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How to balance full-time work and 'skill-up' study at the same time

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·5-min read
Scheduling your days is essential for striking the right balance between work and study. Photo: Getty
Scheduling your days is essential for striking the right balance between work and study. Photo: Getty

The temporary imprisonment of lockdown has led many people to start online courses over the past year. Massive open online classes, or MOOCs, have seen a surge in enrollments since March.

Enrollment at the online platform Coursera was 640% higher from March to April 2020 than during the same period in 2019, growing from 1.6 to 10.3 million. Enrollment at Udemy – another course provider – was up over 400% between February and March.

From languages to AI and data science, there are endless courses to choose from, often in combination with some of the world’s top universities including Yale and Harvard. Some people have wanted to “up-skill” in their spare time, while others have started courses to allow them to change careers entirely.

But with a rough plan to lift COVID-19 restrictions in place, many previously furloughed students now face the challenge of heading back to work while studying at the same time.

“Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have gone back to studying - whether that’s to change careers, start a dream job or to progress further in our current role.LinkedIn released 1,000 hours of free learning which has proven to be very popular with members over the past year,” says Charlotte Davies, LinkedIn Careers expert.

“With the gradual road back to the office now on the horizon, the prospect of that morning rush and commuting time eating back into the working day, there’s no denying that the thought of juggling study whilst going back to work at the office could feel stressful.”

So how can you balance the two without burning out, or hitting a mental block?

Use a planner

Before you return to work, spend time planning when your assignments will be due and map them out in a diary. If you know you’re going to have a busier period at work, spend the week before or after focusing on your studies. Having one planner that contains all of your commitments will allow you to see exactly what your workload is each week and allocate time accordingly.

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If you have any clashes with work responsibilities and academic deadlines, it might be worth speaking to your course advisor to find out if you can have an extension or submit the assignment early.

“In order to keep on top of your professional and academic workload without getting overwhelmed, it’s important to keep yourself organised. Create a timetable and stick to it, don’t leave things to the last minute,” says Davies.

Break tasks down

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with both work and studies, but breaking down projects or assignments into smaller goals and ticking them off can help.

During the day, much of the work we do aims towards minor milestones, but research by Harvard Business School suggests that it’s the daily progress on your small goals that actually boost motivation, productivity and creativity. This is because small accomplishments boost our sense of confidence and activate the brain’s reward circuit.

Schedule your study time

Scheduling your days is essential for striking the right balance between work and study. Courses usually outline the minimum number of hours you will need to complete it, so bear this in mind. Often, reading, note-taking and attending meetings take longer than we think – so factor this in when organising your time. Remember, not everyone works in the same way. Some people are able to focus first thing in the morning, and others work best in the evenings.

Although you should try to stick to your schedule as best as possible, you should allow a buffer for when unexpected things come up. You may have to work overtime at work, or take on other responsibilities. These things can be unavoidable and frustrating, but course providers are often understanding and will give you extra time, or allow you to temporarily pause your studies.

Give yourself time off

It’s tempting to work day and night to get everything done, but burnout is a very real risk. Even if reading into the night feels productive, you’re unlikely to remember what you’re read and you’ll struggle at work the next day – so it’s a lose-lose situation. If you’re feeling tired and stressed, take some time off.

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Giving yourself plenty of breaks will help you feel refreshed and enthusiastic about your learning experience, rather than it feeling like a chore. Putting things into perspective can be useful too. If you’ve not had a chance to catch up on a week’s worth of reading, it’s unlikely to be a major setback for your new career.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the stresses of balancing multiple deadlines, but staying focused on the end goal will keep you in check,” Davies says. “Be sure to remind yourself why you chose to work and study simultaneously, and keep your eyes on the prize. You can put this into practice by creating vision boards of the end result, writing down your goals for the future or asking your friends and family to hold you accountable. Even if it feels like the easier option, don’t give up.”

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