Whenever the idea of going back to college comes up, do you think to yourself:
- How am I supposed to balance work and school?
- How am I supposed to find the time to study?
- Will my family be able to handle my new schedule?
The most successful and productive students have mastered one key skill: time management. While their techniques may differ, from accomplishing course-related tasks early on Sunday morning to an hour after the kids are in bed, you can do this if you set up a routine in a structured environment. All you need is careful planning and your best efforts. If you’ve ever made any of these excuses, consider these easy fixes an excuse no more.
1. “I don’t have the time to go back to college. My life is too busy.”
Routine. Routine. Routine. Did we mention routine? When you prioritize and schedule your schoolwork to the precise moment, you will be able to accomplish your assignments and fulfill any other responsibilities. For example, if you wake up at 6 a.m. during the week for work, but wake up on the weekends at 8 a.m., that’s four potential hours to spend on school. And it will make waking up for work on Monday much easier (because your body is used to a routine!). As you plan your time precisely, you’ll find that you may have some extra time to spare; small sacrifices like recording your favorite TV show to watch at a later date may free up one hour once a week for course work.
2. “I can’t sit down and study for long periods of time.”
Then you are already ahead of the game! Studying for long periods of time can overwork your brain, only to cause memory loss and confusion. Study in short sessions when you can instead of enduring long sessions. Take several short breaks to help refresh and recharge your brain so you can better recall information. Learn which study tactics resonate with your learning style best and use those tools regularly to study. Mobile apps like StudyBlue let you create flashcards to prepare for your exams and study wherever and whenever, like waiting for you kids to finish practice. For practice tests and tutorials, the University’s LearningExpress Library provides tools and resources that help improve your study challenges.
3. “Procrastination distracts me from getting anything done.”
The biggest academic offense students can commit is to put assignments off until later. One technique to consider is the Pomodoro Technique (find the free online productivity timer, here). This method allows you to work in short blocks of time so that you are consistently productive. By taking regular breaks to maintain your motivation, you’ll stay refreshed and creative.
Your study space should also be noise-and distraction-free, so that means closing the door for quiet time, setting aside your phone or blocking your favorite websites. The more distractions you reduce, the easier it will be to avoid temptations.
4. “I can’t seem to get my schoolwork done on time.”
If you have trouble meeting due dates, set personal deadlines before course deadlines and focus on being early instead. When you aim to submit your assignments on time, you’ll either be on time, or (most likely) late. But if you try to be early, you’ll end up either being early or on time, and better equip yourself to meet assignment deadlines.
Keep yourself on track by writing down all these due dates in your everyday planner, Google Calendar or reminder app. When you maintain your appointments, to do lists and assignments together, you can better manage your time by seeing the full picture.
5. “I don’t have hours to sit and write a research paper.”
Instead of blocking out an entire weekend to research, outline, write and edit a term paper, try breaking up the assignment into more manageable tasks. If you start early, you can focus on one aspect of the project at a time; spending an hour here and there is a lot less stressful than pulling an all-nighter.
Should you need writing assistance (think essay, personal statement, resume or any creative work) along the way, tutors are available 24/7 to offer feedback and critiques through Smarthinking, a free service for Thomas Edison State University students. Their Writing Center can provide a personalized analysis of any written assignment you submit, saving you editing time and strengthening your writing skills.
6. “I’m always on the go and travel for work.”
Travelling need not get in the way of your course work; you can always bring it along with you. Apps like SugarSync and Evernote let you access and share important files on the go, and even let you edit and add notes on a mobile device in real time. Or, you can use Google Apps, a cloud-based program that will enable you to create spreadsheets, documents, PowerPoint presentations, access multimedia presentations and other programs required for your courses. Using Google Apps and Google Docs (Thomas Edison State University students get automatic access when registered for a course), you can access and submit any assignment regardless of the computer, tablet or other device you use or the software installed on that device.
7. “I have small children that require all of my time and attention.”
Like any parent, you probably have a hard time making yourself a priority, electing instead to put the family first. But when you’re going back to school, finding “me time” is a necessity to complete course work. You can, however, find that time, even with a busy family schedule. Instead of just “winging it,” block off time in your calendar just for you. Treat this time as any other appointment, and stick to it. This time can be after your kids go to sleep, or while they are on a play date.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure that when you do spend time with your kids that is the only thing you do. If you try to study when they want to play, it will only end up frustrating you both, and you won’t remember what you were trying to study for anyway. Instead, get creative about your time together, like recording your notes for car rides, and you may find that you’ll be able to find the “me time” you need to get your degree.
8. “I work full time.”
Since asynchronous online courses are available 24/7, allow you to engage whenever you have the time and are delivered directly to you, there is always time for class. The challenge may be fitting it into your schedule if you work full time. However, as a busy adult, you can balance work and school by first evaluating your schedule, even down to the minute if necessary. Carve out specific blocks of time between other tasks and duties to dedicate to your course work. Set boundaries for yourself during this time; that means saying no to accepting extra work and not checking email for an hour or two. With practice and repetition, these blocks of time will simply become a routine.
9. “I don’t have two years to spend earning a degree.”
Before you start, the idea of spending two years, give or take, may seem like a huge time commitment at this point in your life. To begin such a journey may seem overwhelming. But tomorrow, and the next, will just become another day that you could have already started. The time will only pass anyway. There is no better time than now.
This article was originally published in November 2014 and has been updated for accuracy.
Written by Thomas Edison State University