Finding time to study whilst working full time - is it possible?
Safeera Sarjoo

Finding time to study whilst working full time - is it possible?

Is it possible to fit a course into a fulltime life

First published date November 11 2016 Amended date November 11 2016

Have you ever psyched yourself up to try something new or do something exciting, but then decided against it at the last minute? Bungee jumping is one thing, but wanting to further your knowledge and then stopping yourself can be detrimental to your professional life. With so many of us leading busy lives, I explore whether we can truly fit a course into a full-time lifestyle. 

Why is returning to school important?

I don’t have many regrets – but there is one that flickers in the back of my mind every now and again.

When I embarked on a MA in Magazine Journalism I felt that the material was somewhat repetitive and resembled what I had learnt during my undergraduate degree. I dropped the course and became resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t have a Masters to my name. Maybe it wasn’t even a necessity, after all, I did have a job at the time and have subsequently gone on to other roles.

However returning to school can have its benefits like expanding on your knowledge and giving you a focus.

I realised I didn't have a specialism and it worried me. But the more I wrote and blogged, I found that my niche didn’t fit into industry categories like fashion or business. People were my passion. I wanted whatever I wrote to touch, resonate and connect with people. I wanted to open people’s eyes to realities that were happening around them.

When I found a MA in War Journalism and International Human Rights at the University of Lincoln, I felt excited at the prospect of sinking my teeth into something new and fresh. In an ideal world, this course would allow me to give the most vulnerable people a voice. This was the kind of journalism I wanted to work in. I started thinking about logistics and whether I could take this course as a distance learning option. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible and the thought of moving to Lincoln and having to give up my job proved too overwhelming for me and I decided against this MA.

I was and still am disappointed in myself for not taking that step and soon thought about how many people have made a similar decision not to further their own education or pursue opportunities that could be lifechanging.


Why change is hard

A Lifehacker article explains that ‘what we don't know tends to scare us, and change creates a lot of things we don't know. As a result, we tend to act pretty irrationally to try and prevent change, often without realizing it, and make our lives unnecessarily problematic.’

Stepping back into education can be daunting for adults in particular who probably feel like their school days are over. The truth is more and more adults are taking the plunge and snapping up the opportunity to expand their knowledge and fulfil their dreams – and are doing so whilst managing a full-time life.

Whether that consists of a job or a family, improving your skill set and stepping back into education is incredibly important for today’s workforce. According to Sophie Graham, Careers Advisor for the National Careers Service, ‘Additional training can lead to improved employee performance, consistency within the organisation/business and higher levels of employee and customer satisfaction. An increase in productivity and employee satisfaction can often lead to financial gain for a business and allow the workforce to develop innovative strategies and keep up with developments or competition within the sector.

‘As well as the overall gain for the employer, as an individual the more training and qualifications you receive the more employable you become, improving your chances of securing alternative employment with a stronger CV and more evidence of competencies in interviews.’

Though it may seem like a daunting thing to do, there are people making the commitment – and sticking to it – to improve their knowledge and opportunities by taking additional training and educational courses.

Anna Dilku, a Social Media Manager for Insurance company Aviva told us about her experience studying for a mini MBA.

‘I’m an avid reader of Marketing Week and a big fan of the infamous Professor Mark Ritson, whose unique style is perfectly aligned with my preferred learning style. When my employer offered to sponsor me to study the Mini MBA, I was delighted, as I’m always on a quest for self-development and wanted to top up my previous academic history with current thinking. The quality of this particular course stood out, as it’s based on the full MBA programme that Mark has delivered at some of the world’s leading business schools. As the format was also digital, it allowed me to study remotely and flexibly, whilst working full-time,’ she explained.

Dilku’s concerns prior to starting this course are quite common among people who may be thinking about doing the same.   

‘Having researched this course in advance, my concerns around the time demands were alleviated, as a traditional MBA would usually require full-time study for 2 years. The Mini MBA focuses on the Marketing elements of the full programme and is condensed into months. Following my first degree, I completed a Masters in Marketing, so I was also conscious of duplicating my previous academic experience. However, I would strongly recommend study once you have built up real life experience, as it gives a much richer perspective to the theory.’

