Have you been inspired by any of the ideas in our article about useful training courses, but think that you can’t manage to fit another commitment into your life? Don’t be discouraged! Continuing professional development is worth it. Here are some practical tips and ideas that will help you study as well as work.
Taking on a course of study while you hold down a full-time job is a big commitment, but remember it’s a commitment that plenty of people before you have managed to make. First of all, therefore, don’t be daunted and don’t start out with the belief that it’s impossible. What’s required is some determination, some fairly ruthless organisation, and good communication with your family, your friends and your employer.
The people around you need to understand and accept that studying for your course is going to take up some of your time, and it’s worthwhile explaining this in advance and that some aspects of your routine may change as a result. If you live alone or with flatmates, this isn’t such a big deal, but if you’re living with other family members – especially children – it can become a much bumpier ride.
Get your friends, employer and family on your side by explaining why you are going to study and what you are trying to achieve. Make sure they know from the beginning that this commitment is really important to you, and that your new skills are going to financially benefit the family or the firm as a whole. If you make them feel involved in your efforts rather than being on the sidelines, you will get support from them at those difficult times. Try to plan together for changes in the household routine and a swapping-around of commitments. You probably won’t think of everything, but get into the habit of forward planning!
Then, set aside a “study nook”, ideally somewhere in your house. If you have your own bedroom, there is no problem, but if you share a bedroom and there is no spare bedroom, you may have to get more creative. You are looking for a place where you can keep your textbooks, notes and computer more or less undisturbed so that you can get straight back to them when you need them. Giving yourself a space to study in means that you are literally making space for the course in your life, and once you have carved out the space, it is easier to carve out the time.
If you can, try to make your study nook a place where you can close the door on the rest of the world, even if what you have is a timeshare of the bedroom for a couple of hours two nights a week. Then, try to be as firm as possible about interruptions. This isn’t always easy, but everyone in the house has to know that you won’t drop your studying during your study time unless there really is an emergency. To remind everyone, it’s worth hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, and pointing it out to them when they ignore it – as they may do the first couple of times!
I have seen study nooks set up in a corner of a shared bedroom, as a mini-office under the stairs and even in a garden shed (though that one was a bit cold for the first two terms!). If you are sharing the room with others – for example, a study nook under the stairs may often be in your living room – you can invest in a good set of headphones so that you are not distracted by TV or other noise.
If all else fails, remember that you can spend an hour or so in the local library either on the way to work or on the way back home, or you can find a quiet corner of a coffee bar near the office and study there with your headphones on. You may also be able to use an empty meeting room at the office during your lunch hour. The only thing that matters is that it’s a space that works for you.
If you have to share a space, organisation of your study materials is crucial. Keep everything you will need in a briefcase or a box file, so that you can put your hands on all your materials straight away. Include any books you are reading as well as your notes and course texts. Always finish your study sessions with a careful note of where you left off and what you need to work on next time. This makes it easier to return to your study materials if you have to miss a couple of sessions.
The next thing to do is to decide on a routine. How often will you need to study in a week, and for how long? What’s the best time? If you have small children, there’s not much point in setting up a studying time before they are safely tucked up in bed, or after they’re awake in the morning. Many part-time students choose to get up extra-early in the mornings (if they’re skylarks) or stay up extra-late at night (if they’re night owls) so that they can have an hour or more of uninterrupted study while everyone else is asleep. Again, the only right answer is the one that works for you.
The first few weeks of combining full-time work and part-time study can be tough, but if you can face those initial challenges, life rapidly settles into a manageable routine. You are changing your future with every study session. Keep your eyes on the prize!