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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 August 16, 2018

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

      No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

      Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

      Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

      A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

      Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

      In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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      The power of habit

      A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

      For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

      This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

      The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

      That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

      Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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      The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

      Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

      But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

      The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

      The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

      A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

      For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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      But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

      If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

      For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

      These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

      For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

      How to make a reminder works for you

      Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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      Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

      Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

      My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

      Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

      I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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