Since studying part-time over the past five years, the question that I get asked the most is, "How do you manage your time?" Truth be told, I have absolutely no idea and often find myself answering the question with another question... "What time?!"
I do have three suggestions to consider from the little that I've experienced as a part-time student. These are more of guidelines that I fall back to whenever I find myself wandering around the house not knowing what to do first... before proceeding to watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond!
1. One thing at a time
According to Dr. Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid, there's no such thing as multitasking. It's just switching back and forth quickly between tasks. While I disagree with this as a parent of two kids, I can only vouch for it as a part-time student. The brain has limited capacity to focus (especially mine) so I try to avoid multitasking unless I'm finalising a paper and my child is screaming for dinner (these two overlap 90% of the time).
I have tried multitasking in the past, but I often end up feeling dissatisfied with the outcome as instead of getting at least one of the tasks done, I end up with two half-baked results. From this experience, I find that prioritising and getting the easier task out of the way helps. Even across the spectrum of study-related activities, there are many differing levels of focus required.
Reading a journal or writing a paper, for example require almost 100% focus. Running a model on Excel, on the other hand, might require a bit less, thus there is a chance that you could still get it done in between scrambling eggs, for example. Ultimately, nothing beats full dedication to studying which brings us to our next tip, a quiet space.
2. Find your quiet space
Again, living with two children has its limitations especially if you're trying to find a 'quiet space'. This is because 1) the word 'quiet' doesn't exist in the household and 2) every 'space' is occupied with Lego. So you need to a bit more realistic in finding this so-called ‘quiet’ space. And ‘space’ in this context, refers to both time and location.
It’s all about prioritising your tasks, finding the right place and time, and giving yourself a break!
My time is dictated by the kids, thus my studying time is squeezed when they are inactive. Specifically, this is before they wake up and after they go to bed. Anything in between is almost impossible. But I have trained myself to work around this routine and have managed to also adjust my biological clock to be productive around those hours, especially in the morning.
Another time that I try to fit in studying is during the commute to work. This was before the pandemic, and when I was taking public transport. Although, this activity is limited to listening to audio recordings of lectures or podcasts - reading in the train gives me headache especially during rush hour!
3. Take a break
This is the most important bit. Some of us used to burn the midnight oil back in college. I can attest that at least for me, there's no oil left to burn. The most I could do is studying until up about midnight before I end up snoring on a journal paper.
Taking a break from is important for two reasons: 1) it allows you to take a step back to reflect and 2) nothing is ever more important than family time. So I do take a lot of breaks to spend time with my kids before I give up and wish I’m studying instead (this doesn’t usually take long).
As you can see, not all of the above are applicable to everyone. We each have unique situations with our own time management advantages and limitations. It’s a learning process so please don’t expect to nail it within the first semester. I’ve graduated twice and still couldn’t give a straight answer to questions on time management.
But the three points I’ve given still hold, nonetheless. It’s all about prioritising your tasks, finding the right place and time, and giving yourself a break!