Pursuing additional education while working full-time, whether to advance in a career or transition into a new one, is not for the faint of heart.
While following a dream like this can be invigorating, chances are there will be times when you question your sanity. Taking on a time-consuming academic pursuit on top of a full-time job is a juggling act under the best of conditions. Add a significant other or family into the mix, and it can quickly seem overwhelming.
Here are some productivity strategies to help student/employees keep all the balls in the air:
- Use your calendar. You will need to forage for each spare hour to get everything done, so look at your schedule and figure out where the openings are and how best to take advantage of them. When are you most focused and productive? Where are the quiet corners that you can study in peace? Lunch hours and commute times (if public transportation is an option) are obvious places to squeeze in some study time. If you can get more schoolwork done in an hour of staying late at work than you could in an evening at home, do it.
- Strip your schedule down. It’s easy to overestimate what you can accomplish and underestimate how long tasks will take. Give yourself plenty of time to get things done and to shift gears between work and school. Remove all the unessential activities from your calendar for awhile.
- Ask for help. If you are single, you may need understanding from friends who wonder why you can’t go out for drinks after work like you used to. If you have a significant other, enlist their support in taking on more household chores and caring for children.
- Recruit the kids. You can’t put raising a family on hold. Tell the children what you are doing and why you are doing it and ask for their support. Whether it’s playing quietly so you can study, or taking on more responsibility around the house. When possible, even try to do your homework together.
- Maintain your health.
Recognize that you are asking a lot of yourself, and do what you can to stay healthy. Eat nutritious food and avoid junk. Get as much sleep as you can and at least a little exercise a few times a week, whether it’s a 15-minute walk or reading while walking slowly on the treadmill. Exercise will give you improved energy and clarity. Take breaks to work while standing up instead of sitting all day. Do what you can to maintain your wellness.
- Build a support system. Though meeting a friend for lunch may be the last thing you have time to do, keeping in touch with a few key contacts will boost your spirits and strengthen connections. Even if you only have five minutes instead of your regular weekly hour-long phone chat with your best friend, make the call. Call your mom, text a girlfriend, or meet a co-worker for a quick drink on your way home. When you need a favor, you’ll feel more comfortable asking and they’ll be happy to jump in.
- Go easy on yourself. As the saying goes, you can have it all, just not all at once. Focus on your goal. Let go of the idea that you can (or even should) keep a spotless house or host a dinner party with your newly packed schedule. Instead, meet friends out for a weekend dinner so you don’t have to clean your house and cook a meal to your usual standards. You are working hard to achieve a lot in a limited amount of time. Give yourself a break whenever possible.
- Keep yourself organized. Keep a running to-do list or an online calendar that will help you stay on top of work and school projects. Organize tasks by day, week and month. Enter deadlines in as soon as you know about them, then back up and schedule the action steps you need to take to complete your project, whether it’s a term paper or a new business presentation.
- Abandon any notions of perfection. If you take on the challenge of academics while working full time, you are obviously a driven, self-motivated person with high standards. While that’s admirable, don’t let your perfectionist ways make you crazy. Delegate to others. Do what you can. Let go of what doesn’t absolutely need to happen. Remember, done is better than perfect. Instead of making yourself (and those around you) crazy trying to make a project flawless, be satisfied with “pretty darn good.”
- Seek out opportunities to laugh. Download some routines from a favorite comedian and listen to them on your commute or the treadmill. Take a 10-minute study break to watch silly videos online. Watch a funny movie. Regular laughter is an excellent way to blow off steam and neutralize tension during a high-stress time.
For more of my tips, check out my article Business Etiquette: 6 Questions to Ask at a Job Interview on The Huffington Post.