This post has been sponsored by Griffith University.
The face of the average higher ed student is changing – it’s no longer the domain of school leavers.
According to the ABS, in 2011 41% of students in higher education were mature age students. 57% of them were women. 67% worked and studied at the same time.
Going back to study when you’re juggling work or a family or both presents a set of challenges you don’t have when you’re fresh out of school.
The good news is, the maturity you bring means you’re well equipped to overcome those challenges.
You’re already adept at juggling multiple roles. You do it every day. But if you’re worried about how you’re going to fit study into a busy schedule, there are three strategies to use: schedule study, snack study and sneak study.
According to the sociologist John Robinson, we, as busy working mums, have 30 hours of leisure time a week.
If you’re totally incredulous right now thinking um yeah right!?, believe me, I’m with you on this one. I’d like to know exactly where my 30 hours of leisure are hiding.
Robinson comes to this conclusion from years of studying people’s time diaries. He found there’s a big mismatch between how we think we spend our time and how we actually spend our time.
So if you’re planning to start studying, the first step is to look critically at your time. Write down how you actually spend your time each day and then allocate your study time around your commitments to give yourself a rough schedule.
This free study planner tool from Griffith University makes this task really easy. Just drag and drop your current activities into the time slots and the planner will then allocate study hours around your time. Shuffle it a little as needed, making sure you schedule in some down time, and you have a study schedule that works in around your existing commitments.
If you’re working and or have children, study time is going to occupy the margins: early mornings, nights, naptimes and weekends. When I asked other mums when they study, the overwhelming response was mornings and nights.
Studying online gives you the flexibility to work around your other commitments. I did most of my bachelor’s degree externally, and my entire Advanced Diploma of Accounting online while I worked full-time. Studying from home eliminates the logistical barriers of getting to lectures during work time and childcare. It’s what allows you to fit study into those early mornings and evenings.
If you’re juggling study with other commitments, you might not have the luxury of long marathon study sessions, especially if you’ve got kids. Schedules and kids don’t always co-exist. Your schedule might look more like confetti, with little bits of snack-sized study time scattered here and there.
This may actually be an advantage not a disadvantage.
Studies reveal that the optimum time to spend on focused work is 52 minutes. The famous Pomodoro time management technique suggests just 25 minutes.
The reason is because our energy to stay focused gets depleted pretty quickly. We’re actually more productive when we have short breaks regularly, rather than slug it out for hours, because it gives our brains time to refresh.
Here’s how to make snack studying work:
1. Break down your study into bite-sized chunks. At the beginning of your course you’ll be given readings, assignments, and other study tasks. Break all of these tasks down and start working on them straight away, even assignments, a little each week.
2. Snack study when there’s no disruptions. That means before the kids have woken up or after they go to bed. Turn off Facebook notifications, shut the door, and focus on your study for a set amount of time for somewhere between 25 minutes to an hour – find the time that works best for you.
3. Then take a break (which may look like folding the washing or getting the kids ready for school).
If you do find yourself with a stretch of hours for study, you’ll be more effective if you use this technique then too.
When I have a writing day, I use my breaks to get housework done. Not only do I have a more productive work session, I get a little light activity in my breaks and the house is clean at the end of the day!
This beats wasting time on Facebook when your concentration starts to wane.
I study while my son is at soccer practice.
I study at the library on Saturday afternoons.
I study in my lunch break.
I study while I’m cooking dinner.
I study while I’m breastfeeding.
I study on the bathroom floor while my kids are in the bath.
I study while my kids are doing homework.
I study in a tent in the backyard.
These are the answers mums gave when I asked: how do you fit in study?
You don’t have to wait for perfect conditions before you study. Because that might be never.
The good news is, we’re already experts at being creative with our time – we do it every single day.
There are lots of opportunities for sneaking in study during the day. Waiting at the doctor’s surgery is a good example. Make the most of it by carrying your notes, your text book or a cheat-sheet of info you need to remember.
(As a side note, waiting for the doctor would count as leisure time in Robinson’s time diaries.)
Commuting is another perfect time for study.
Some parents sneak study in by reading their textbook to their kids or telling them about what they’re studying (which is a great way to memorise it).
Other’s listen to lectures while folding the washing, or cook double batch meals so they have more time to study later in the week.
You don’t have to fill every spare moment with study, in fact you’ll burn out if you do, but there’s always ways to sneak a little more in if you need to.
How she was able to affect all this is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.” from A Memoir of Jane Austen by James Austen-Leigh
Women have been successfully managing time-squeeze for generations, achieving amazing things despite less than perfect conditions. We own early morning sessions, late night hustles and creative multi-tasking.
If you’re thinking of starting study this year, but you’re worried about when you’ll find the time, look at your time differently. Work out how you currently spend your time, when you can fit in snack study and when you can sneak study in. These three strategies will allow you to make the most of your time while juggling your other commitments.