How to Balance Postgraduate Studies and Full-Time Work was originally published on Firsthand.
Balancing full-time work with any other level of responsibility is difficult enough on its own. Completing full-time work with postgraduate studies is a whole different ball game. A postgraduate degree or diploma is an advanced level of study that builds on the initial foundation of education, such as a bachelor’s degree.
Choosing to do postgraduate studies is usually born out of a passion to follow a specific career path. It’s potentially part of a dream that many students harbor for years, but the reality is less of a romantic notion. To become an expert in one’s field, time has to be put in to master it, which comes at a cost.
With so many years of study to complete, the reality for many students is that they need to work full-time to navigate through the experience. Balancing postgraduate studies with full-time work is possible, it simply requires a little foresight. Here are a few tips that might help.
Master the Art of Organization
Time management is a major component of being able to balance your responsibilities. When completing postgraduate studies and working a full-time job, every second counts. Everything needs to be a part of your personal schedule, from lectures to assignments, and responsibilities in the workplace to personal after-hours commitments.
Schedule in lunch breaks, travel time, gym, and all responsibilities that need to fit into each week. Make use of a digital calendar that syncs to all your devices. Color-code the different elements of your responsibilities, for example:
- Work responsibilities
- Home responsibilities
- Studies (divided into different subjects)
- Personal responsibilities
- Social engagements
If you engage with other team members on a regular basis, make use of scheduling software for small business ventures. This will help you organize your meetings more quickly and simply by enabling your colleagues to book time with you according to what’s available in your schedule.
Be Frugal With Your Spare Time
Still on the topic of time, when you have some of it spare, protect it, and be frugal with how you spend it. If it’s not essential or doesn’t interest you or improve operations in any way, don’t be afraid to say no. Setting healthy boundaries for yourself ensures that you stay focused on what’s important.
Prioritize the things that do require your time and energy so that you can deal with the most important things first. It’s easy to get swept up in unnecessary tasks and before you know it, half of your day is gone. Your postgraduate studies should always come first. After that, your most crucial work commitments need to have their place.
Be honest if you have been asked to assist someone with their work or to step in on something that isn’t usually within your scope of work. State clearly that you would normally be happy to assist, but don’t have the capacity to focus on additional work. It is the truth, after all. Being clear on these boundaries from the start will help others understand your situation better.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
You will be spending a lot of your time behind a desk navigating your studies, but possibly also dealing with your work, too. Create a dedicated space that is conducive to productivity. Keep it clean with minimal clutter so that it feels like a welcoming space that you want to spend time in.
Make sure there is a free flow of fresh air and that the space is well-lit. You could well be spending late nights at your desk, so it’s important to have the right lighting solutions available.
Some ideas for healthy workspace accessories:
- Have a pinboard in front of you with your schedule, timelines, and tasks in full view.
- Keep a few affirmations in clear view to motivate you when times get tough.
- Decorate your space with living plants. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but they also improve the quality of air around you.
- Make sure you have a comfortable seat that supports good posture since you will be spending long hours at your desk. A Pilates ball is a good option if you can’t afford an ergonomic chair.
- Create clever filing solutions and storage areas so that you have everything you need within reach. Ensure you have all the stationery required so that you can simply sit and work without having to get up and find anything.
Communication is the key to leveraging the best possible outcomes for yourself. Communicate openly with both your boss and your professors about your situation. When your workloads from both sides become overwhelming, you can call on your teams to devise a solution that alleviates some of the pressure.
Communication skills are an important aspect of any line of work. Honing these skills will pay off in the long run when dealing with difficult customers or needing to delegate work responsibilities.
Learn to Disseminate Information on Your Own
With limited time on your hands, you need to be able to understand and disseminate information quickly in order to reach an outcome. In both the workplace and with your studies, there will be a strong requirement for being able to unpack content, research topics, and understand insights, in order to use the information.
Relying on other people to help you gather information or understand it is going to be a waste of your precious time. Develop skills that allow you to gain your own insights without the help of others.
When you need assistance from other team members or fellow students, create a way of communicating with them that doesn’t require an immediate response. This is essentially asynchronous communication, meaning you can send an email or SMS and do not have to wait around for an immediate response.
This will allow you to continue with important tasks while you wait for your colleagues or fellow students to come back to you.
Make Time For Exercise And Healthy Eating
Staying healthy will ensure that you are always operating at your best. Take time to eat healthily and exercise regularly to keep your body in peak physical condition. Eating regular, healthy meals throughout the day will keep you going so that you can focus on your studies without forgetting your work responsibilities.
We often either forget to eat or we eat mindlessly when faced with a lot of pressure. When we aren’t fueling our bodies properly, we tend to opt for energy drinks, sugar, caffeine, and other quick fixes to keep our energy levels up. It’s a slippery slope because as quickly as energy levels are lifted, they plummet too.
