Friday, October 9, 2009

Work / study balance: planning your study time

Studying while holding down a job is a whole new ball game, requiring a considerable amount of planning, including around factors you might not have much control over – such as workload pressure or the demands of your boss. Our advice - plan ahead:

1. Give yourself a break – accept that achieving the perfect balance between work, study and your personal life is a ‘big ask’; that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but don’t beat yourself up about occasionally having to make compromises.

2. Develop the habit of good habits – no-one wants to be stuck in a rut, but having a structure that allows you to stay disciplined while allowing a degree of reasonable flexibility will help you get into the groove of your studies without feeling straitjacketed.

3. Identify when you’re at your most alert – optimise your studies by keeping this time free for your textbooks and homework; if that means finding a quiet room in the office during your lunch hour, or before or after work, so be it – and your diligence and dedication will be on display to the powers-that-be.

4. Maintain a study diary – and add your study schedule into your office diary; you’ll be far less likely to break the commitment you’ve made yourself if your sessions are written down in black and white.

5. Less is more – a two or three-hour study session might seem like a good idea when you’re bursting with energy and enthusiasm, but loses its allure at the end of a long, gruelling day at work; by all means put aside evenings to study but take plenty of breaks, especially if you’re reading reams of text on a screen.

6. Just five minutes – it’s easy to convince yourself there’s little point in studying for much less than 15 or 30 minutes; but short bursts can pay huge dividends; try writing key points in colours on small filing cards to revise on public transport or when waiting to meet friends.

7. Take physical breaks – crouching over a book or laptop and concentrating on taking in all you read will take a physical as well as mental toll; stretch, take short walks; even try breathing exercises to re-energise yourself and ensure you don’t give up because of discomfort.

8. Seize the day – everyone’s different but many of us are better at assimilating complex information during the daytime.

9. Brain food, but at the right time – certain foods boost our brain power and wellbeing, so ensure you have a balanced diet that includes protein-rich staples (such as fish, broccoli, nuts, dairy products) and sources of serotonin (such as pasta, starchy vegetables and cereals) but be careful not to load up immediately prior to a study session; let your body’s digestive system do its work before you settle down.

10. Don’t head to bed on your studies – you need quality sleep to be an effective student (and be fit for the office); allow yourself time to relax between studying and sleeping; read or do something to take your mind off the subject.

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