll have time complete that day.
Also consider using a task-management tool to help you manage your to-do list. myHomework, for example, is a mobile planner that keeps all of your assignments in one place and notifies you of due dates across all your devices.
6. Fuel your brain and body
It’s easy to overlook your own wellness when going back to school. But it’s important to make time for proper nutrition, sleep and exercise to avoid burnout. Don’t be afraid to ask for some help from friends or family, either. "Take care of yourself," Grimaldo recommends and encourages you to remember:
You are doing what most people are afraid to do. Working full time and going back to school is not an easy feat, but you're doing this to better yourself and create a future for you and your family.
7. Take some (or only) online classes
If you’re a self-starter, online classes could be a good fit for you. Some courses are offered fully online or in hybrid formats. Zaneta Wood, who completed a master’s degree and half of her doctorate while maintaining full-time job, is a fan of these options.
“These types of programs are often designed for working students,” she explains. “The schedule of class meetings, project deadlines and course polices are often tailored to the needs of students who work full time.”
If you’re still comparing college programs, there are a number of things to consider. Don’t be afraid to ask about others’ experiences with online and hybrid programs.
The clock is ticking
There’s clearly reason to believe you can be successful working full time and going back to school. While it might not be easy, these time management tips might help you feel more organized and achieve your goals.
Time management is just one thing to consider when going to college as a working adult, though. You’ll also need to think carefully about how you’ll pay for your education. Read about your options in our article, “How to afford college as a working professional: 5 Ways to cut costs.”
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