How to Balance Part Time Study with Life and Work

How to Balance Part Time Study with Life and Work

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Life is all about balance. We all juggle work commitments with family, shoe horning in social engagements and events when we can, along with a healthy dose of rest and relaxation.

With such a fine balance achieved on a day to day basis, it doesn’t take much to upset the apple cart. Adding another important commitment can seem like sheer madness.

And yet we do it! And we invariably reach our goal, in some shape or form, and usually with success, but it can be tough.

stress headache

So how do you balance work, life, family and a part-time course? How do you thrive in this challenging atmosphere and avoid being swamped by deadlines, goals and pressure?

Is there a secret to success, or is it a ‘take it every day as it comes’ approach that works best, battling problems and issues as they arise?

Firefighting or Strategy – Which is Best?
Living a busy and fulfilling life is just as much about having a plan as it is about dealing with problems. If you are one step behind all the time you will constantly feel like you are catching up, leaving you exhausted.

The solution then becomes ’something has to give.’ This often means ditching something you enjoy. Taking on another big commitment, such as home study courses, almost seems like a step too far.

So, how do you strike a balance between current commitments and home study? Here’s what our students told us worked for them.

  1. Have a plan… but be prepared to deviate

Home study courses will normally give you a rough guide to the number of hours expected to complete the course. Some qualifications will also go on to suggest a time frame, e.g. 360 hours over 12 months of study.

You can also set the time frame yourself. Hence, if you plan on completing the HLTA level 4 diploma, the expectation is that it will take you 240 hours. You will likely plan to complete the course within the 12-month time frame with tutor support. Divide 240 hours by 12 months and that gives you a monthly total of 20 hours, or roughly 5 hours of study a week.

Great! That’s doable, you think, and plough headlong into it. But then life happens.

man focusing

Christmas creeps up, and then birthday events and holidays, alongside juggling childcare and extra commitments at work. Don’t forget, these 5 hours study a week are nominal – there may be some concepts of the home study course you fly through with ease, and others that take you a lot more time.

You need a plan. From what our students tell us, this is one of the best ways to get to grips with and commit to any home study course, no matter what level the qualification.

THE BALANCE – Be prepared to deviate. This means looking forward and understanding what commitments you have and when, and working around them. If you ‘give’ study hours to something, where can you recoup this time in future weeks?

  1. Stay organised

Another tip that our students give us is to get organised and – more importantly – stay organised!

There are many ways of doing this, including:

    • Study calendars – Many of our students balance work, family and life with their home study courses. They tell us that having a study calendar for everyone in the family to see works well for them.There is no getting away from the fact that you will need to create dedicated study times for your course, and studying when it suits you is important. Some of our hardworking students are also parents, and they found that when they clearly posted their study times they could negotiate an hour or two of uninterrupted study time before they did something fun with their family.
    • Study planners/diaries – Take a look online or visit your local stationers and for a few pounds, you will find that you can acquire a student or academic year planner diary. These diaries are created with students specifically in mind (and tutors and teachers too!), as they can help to organise your time into pockets to get certain tasks completed.For example, although we don’t impose deadlines, in order for you to complete your courses in your desired timeframe, YOU have to create your own deadlines so that you can reach key milestones in your course. These student planners can be excellent in helping you organise your study time from one month to the next.
    • Online programs and apps – if you need some extra motivation, take a look online to see what digital platforms and apps can help you along. We are all so fond of our smart phones, so why not make better use of them?

THE BALANCE – Being organised means that you pay attention not just to your study but to other aspects of your life, too. Unfortunately, there will be times that your studies will take a back seat but equally, there will need to be times that you push your study obligations to the fore.

  1. Time to Play

Unfortunately, our sights can be so firmly set on reaching our goals that our vision becomes clouded. It is also true to say that becoming too consumed by working and studying means that we lose focus of the bigger picture.

You may think that studying for hours on end is productive, but research shows that long periods of time knee-deep in books and study can lower our productivity levels. Not only that, it can also diminish the quality of our work.

So, what’s the answer?

Our students tell us that factoring in time to relax and ‘switch off’ is a great way to make sure that productivity levels stay high and that the quality of the work stays high, too.Our students came up with all kinds of ideas:

  • Study holidays – These suggestions ranged from a weekend away from ‘the books’ to allowing yourself a whole week of ‘free’ evenings where you did anything but study. Watch some films, read a novel, enjoy an evening walk, do anything but hit the books. BUT, many students also mentioned that when they did this, they have a detailed study plan for the following week so that they can get back into the swing of things.
  • Know when it isn’t working – You may have set aside key times in your week to complete assignments or read through course material, but there are just times when this doesn’t work. It may be because you are tired, or there is a change of plans. Rather than ‘ploughing on regardless’, many of our students suggested writing that session off, returning to your studies at your next ‘study time slot’ and continuing on from that point. They found the hard way that ‘ploughing on regardless’ meant poor work that needed to be rewritten, thus time was wasted.
  • Exercise – it is amazing the number of our students who said that when things were not going to plan and stress started to creep in, they took part in some kind of physical activity. This could be anything from going for a run or a walk, or playing an impromptu game with the children, to vacuuming the whole house!

THE BALANCE – time to kick back and relax is not just about your studying endeavours but about work and across life in general. Having a short break from your work helps your mind to re-focus on what needs to be done to not only reach the next milestone but reach it in the best way possible.

  1. Commit, but Be Kind to Yourself!

Finally, many of our students talked a lot about not just committing to home study courses, but also being kind to yourself.

On one hand, we realise that to get the promotion we have always wanted or to take our career paths to higher heights, you need to commit to getting the right qualifications. Students all over the world tell the same story. To get the job they want, they need the skills, and that means choosing and applying for a place on an accredited course.
It does take determination, commitment and a certain amount of tunnel vision to get the qualifications you want. It will mean switching off your favourite TV programme or swapping the latest bestseller for course materials. It will also mean sacrificing social time for an hour or two with your ‘head in the books’.

These challenges and opportunities are a part and parcel of reaching your goals, because just as your course will equip you with new skills, so will the process of studying.

But, there are times when we ‘weaken’. We do read the novel or watch the TV, and we don’t complete the work or tasks we set ourselves for that evening or that chunk of time.

This doesn’t mean you have to punish or berate yourself. If you had a vase of beautiful flowers and you noticed one wilting flower, you wouldn’t throw the whole bunch away, would you? You would remove that one flower and keep the rest to admire.

THE BALANCE – Your study is that vase of flowers. If you miss one session of your study calendar, don’t throw the rest of the week or your timetable away. Start your next session by picking up where you left off.
Enjoy your course and the opportunities it will bring during and after you successfully complete it!

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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