Managing your time could be one of the toughest challenges you face when you decide to go back to school. How will you achieve excellence in your classes and still have time for your family, friends, job and much-needed rest?
Start by making a schedule. The first key of scheduling is to be realistic – don’t commit yourself to three hours of study time on a night you know you’ll actually be watching the football game. As you approach going back to school and consider how you’ll integrate your coursework into your life, ask yourself some of these questions (adapted from Mastering the Essentials of E-Learning, by Ryan Watkins and Michael Corry):
- Do you work through some of your course reading every night, even when there are no required readings due?
- Do you put your coursework ahead of a night out with friends? Some of the time? None of the time?
- Do you study effectively after 10 pm?
- Do you set aside downtime for yourself every day?
- Do you typically put off doing your work until the night before it’s due?
- Do you schedule your schoolwork first, and other commitments around it?
- Do you often plan in study time, then find something else to do?
- Do your family and friends support your school commitments – or do they keep you too busy to study at all?
- Do you often feel overextended?
Once you get a sense of how many hours you really have to study each day, make a small chart. List your academic commitments, your personal appointments and your work obligations side by side. Estimate how much time each one will require per week. If the time you’ve allotted also leaves time for you to eat, sleep and have a little fun, you’ll be in great shape. If it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board and start again, looking for ways to save time.
Check It Off
A daily or weekly to-do list is another essential element in planning for success, and it’s an excellent method for keeping yourself honest when it comes to your schedule. Write down your goals and check them off as you complete them. This will help you track your progress toward the big responsibilities, such as a class project or studying for the final exam. Allow for flexibility – you may need to revise goals and schedules as you navigate your way through the class. If you find yourself derailed by something unexpected, mark that on your calendar, too, and make time to catch up as soon as you can.
Planning Your Time
For a realistic estimate of how much time to set aside for coursework, ask your instructor:
- Will I be expected to log in on a regular basis and maintain frequent contact with you and my classmates?
- Will I be expected to participate in a synchronous chat room each week?
- Will my participation grade be based on the number of postings I make to the message board – or their quality?
- What other types of materials (i.e., CD-ROMs, videos) will I be using in class?
- What types of online support services does the college offer?
- How long will it take for you to reply to my emails?
- What can I do to ensure I’ll be successful in your class?
When you begin with a firm understanding of course expectations, you can plan for the time you’ll need to study, the type of environment you’ll need for studying and how you can best balance all of your commitments.
It’s a Family Affair
If you make your education a priority, your family is likely to follow your lead. Keep your study space sacred, and let family members know that you need quiet and privacy when you are studying. Ask friends and family for help when necessary, such as asking for help watching the kids or running an errand. If your kids are in bed by 9 pm, plan on using the peace and quiet before your own bedtime to study.
You’re more likely to stick to a schedule if you talk about it, so keep your family informed about what you’re doing and what you have planned. Especially as you start classes, there will be a transition period for everyone. Remind them that the sacrifices you all make now will pay off when you start earning more money in a year or two.