Are you considering going back to school after a long hiatus?
Well, you’re in luck, as our higher learning institutes now offer an incredible amount of opportunities to working-class adults that were previously accessible only to full-time students. This means that you can further your education and possibly your career, even if you are juggling your life between work and family at the moment.
However, universities and technical institutes require dedication, time, and effort. In other words, returning to education isn’t going to be a ‘walk in the park, especially if your time and energy are already being pulled in various other directions’.
If you’re an adult who wants to manage your time, balance your life, and design a clear plan on how to go back to school while living a ‘full-time’ life…here are four tips for you!
Tip 1: Manage your time with dynamic tools
Since you will have fewer hours available to you when you go back to school, you need to figure out how to make the most of the time you will have.
One piece of advice you should follow is to dump your to-do-list for a calendar to keep yourself on task and organized.
The reasons are many:
It changes your behaviour: things that are put on calendars are things you feel are most important, and therefore you will prioritise them instead.
It reminds you of how much time you have: a calendar is based on time and therefore continuously reminds you of how much time you have to get things done, pushing you to complete them in a systematic and orderly fashion.
It can be used for goals: apps like Google Calendar allow you to define your most important goals and integrate them with your daily, weekly, and monthly schedule—thus increasing your chances of meeting them.
It allows you to schedule meetings more efficiently: the ability to share calendars with others will make it more likely that your meetings will take place at a time and date that is agreeable to all parties.
Another piece of advice is to stop multitasking, as it does not improve performance or help you get more things done. Instead, multitasking hurts your performance[i].
Instead, visualize what you need to do and then set up a work order with a limited amount of things you are doing at any given point in time.
Start by splitting up your tasks into 3 sections:
Focus only on the tasks that need to be completed and, once completed, move them to the ‘done’ section. Then, choose a task from the ‘options’ section and move it into the ‘doing’ section and focus on that task until it is completed. Rinse and repeat.
Fun fact: this process is actually called Kanban, and it was invented by Toyota in the 1940s to help them limit overproduction!
Tip 2: Schedule Free Time
Completing a postgraduate curriculum or postgraduate education is not a one-day process.
Therefore, you want to plan your new school life for a marathon and not a sprint.
Of course, this is easier said than done as we often feel guilty about taking breaks. This, however, could not be further from the truth! Giving yourself some free time will increase your overall productivity levels, and recent research proved this by identifying 5 key benefits for taking breaks:
Physical and emotional health: constant sitting often associated with working and studying can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.
Getting more things done: too much decision-making during the day can cause fatigue which, in turn, leads to procrastination, poor time management as well as poor decision-making.
Achieving long-term goals: breaks and free-time increase innovation and sustained attention to meet long-term tasks and goals.
Increased productivity and creativity: research shows that taking a break from work or studying replenishes the mind and reduces stress leading to higher productivity, creativity, and engagement levels.
Improved memory and learning: during rest periods, the brain has a chance to store what you’ve just learnt into the memory for long-term retainment and retrieval.
One of the most effective work-break methodologies is the Pomodoro Technique, which suggests taking a 2 to 5-minute break after every 25-35 minutes of work or study. It is said to help fight decision-making fatigue, lessen distractions (mental and external), help control time-management, increase accountability, create structured planning, sustain motivation, and decrease back pain. Give it a try!
Tip 3: Prioritize Your Responsibilities
Since you will have to juggle more responsibilities when you go back to school, you want to focus on those things that are most important first.
Studying for a test you have the next day will have to take precedence over eating out with the family if you are inadequately prepared.
This does not mean you shouldn’t eat out with the family; it just means you should do so when it makes sense.
You can, of course, utilize the Kanban method to prioritize your school, work, and family life, but a more straightforward way to create a prioritized to-do list is as follows:
- Make a list of your most essential tasks.
- Rank them in order of importance.
- Set a deadline for completion for each one (most important should have the shortest deadline).
- Change the order and deadline as required (be flexible).
Flexibility is key here because sometimes your family will come first, sometimes work, and sometimes school. It all depends on what the moment calls for.
We recommend the 100-year old Ivy League Method, which was designed to manage business workloads on a large scale. Big companies like the American giant steel company, Bethlehem Steel, have used it to increase productivity, innovation, and organization within their corporate culture. It goes like this:
- At the end of each day, make a list of the six most important things you need to get done for the following day. This can comprise work, school, family, and personal tasks.
- Prioritize the items on your list by the most important to least important.
- Always start with the most important task on your list at the beginning of the following day.
- Move any items that were not finished during your work and school day to the following day’s list.
- Rinse and repeat.
Tip 4: Get Some More Help
If you feel overwhelmed by all the new demands that higher education brings, just remember you are not alone. 90 percent of Singaporean university students feel stressed out on a regular basis and 65 percent of working parents feel that they find it extremely difficult to manage work and family life.
If you fall under this situation, then you are going to need some extra help.
The good news is that there are plenty of guides and resources at your local university that can help you create an enjoyable work-life balance. You can also reach out to your professors, counsellors, and peers who have experience managing work and school responsibilities or ask them if they know of any groups or centres they know who can help out in this regard.
Going back to school as an adult is not easy but it is also not impossible. If you can manage your work and school in a systematic way using the advice and resources listed in this article then you shouldn’t have too much of a problem adjusting to your new routine.
Just think, after you receive your higher education you are going to have more skills at your disposal that will help you advance your career in whatever field you have chosen.
The benefits of going back to school far outweigh the hurdles, so don’t be afraid, get your education, and make the most out of your career through higher education. We wish you all the best!