Pick a day to plan your meals for the week ahead. Shop for the relevant groceries and make bulk, healthy meals in advance. Divide them into portions and freeze them. Stock up on healthy, on-the-go snacks that can be packed into a bag quickly. Keep loads of fresh vegetables and fruit in the refrigerator to keep you going between meals.
Exercising regularly helps boost your brain health, enabling you to stay focused and making it easier to retain information. Exercise has also been shown to reduce stress levels, helping one cope with pressurized situations a lot more easily.
Focus On Self-Care
Burnout is a reality for many students trying to balance full-time work and postgraduate studies. But with a little self-care, this can be avoided. Businesses that operate at high velocity, managing multiple tasks at once, recommend self-care for their employees. Top call center providers, mobile phone operators, high-profile corporates, and more all see the value in their employees taking time out to look after themselves.
Self-care can look like many things:
- Meditating or making time for mindful practice.
- Yoga class or a long walk in nature.
- Taking a bubble bath.
- Having a decent night’s sleep.
- Reading a book – unrelated to your studies.
- Doing a crossword puzzle or watching your favorite TV show.
Taking a breather every so often to step away and clear your mind is a good habit to get into. It allows you to distance yourself from everything for a few minutes, which enables you to gain a fresh perspective.
Speak to Your Boss About Remote Work
One thing that the post-COVID-19 world has taught us is that remote work comes with its advantages, including reducing the time spent commuting to work.
When studying and working full-time, time becomes your most precious asset. Speak to your boss about working remotely from home to help reduce the time spent in traffic, but also to help you focus on nailing your tasks without distractions from others around you.
With collaboration software and video conferencing facilities available, remote working is a reality that many businesses can happily adopt. The available technology to support this type of working relationship is more than ample, provided your workspace and boss are willing to work with it.
- Collaboration software definition: software or an application created to enable two or more people to work on the same project at once, regardless of location.
- Video conference definition: a conference or meeting held online using digital video in which multiple people are able to attend from varying locations.
It’s understandable that this is not always possible. In situations where your employer favors more traditional working conditions and technology, perhaps you can educate them on the benefits of evolving? Showcase the advantages of having a flexible, mobile working environment and how it can work for them. For example:
- Does the company you work for still use fax machines? Introduce the idea of fax software for computer, so that you don’t have to be physically present at a machine to receive the communication.
- Does said company host multiple face-to-face meetings in a day? You might be met with the question: how does web conferencing work? Find a simple tutorial video. Show them the advantages of web conferencing and how it can be carried out from multiple locations around the world.
- The alternative or an addition to web conferencing is to host telephonic discussions managed through VoIP using an IP phone. How does an IP phone work? It allows you to make and receive voice calls using the internet instead of traditional phone lines. It cuts costs for the business, is clear, high quality, and enables you to receive or make calls from any location.
Create Micro-Tasks And Celebrate Your Wins
Breaking your responsibilities down into micro-tasks can help you feel like you’re accomplishing more over shorter periods of time. Setting major goals – such as completing a thesis or finishing a semester of study – is important. However, these can be broken down into smaller micro-goals to help you feel like you are consistently achieving success.
For example, completing a thesis can be further broken down into completing each chapter. As you complete a chapter, tick it off your list, and watch the responsibilities diminish. Finishing a semester of study can be broken down into the assessments, assignments, and tasks you need to hand in over that timeframe.
Every time you complete a substantial task, give yourself a proverbial pat on the back. Postgraduate studies can seem like a collection of insurmountable assignments, which can both overwhelm and demoralize you. Sometimes an act as simple as ticking completed items off a list can shift your perception. It also helps boost your productivity levels.
When you’ve overcome a huge obstacle or completed a substantial task, reward yourself with a night out or a lavish dinner. This will both help you acknowledge the enormity of what you are undertaking, but also assist you in preparing for the next leg of the journey.
Remember Your End Goal
Working a full-time job while balancing postgraduate studies might seem like an endless journey. However, with the right dedication, it will eventually come to a very fruitful end. The end goal is to graduate and then follow a career in your chosen studies. This is the reason why you are putting yourself through your paces.
Balancing postgraduate studies and full-time work is a gargantuan undertaking. It’s important to keep the end goal in sight so you don’t lose hope. Remembering that the pressure you are placing yourself under is not permanent will be a means for motivation. Keep going. You will eventually realize the benefits of all your hard work.
Richard Conn is the Senior Director, Search Marketing for RingCentral, a global leader in unified communications and fax services. He is passionate about connecting businesses and customers and has experience working with Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Experian, Target, Nordstrom, Kayak, Hilton, and Kia. Richard has written for sites such as Nextdoor and Business2Community.