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Finding the balance

Strategies and advice on making full-time work and study fit together

Returning to study when you work full-time might seem like a daunting prospect.

Finding time to focus on study, managing your workload and keeping a healthy lifestyle are some of the challenges you could face.

But it is possible to balance full-time work with study. We've put together these strategies and tips to help you excel in your studies and your career.

Plan your workload

Plan out your workload at the start of each term so you're on top of your time from the off.

Map out your class times and assignment deadlines and organise them into a calendar.

Then work out the time you need to do independent study such as reading, coursework and project prep. Schedule this in your calendar with your work and other life commitments so you can see how everything fits in.

Establish routines

Once you've planned your workload, set time aside each week to plan your study sessions. To map this out, ask yourself questions like:

  • What do I need to achieve by the end of each day or each study session?
  • How much time will that take me?
  • Where does this fit with my work and other commitments?
Group of students studying with books and tablets on table

Training yourself into working at the same times each week can be a massive help. While forming the habit may take some time, with practice you'll find yourself getting on with it and procrastinating less.

Depending on how you get to work, studying during your commute is worth considering. If you're travelling by train or bus you could catch up on essential readings on your phone, tablet or laptop on the journey.

Get support from your employer

It's worth checking out your employer's study policies and speaking with your manager to see how they can best support you.

Some of the things worth discussing include:

  • Requesting changes to your work schedule so you can fit in more study on certain days
  • Occasionally working from home so you can use your commute time to study
  • Ensuring major work projects don't impact on study deadlines

If you're doing a work-based degree or degree apprenticeship, you'll likely already have support from your employer. If you don't have their support yet, highlight how you'll use the skills and knowledge you develop to become more effective in your role.

Use annual leave intelligently

If you're clever with your annual leave you can maximise your study time.

Look at your key deadlines, and book time off in advance to prepare your assessments or revise for exams. You can also combine public holidays with weekends and annual leave to give you a few days of focused study time.

Chunk your time

Plonking yourself down for 8 hours straight doesn't always mean 8 hours of productive study.

Separate your study into smaller chunks, and work in short sharp bursts with breaks to use your mental energy more effectively.

Chunking your study time also helps you fit it into a busy schedule, allowing you to study when you only have a short window, say on your lunch break or first thing in the morning.

Set milestones

Setting yourself mammoth tasks with too little time likely leads to falling short and losing motivation.

Learn what you can realistically achieve in the early days of your study and set milestones based on that. Crossing out those milestones is a great motivator.

Find extra time

Is there any way you can find extra time in your day to study?

Getting up earlier in the morning gives you some extra time to revise, catch up on reading, or prep for revision during your commute.

Close up of someone writing in journal

You could also chat with your manager to see if it's possible to compact your work hours – for example by working full-time hours over 4 days rather than 5 days – to give you a full day of focused study time.

Another way to find more time to study is eliminating unnecessary tasks like browsing social media or watching TV. That time you spend mindlessly scrolling your social feeds soon adds up, and watching one less episode of your favourite box set every evening will give you a chunk of time to study.

Look after your relationships

When you're studying and working full-time, your relationships with the people close to you might change.

It's important to make sure you stay connected with family and friends. But it's worth discussing how these might be affected temporarily while you're studying.

Make friends on your course

Getting to know other students on your course, and staying in regular contact with them, can be really motivating. You can share ideas and be there to support each other when one of you is struggling.

Meet up with your classmates for study sessions if they live close to you, or online through video call apps.

Some courses will also have an online forum for students to chat, share ideas and ask questions – so make the most of this.

Get into a study mindset

It can be difficult to concentrate on your study when you're balancing it with work and home life. So getting yourself into the right mindset is key for a productive study session.

You could listen to instrumental music or a white noise app as a signal to yourself that you're in study mode.

When you're struggling with motivation to study, remind yourself why you chose to do the course. Think about the benefits your course will bring you once you complete it and where it could lead you afterwards.

Have a dedicated study space

A dedicated study space will help get you into study mode. This could be a separate study, your kitchen or dining table, a library or your local coffee shop. Or make use of your university's study spaces.

You could also ask your employer if you can come into the office early or stay later to use your work computer and have a quiet space to study.

This could be a great solution if you have a family at home. It can be easier to stay at the office for an hour or two after work, knowing you can relax when you get home and the rest of the evening is free. (If you do this, make sure to take regular breaks away from your desk.)

Deal with distractions

It's difficult to focus when you're distracted. And distractions pop up in the most unlikely places.

To avoid the temptation to check your phone while you're studying, put on silent or 'do not disturb' or leave it in another room.

When you're on a computer, use free apps such as Self Control or Cold Turkey to put limits on the time you spend on social media or websites not related to your study.

If you live with others make sure they know not to disturb you when you're studying.

And try to avoid getting distracted by those jobs around the house. Put things like housework in your planner, alongside study and other commitments or find somewhere quiet away from home to study.

Learn to manage a high workload

Despite your best intentions, you might run into competing crunch times from work and study. If this happens, don't be afraid to ask for help.

You can ask your tutors or support staff for help with academic and course-based work. Universities often offer health and wellbeing and academic support to manage the work and study balance too.

Female student working on computer in IT open access room

If a high workload in your job is causing issues, speak with your employer. Is there any way you can negotiate deadlines so they fall when you're not so busy with study or any extra support you can get?

It's important to acknowledge that you're not just learning new skills and knowledge, but learning a new routine too. Most people won't get work-study balance right from the get go. It'll take time to figure out a way that fits your lifestyle.

Make sure you're aware of the course guidelines so if you miss a deadline or can't sit an exam you know what your options are. For example, you might be able to defer one of your modules resit an exam in certain circumstances.

Stay healthy

When you're studying and working, it's important not to forget about your health.

Take breaks

Set time to step away from work and study every few hours. Activities that don't involve your brain processing information help you switch off and rejuvenate. You could go for a walk, catch up on a box set or simply write in a journal.

Eat well

Eating well is also key to staying healthy. With a more compressed schedule, you might be tempted to just grab a ready meal or takeaway, especially around big deadlines or exams. This is OK every now and then, but it's important to eat healthy, nutritious food. Without it, your body and your brain don't have what they need to keep you at your best.

Keep fit

Keeping fit helps keep you healthy and on track with work and study. As well as being good for your general health, exercise releases endorphins which help you destress, clear your mind, and stimulate your brain.

Whether it's hitting the gym, a spot of yoga or kicking a ball with some friends, exercise is a welcome break that can keep you going or get you back into gear during a rough spot.

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