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Going back to school? 8 tips to find balance and stay sane!

Going back to school? 8 tips to find balance and stay sane!

Going back to school is all the rage these days. In the wake of the recession, many  are seeing the value of the college education they didn’t get earlier.  The problem is, most non-traditional students don’t have the luxury of taking years off work so they can pursue that all-important degree. Balancing work, a private life, and school can seem overwhelming. The good news is that going back to school doesn’t have to cost your sanity! Here are eight ways to balance family, homework, and career and still achieve all your goals.

1. Lay the groundwork.

Many employers like to see their employees going back to school. It makes their workforce more educated and the employees themselves more valuable. Talk to your spouse and your kids and explain that you’ll be doing homework right alongside them. Then talk to your boss and discuss your degree ambitions and objectives. Be sure to have a rough plan for how long it will take and what scheduling accommodations you can reasonably foresee. This will put everyone on the same page and set clear expectations about what you’re willing to put in and what you need in return to make this work. Don’t forget to ask if your company has a tuition reimbursement program or other benefits that will make getting your degree easier.

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2. Budget time wisely.

There are only 24 hours in a day, no matter how tough you are. Sit down and figure out how much time you absolutely must devote to school, work, and your family life to keep everything running smoothly. Remember that sometimes there will be family factors that need to take a higher precedence than your education or your job, and plan accordingly. While not a magic bullet, a lesson in time management will certainly make your life less chaotic and not leave anyone feeling short-changed.

3. How much is too much?

Trying to achieve a bachelor’s degree in two years is all well and good, but you have to be realistic about your other time demands. Most people find that 15 credit hours a semester is a manageable load, especially when work and family are factored in. Try as many classes as you dare for your first semester. If your grades suffer or your boss is constantly chewing you out because you missed something, or your kids are starting to forget what you look like, it’s time to reevaluate. Outdoing all the young Thundercats on your campus sounds like a great idea…but keep in mind that you have responsibilities they don’t. Dropping a class or two to enhance your GPA and keep the other elements of your life and mind in balance isn’t the worst thing you can do if you find yourself in over your head.

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4. Know when to say “no.”

Many people are afraid to say no to anyone, whether it’s the guys from the office, the wife, the boss’s secretary, or the kid who’s looking for the new acting secretary of the student council. They’re afraid of looking weak, incapable, or like they aren’t superheroes. If you laid your groundwork appropriately at the start, you’ve already made it clear there are going to be times when you simply cannot please everyone. That urgent report on quarterly sales that must be ready to present at nine a.m., Timmy’s basketball game, Dr. No’s fifty-page paper on the mating habits of the common housefly that’s due tomorrow at noon, and your spouse’s sister’s roommate’s birthday party may well wind up hitting you all at once. In this case, which do you choose?  It doesn’t make you a bad parent, employee, or student if you can’t be in all places at once. It just makes you human. Never be afraid to say, “I’m in over my head.” Then decide which one or two things are the most important, and stick to your decision. (You can always ask Dr. No for an extension on the paper, but based on his name, don’t hold your breath…)

5. Do what you say you’re going to do.

This may be the hardest of all of them. You may sit down to that German epic poem, intending to study it inside and out, but your inner three-year-old wants cookies, ice cream, and a long session in front of the X-Station or PlayBox. This is the moment when maturity and self-discipline have to take center stage, especially if you’re missing Susie’s play for it. Once you’ve worked out what your time commitments are, follow through on them.

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6. Get your Zen on.

Sometimes there’s just too much going on at one time, particularly during midterms and finals. This is not automatically a bad thing. Stress can help us perform better and achieve more, but it has to be the right kind of stress. If you find yourself under too many kinds of negative stress, take a time-out. Watch a movie, meditate, indulge in one of your hobbies for a little while, or see if you can coax your spouse or significant other into a nice, relaxing romp in the bedroom. (Or the kitchen, or the living room…whatever works.) Once you feel a little less stressed, then get back to whichever variant(s) of work you have on your plate. You’ll be a lot more efficient when your mind and body are both calm and relaxed.

7. Get plenty of rest.

Our modern culture is full of slogans like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “Downtime is for the weak.” And it shows: scientific studies link sleep deprivation to every malady from diabetes to mental illness! It’s just not healthy not to take some downtime, and you won’t recall as much or as accurately if you try to “cram” as you will if you take a more measured approach to your studies.Numerous studies show that distributed practice (many shorter study sessions separated by periods of rest) result in better learning and performance than the famed all-nighter. While the desire to be all things to all people is commendable in one direction, ask yourself how much your degree will mean to you and your family if it’s awarded posthumously…and get as much sleep as you can.

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8. Remember to schedule recreation.