Despite this, she persisted and was happy to expand her knowledge through a programme that got her excited. According to Graham, additional training can open up progression opportunities.

‘Your additional training may give you the knowledge and skills to secure promotion within your current employment. It may also help you when taking your career into a different direction whether that is internally or with a new employer,’ she explained.

It takes discipline to fit a course in to an already busy and demanding lifestyle, but the most important takeaway I learnt from Dilku is that it can be done.

How productivity can be improved

Ensuring a steady level of productivity and good time management is incredibly important when embarking on a course – and yet this is something a lot of people struggle with. According to Hayley Watts, a Productivity Ninja at Think Productive, struggles with time management can simply come down to distractions.

‘There are 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 minutes in an hour. That doesn't change no matter what we do. So, we can't manage time. I think some people are more easily distracted than others, I think some people are better at managing their attention and focus. And that takes practice. For me, putting the things that I find more difficult into the times of the day when my focus and attention are better makes a big difference.

'I know that many of my clients say that they find it easier to get stuff done late at night, but when we explore this further it's because people aren't there to distract them in person, and emails aren't coming in. So, what we need to do is replicate this sense of being uninterrupted during the working day. Easy? No way! But certainly, effective!’ she said.

So, what can you do if you’re someone who struggles with productivity? Watts imparts a few handy tips.

FutureLearn offers a diverse range of online courses from universities and various cultural institutions around the world. Users are able to access these courses on smart devices and discuss their progress and the course they’re taking with their peers.

When it comes to incorporating study into a busy lifestyle, Stephen Somerville, Director of Business Development believes that learning with other people can work quite well.

‘The rich social conversations and ability to network with interesting people can help motivate you to keep pace with the courses. And just like a physical course, if a friend is expecting you to turn up, it’s more likely that you will so another motivating factor for busy people could be to sign up to a course along with a friend,’ he explains.

What goals do you have?

It is important to remember why you’re also taking a course too. Watts points out that keeping your end goal in mind is incredibly important as it serves as vital motivation.

‘I think one of the reasons people struggle to keep up with this, is because they aren't committed to the end goal. So, if you are doing a course because it will help you at work, that may not be enough motivation. But if you are doing it to help you get a promotion, so you can afford that once in a lifetime trip to Kenya, that might help you focus a bit more,’ she advises.

While this is guidance we agree with, it’s also important to remember to life live. Sacrifices may have to be made but it’s also important that you take time away from studying to enjoy the things that make you happy. Whether that’s playing sports, seeing friends or even a spot of shopping, time away will allow you to refocus and approach your studies with a fresh perspective.

There’s no feeling like completing a course too. Somerville explains that learners have felt a sense of pride, delight and satisfaction when finishing a course at Futurelearn.

‘They feel they have proven themselves, their commitment to a topic, and demonstrated their knowledge. In some cases, they tell us how being able to talk knowledgeably about a topic and show their commitment to it, opens up new opportunities,’ he added.

What you will sacrifice will vary, after all we lead very different lives.

Sleep has been Dilku’s biggest sacrifice. However, she’s found that this is definitely outweighed by the learnings gleaned from every module. As a result of this too, her efficiency has simultaneously improved. She finds the time to stream modules anywhere from her iPhone at the Doctor’s surgery when waiting for an appointment to her iPad on a Saturday morning in the car during her daughter’s ballet class.

‘Colleagues were shocked that I was embarking on this course with 2 young children whilst working full-time, but I was confident that it could be done as I relish a challenge and this would ultimately make me a more informed marketer. I’ve learnt that if you do what you love, you’ll love what you do. I would never have expected to be excited to write a 2,000-word essay but, with Burberry as a case study, I can’t wait to get my teeth into it.'

Safeera Sarjoo

Safeera is Editor of Whatuni and a journalist from Kingston University. Always the inquisitive, her writing spans across a number of areas such as sustainability, fashion, lifestyle and now education. Her belief that you never stop learning and passionate nature has taken her to New York City as part of her degree and across the airwaves on national radio talking about the issues that matter to her.