The Land

Juggling work and study: Time management tips for postgraduate learners

Whether you're working full time studying after hours or on a rotating roster in a casual or part time role, time management is possible.
Whether you're working full time studying after hours or on a rotating roster in a casual or part time role, time management is possible.

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Did you know there are 2.1 million Australians aged 15 to 74 currently studying full time? According to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), about 19 percent of these students are currently undertaking postgraduate studies, including postgraduate degrees, graduate diplomas and graduate certificates. Now, studying can be a stressful and time consuming process, but when you add juggling a job into the mix, then effective time management skills go from being important to being absolutely vital.

Whether you're working full time studying after hours or on a rotating roster in a casual or part time role, juggling work is possible with the right approach. Postgraduate study can open up a whole new world of professional opportunities, so don't let your day job or weekly shifts at the cafe hold you back - just use these time management tips tailor-made for postgraduate learners.

Align your learning with your life

Pursuing postgraduate study in an area you're passionate about is important, but there's a difference between following your dreams and intentionally making life harder for yourself. For example, say you're full time as an administrative assistant and keen on studying a Master of Project Management. Your job is a typical Monday to Friday 9 to 5 which means you'll only be free to study in the evenings.

Therefore a course with lectures after hours or online learning options aligns perfectly with your work life. Also take care to read the study requirements carefully; is there a mandatory work placement component that would require you taking time off work? Are there any group projects that require meeting and collaborating with your classmates? What's the process for requesting a deadline extension on assignments? Take care to investigate these things before you enrol to ensure your work and study timetable can co-exist peacefully.

Analyse how you're currently using your time

Knowledge is power, and before you figure out how to improve your time management skills, you first need to understand how you're using the time you have. Start by keeping a detailed study diary for a week. Record your activities, no matter how insignificant they seem, including what time you start and stop. How much time do you spend commuting? How many hours do you dedicate to work, study, and leisure?

By the end of the week, you'll likely spot patterns and identify areas where you can be more efficient. Perhaps your long commute in the office every morning could be when you read this week's textbook chapter, or maybe your Wednesday shift finishes early and you have a few hours of quiet time at home to write a page or two of your thesis before the kids get back.

Set clear but realistic goals

Having a clear direction is pivotal. When you're juggling multiple responsibilities, it's important to be smart about it; setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals can help keep you on track. Instead of saying, "I want to do well in my course," (because that's a given), specify what that means.

Perhaps it's "I aim to achieve a distinction average this semester" or "I want to get the supportive reading done before every lecture." Life gets in the way, and when you're working and studying, it doesn't take much for things to veer off track, but by setting realistic benchmarks, you can allocate your time more efficiently, measure your progress and enjoy lots of little wins along the way.

Break bigger projects into smaller steps

Tackling a massive project can feel overwhelming, particularly if your postgraduate course involves writing a thesis or completing a big project in your final year. The sheer size of some tasks can be daunting.

However, by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable steps, you can make consistent progress without feeling overwhelmed. Let's say you're studying a Graduate Diploma of Psychology and your first lab report of the semester is due in three weeks.

Your first step is to draft a plan and outline each task required to complete the project. Then, allocate specific times to work on each task; one week for research and reading, one week for creating a first draft and one week for editing and proofreading, then go from there! Not only does this make the workload more digestible, but it also provides a clearer path to completion so you don't waste precious time planning as you go.

Tune into your body's focus levels

Everyone has periods in the day when they're most alert and focused. Some of us are morning people, hitting our stride before midday. Others might find that their peak concentration occurs in the late afternoon or evening.

Pay attention to your body's rhythms. While work and study schedules don't always make this time management tip possible, try and schedule your most challenging tasks during these peak periods and leave less demanding tasks for when you're not at your best (like at the end of a long shift).

Use online tools to work smarter, not harder

There's an abundance of online tools designed to boost productivity and help manage time more efficiently. Apps like Trello can assist in organising projects, while platforms like Google Calendar can help you track and allocate time for various tasks (particularly if your work schedule changes a lot).

Don't forget tools like Grammarly to ensure your assignments are error-free, or RescueTime to gain insights into your daily habits. Instead of slogging through tasks the hard way, utilise these resources to streamline your processes and save precious time.

Avoid multitasking

Now, this might seem counterintuitive, but oftentimes multitasking does more harm than good. Let's face it, you're already multitasking by working and studying, so let's not complicate things unnecessarily. When you split your attention between multiple tasks, neither gets your full focus. This often leads to mistakes and can actually increase the time it takes to complete each task. Instead, practise single-tasking.

Focus on one thing at a time, give it your undivided attention, and then move on to the next. You'll find that you not only complete tasks more quickly but also produce higher quality work.

Seek support

Last but certainly not least, don't be afraid to seek support when you need it. This can come in various forms. At university, reach out to tutors, lecturers, or student services for advice on how to best manage your time.

In the workplace, communicate with your boss and co-workers if you feel overwhelmed; working and studying at the same time is very common, so they might be more supportive than you think. Let them know about your studies, and they might offer flexibility or guidance.

When you're working and studying, it's easy to get used to always being in 'go, go, go' mode, but don't forget to lean on family and friends for emotional support. Sharing your challenges often lightens the load, and they might even offer insights or strategies you hadn't considered.

To wrap it up, yes, managing work and postgraduate studies is like walking on a tightrope. But with the right strategies in your pocket and a supportive tribe cheering you on, not only can you walk that rope, but you can also dance on it. It's not about pushing harder, but about pushing smarter.