This is listed last, but should not be taken as an afterthought. Our culture is all about productivity and connectedness, leaving us feeling like a pariah if we take a day away from the Internet or the cell phone, or God forbid, the books! But rest isn’t just about sleep; it’s about relaxing and getting out of the grind for a while. Why not take the family on a hike, or go visit those friends who are almost certain you died or relocated to a foreign country because they haven’t seen you since sometime in the Pleistocene epoch? Sharing some laughter, good food, and maybe even a beer or two is a good way to lower your stress level and get yourself back on track. There’s a reason we call it “rest and recreation;” your body and mind need both. Your grades, the quality of your work, your health, and your relationship with your family will all benefit from it!

Bonus Tip: Don’t forget that your grades don’t define you, and your family will be just as proud of you with Cs as they will be if you’re pulling down As. At the end of the day, your family and friends are the ones who really matter.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

Are you looking to move up the career ladder? Or maybe you’re tired of having a “job” and want to start looking for a more permanent career?

Whatever your motivation, you are going to have to learn some new and different hard skills to broaden your opportunities. After all, there’s a very famous quote that says:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

While the insanity part doesn’t really fit here, the overall message is a good one. If you are looking for a different result (career advancement, more money or even a career instead of a job), it’s up to you to make it happen. This is both the good news and bad news!

The good news is that because it’s up to you, you have complete control over it happening. The bad news is that change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit, that’s why we develop routines, and anything that disrupts that routine causes us anxiety. And we will do almost anything to get rid of that anxiety. The overweight person will calm their anxiety by eating that doughnut, the smoker will light up a cigarette to avoid anxiety.

What we want to do with this article is to give you the hard skills you’ll need to reduce that anxiety so you can move up that corporate ladder, make more money or have career instead of just a “job.”

The following hard skills are essential to learn if you want to advance your career. They may not be easy to take up, but definitely worth your effort of learning:

1. Cloud Computing

“Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, intelligence and more—over the Internet “the cloud” to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale. You typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.” Microsoft[1]

There are many different jobs available in the cloud computing world today. They range from architects and developers to data scientists, security pros. Each job is its own specialty and requires a high level of specification for advancement.

This is definitely a hard skill that requires education. But if the tech world and computers are your thing you can make cloud computing a lucrative career.

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2. Data Mining and Statistical Analysis

Again, these are highly specialized fields. Data mining is defined as using large sets of data to look for anomalies and other patterns that can be used to predict future behavior.

Amazon is probably the best known company to use data mining. Have you ever noticed that when you buy something at Amazon, you’ll see a little ad at the bottom that says “customers who bought this also bought…”and it lists 2-3 other items? All of that information comes from data mining, by examining the millions of sales amazon makes they can predict that if you buy item #1 there is a high likelihood that you will buy one of the other items too. T

his not only increases sales for Amazon, but it also serves as a reminder for you that you may need these additional items for your project. This is very valuable information and has a wide range of uses. Although it has a bad reputation and evil sounding name, it is a very useful tool for maximizing productivity and sales.

3. Data Management

All companies today deal with a ton of data! Being able to manage that data in an efficient manor is not only highly prized, but a necessity.

We all have these things on our desks called computers. Unless there is a need for a paper copy, almost all of our data is computerized. Meaning that, in theory it is all at our fingertips. Being able to organize that data so that it’s easily and quickly retrievable is why computers are replacing filing cabinets!

However, just like the old fashion filing cabinet, data management on a computer is only good if it’s well organized. You want to make sure that you are keeping your data well organized so that it’s easy to find when needed. This is a skill that comes easily to some people (are you a person that makes lists? Good!) but with others it will be a skill that needs to be practices. Make sure that this is a discipline you master.

4. Scheduling

Being able to make and keep to a schedule is a very useful tool in both business and life. Effective scheduling means that you can prioritize projects, understand the tools needed to get the job done on time and that you are organized enough to lead people.

An important point here is to write things down! Whether it’s in an old fashion daily or weekly organizer or in a PDA. Have a copy of your schedule available at your fingertips at all times.

5. Financial Skills

These are especially important when looking for that promotion. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you’ll have to deal with things like accounting, budgeting, financial planning and cash flow management.

While you may not need to be an expert at all of these, you should have a good grasp of all of them. This is where taking a few night classes at your local community college is a good idea. You don’t need to become an expert, but brushing up on these skills will help you tremendously.

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6. Research Skills

These are important in all aspects of life, but especially in your work-life.

Are you looking for that first job out of school? Nothing impresses a boss or hiring manager more than someone who has researched the company. Trust me, they deal with people walking in off the street everyday looking for a job, but managers and owners need to see the value in hiring (or promoting) you.

