With more and more people trying to study while they run their own businesses, and re-skilling being the in-thing at the moment, adding another ball to the multiple ones you are already juggling may seem like an impossible task.
I don’t believe that. Now in my second year of Masters, by correspondence study, while I run my own PR company, here are a few of the hacks that have helped me along the way.
1. Your study is your second teacher
If at all possible, dedicate a room in your house to it. Make it your brain cave, a place where you can escape to and be selfish about your studies. Yellow puts me in a good mood, so that’s the colour I painted the walls of mine. Most importantly, your study must have good light, fresh air, a big desk and a comfy chair.
When the going gets tough, you’re bound to use any excuse to get up and leave. Even a trip to the loo ends up being 20 minutes, and your social media accounts will never be more up to date than when you are supposed to study.
Fill your brain cave with everything that helps prevent this – a huge jug of water, a knee rug, hand cream, lip ice, spectacle wipes, loads of stationery in every shape & form, a radio / speaker, tissues and sweets – you will need them late at night.
Keep all your books, and files with past notes and papers from your previous studies close at hand. Make this the ultimate place where studying trumps all, and you have absolutely everything you need within arm’s reach.
2. Buy the text books
Yip, almost everything is online these days, but when you are scrambling to get your head around a tough concept that you need to understand before you can start writing a paper, nothing beats getting the definition that your professors agree with, by flipping through a book right next to you in an instant.
It’s also faster than sifting through journal articles and the books will help you when you need multiple references that say the same thing.
If you’re doing it via correspondence studies like me, and if you can get access to a local varsity library, do it. The initial paperwork is a schlep but it is well worth it.
Not only do you have the luxury of accessing the most recent (and super expensive) additional recommended books that are not online yet, but a library is an amazing place to hide away when there are distractions, load-shedding or house guests at home and you need to super-focus, or scuttle to a deadline.
3. Exercise, exercise, exercise
While I am the first one to admit that this is one thing I’ve forgiven myself for letting slip this past year, you feel the difference when you are sitting for days on end working on your assignments. It also helps your concentration and patience tremendously.
Eat healthily, and allow yourself to snack a lot. Nuts, fruit, rice cakes, frozen yoghurt, smoothies…. whatever takes your fancy.
I’m a firm believer that brains use loads of energy and the last thing you need is to feel hungry or let your blood sugar drop while you are already under strain.
4. Schedule nights out and weekends away
When you look at the year ahead, and your assignment timetable, this may seem unmanageable but it will keep you sane, and make you feel like you are still human in between it all.
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Friends sometimes stop inviting you to things after a few no’s so make sure you schedule time with them when it works for you. Your need your support structure now more than ever.
Sadly your brain cave is the one place where a glass of red wine or a G&T won’t help you get through the task ahead. It only makes you slower and you loose your sharpness. Keep your poison as a reward for when the assignment is done or to bribe yourself through the next deadline.
5. Make study buddies in your class
At post grad level, you hardly do group assignments, but sometimes you need your study buddies purely to commiserate with. The release does you good. They are also a wonderful sounding board when you are trying to come up with ideas that match topics and to check if you truly “get it” the same way they do.
Although your lecturers may seem like a species of their own, getting to know them & making them part of your tribe is very beneficial. Their guards tend to drop a little when they know you better too.
I don’t advocate doing strictly one thing at a time as I am a multi-tasker, so when you are behind your desk, get into the groove that makes you most productive. However, scheduling dedicated slots to work on your studies so that you meet your deadlines helps a lot.
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Not only will you truly have more time to work on your assignments, but when it feels like life is raining deadlines, you will feel less stressed knowing that there is time set aside for this later in the week.
I need my week days for my business, so as far as I can, I allocate all day Saturday, and all day Sunday for my studies, and then I try end early on a Friday afternoon, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. In PR, your time is not always your own, but that’s life hey. You have to make it work.
6. Work ahead
While the old adage that your productivity increases the closer you get to the deadline may be true, the additional stress will affect other areas of your life. Working ahead of deadlines will make you feel more in control, and avoid the panic that comes with leaving things to the last minute.
When you run your now business, you need flexibility in your schedule too. You business is not supposed to suffer because you are studying, and it doesn’t have to at all.
7. Learn to forgive yourself
Yes, studying is all about ambition, achievement and motivation, and above all, it’s a game of winning over your mind.
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However, your assignments won’t always be as perfect as you want them to be, you will kick yourself when you get penalised for making silly mistakes, or missing the elephant in the room, and you won’t always get the marks you wanted. You have to swallow these things quickly and move on.
When I look at most of my industry colleague’s lives, they are already multi-tasking in so many ways, that adding another element like studies would probably become yet another cog in the wheel. I do believe that busier people are sometimes good at getting more done but everyone needs to find their groove.
Most of the people in my class already have a few balls in the air, and I think it makes you stronger. Your work & life experience also make the course more meaningful in many ways. It’s different for each person, but we all agree, that the feeling you get when you pass each assignment never gets old.
Trust me. It always seems super tough at the beginning of a new course, but it gets easier and you find your momentum.
Studies are a marathon, not a sprint, and with a bit of grit, you’ll get there!