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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 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

      More About Goals Setting

      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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