When you first start a job and the paychecks start rolling in, it can become very easy to stop thinking about career development. Living for the now is very acceptable in the short-run, especially after you get financially comfortable. However, at one point or another, career development thoughts will probably start sneaking into your mind. One of the best ways to advance your career is to complete industry specific certifications or go back to school to get a degree. Unfortunately for many, the idea of going back to school (or completing a certification) while working a full time job is daunting. Multiply the stress of a spouse, children, and all the other activities you’ve got going on, and studying for a certification seems like the furthest thing from an actual possibility. Although difficult, it is quite possible to balance your family, job, and obligations while studying for a degree or certification. The following are six tips to help you on your journey to get that degree or certification you’ve always wanted and give your career a kick start.

The following tips assume that in order to obtain your degree/certification, a majority (if not all) of the coursework must be completed independently and that the course ends with a major exam.

Split up the reading
Split up you reading into weekly intervals. I recommend doing this as soon as you get your materials. Rip the shrink wrap off the book and calculate how many days you have and how many pages you must read in order to finish the book. I recommend creating a weekly reading schedule, writing it down, and posting it publicly. Post how much reading you must do each day on a calendar and when you finish the reading, cross it off. There’s nothing more irritating motivating than hearing your loved ones (or colleagues) ask you if you’ve done your reading for the day. Personally, I would rather read 18 pages a day for 40 days than read 103 pages for 7 days. I realize that this won’t be the same for everyone. By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out what works best for you. What’s most important with this step is that you devise a “reading plan” in the beginning and stick to it as you go along. Reading an entire text book in a week can be done. In fact, I spent most of college doing that. However, I’ve learned that in order to get a strong grasp of the material I need to study a little at a time. Breaking the reading down into small chunks will give you a sense of accomplishment everyday and will help you avoid the “my test is on Friday and I have to read 500 pages in 4 days” feeling.

Maximize your commute

Most adults in the US have a commute of over 20 minutes. I would venture to say that most commutes are closer to an hour each day. This is a prime opportunity to get some studying done. I’m not talking about reading while driving, either! Most textbooks come with an audio CD that never even gets taken out of the package. Most commutes (with the exception of bumper to bumper trips) are a quiet time perfect for getting in as much studying in as possible. Also, if any of your materials come in a digital format (PDF, Word Doc, etc.) you should convert these documents into audio files, and listen to them during your commute. Here is an excellent post that details how to turn just about any electronic document into an MP3.

Sneak it in

Try keeping some review materials on you at all times — even if it is something as simple as a note card with review concepts on it. There are tons of times throughout the day that you will have five to ten minute periods when you are free. These include waiting in a doctor’s office, walking to the car, waiting at line in the grocery store, waiting to pickup your kids, etc. You might as well leverage these times to study. The more time you can “sneak” studying in, the less time you’ll have to devote to studying later in the night when you could be spending time with your family or doing something more interesting.

Multi-task
To continue from the point above, there are many tasks that you complete each day that are appropriate for multi-tasking and getting some studying in: cooking dinner, working out, going to the bathroom, etc.. When I was paying attention, I was surprised by how many tasks throughout the day that were perfect for multi-tasking.

Make one sacrifice per day
In order to complete your course you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. I found it more beneficial to sacrifice tasks that only affected me, like watching my favorite TV shows, instead of sacrificing time with my family, friends, and girlfriend. Skipping an hour of TV per night made it possible for me to complete my reading and make it not feel like I was making major sacrifices in my life.

Create a planned cram
The day (or week) before your exam you’ll likely start to feel rising levels of stress. If you can swing it, take a vacation day the day before your exam. Even if you feel totally confident with the material, having the day off of work will keep your stress levels down, clear your head, and give you the opportunity to brush up on some of the material that you may have been brushing off. In the worst case scenario, planning your day well ahead of time will give you an opportunity to cram especially if you are in the “I need to read 500 pages in 4 days” scenario.

Conclusion
Some days will be easier than others. The coursework you’re studying will be difficult, but don’t let the difficult days be representative of the good days. If you’re still having a hard time finding the motivation to study, try getting up earlier. It will probably take a course or two for you to develop your own system. Hopefully these tips will be enough to start you on your way. Have you completed a certification or degree while working full-time and have a tip I didn’t mention? Please share what worked for you in the comments.

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