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How to study with a full-time job

How to study with a full-time job

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.

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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

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    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

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      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.

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      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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      Last Updated on July 8, 2020

      3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

      3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

      It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

      This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

      Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

      When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

      This is why setting priorities is so important.

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      3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

      There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

      1. Eat a Frog

      There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

      Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

      When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

      2. Move Big Rocks

      Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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      You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

      If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

      For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

      To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

      In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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      3. Covey Quadrants

      If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

      Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

      1. Important and Urgent
      2. Important and Not Urgent
      3. Not Important but Urgent
      4. Not Important and Not Urgent

        The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

        Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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        You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

        Getting to Know You

        Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

        In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

        These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

        More Tips for Effective Prioritization

        Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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