So do your research and have some company specific questions ready to ask. Show that you are interested in working for that company or that position and not just “a” job or the “promotion” because you have seniority or need the money.

If it’s a promotion that you are after, never bad mouth the previous occupant. Instead pick out an example that he/she was good at and explain how you would like to use or expand that policy and how it would enhance the policy changes you’d like to make.

If it’s a new job you’re going for, then make sure to have some company specific questions ready to show that you have done your homework for the new position.

7. Marketing Skills

While marketing a companies products or services has always been a highly sought after skill. In today’s world, it can take on several different forms.

Some of the marketing skills that are highly sought after today include, SEO, Search Engine Optimization, SEM, Search Engine Marketing and marketing campaign management. Familiarity with Google Analytics as well as Word Press are also valuable.

While traditional marketing and branding were focused on advertising and selling. Almost all marketing efforts now a days are focused on the internet.

8. Network Security Specialist

Again, this is a highly skilled position that requires specialized training. But the amount of data that all companies store is significant, and if that data is leaked or stolen, it can costs them millions of dollars in both lost revenue and lawsuits.

So, if you have an interest in network security you will find the field both lucrative and stable.

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9. Communication Skills

At first glance, communication skills may not look like it fits into the category of “Hard Skills” that can help you succeed. But in this ever shrinking world where companies can do business from almost anywhere, communication is more and more important.

Are you bilingual? It really doesn’t matter what language you speak, there’s a company out there looking for someone who speaks that language.

10. Computer Programming

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that computers are going to be around for a while! As both the hardware and software get more advanced, the need for computer programming is only going to increase.

11. Graphic Design

As of 2018, there were 4.37 million new websites launched.[2] A good number of them will fail because they just aren’t interesting enough visually. The use of templates and replicated websites is only making the problem worse.

Part of the way Google ranks sites is through originality, this almost ensures that replicated sites will never get ranked through Google. So the more original your site is, the more likely people will visit and actually spend time there.

That is what a good graphic designer does. Takes your basic idea and turns it into a website that people actually want to visit.

Embrace the Anxiety That Comes with Change

You know it’s going to be there, you know that you’ll want to give up as you’re learning these new skills but, you’ll also know that the end result is worth the journey.

Here’s a little trick when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

Have you ever met an ex-smoker who was sorry they quit? An ex-drinker or drug user that said life was much better before they quit? These people have gone through some of the most difficult challenges humans can go through including weeks, if not, months of intense physical withdrawal symptoms. They did it because they knew that the pain and anxiety they would experience would ultimately get them to a much better life.

Now what was that complaint you had about attending night-school?

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This is the part everyone hates, everyone thinks night-school, adult education and just generally giving up family and/or spare time. While those are certainly possible ways to develop the necessary skills, they aren’t the only way.

You’ll want to check with your human resources department because depending on the company, a certain degree maybe required in order to even be considered for a position. In those cases, night-school, on-line or some other form of adult education maybe your best route.

But as long as a degree isn’t required, then your options are wide open.

Let’s just say that you’re a sales person interested in becoming the sales manager but, the territory you’ve been given will never produce the sales figures that would make you stand out as a good candidate for sales manager. So how about you start your own side business (don’t compete with your company), but let’s say you enjoy golf.

In this day and age, there are plenty of places that will teach you how to sell products on-line and even set you up with your own website. So you start a site selling golf equipment and accessories (don’t worry, you won’t even have to carry inventory or worry about shipping).

Now, when that sales manager spot opens up, you can explain that even though other salespeople had better numbers than you, it had nothing to do with your sales ability, it was more of a consequence of the territory your were given.

And to prove it, you brought in some information about a side business, you started showing that you’re on target for a sales growth rate of 30% this year. And because you had to do all of the marketing for the business, you came up with some marketing strategies that you can bring to the new job (built-in experience).

The Bottom Line

We’ve put together these 11 hard skills as a way to give yourself a “leg up” on the competition. We’ve tried to make this a mixture of both skills that require a great deal of training, and also ones that you can work on and develop by yourself.

We know that not everyone is cut out to be a cloud computing expert, but we also know that working on and having good scheduling skills will make you a much more desirable candidate for the position!

We also don’t want you to discount the idea of a “side hustle“. Especially for people new to the workforce, having a business that you have started and run successfully shows potential employers that you have initiative, scheduling skills and ambition which can put you well ahead of your competition!

As usual, we hope you found this article both enjoyable and informative. If you did, may we ask that you share it with your family and friends through social media. It really does help us and is greatly appreciated!

More Skill to Help Advance Your Career

Featured photo credit: Kyle Sterk via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Microsoft Azure: Cloud Computing
[2] Netcraft: December 2018 Web Server Survey

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