Going back to school as an adult learner certainly adds a bit of chaos into your life. Juggling work, family and schoolwork is possible but it requires some diligent schedule management. In my case, I chose not to work while in Gerontology school knowing that it would be difficult to devote my attention to both. To be honest, it wasn’t a difficult decision seeing that my previous career was no longer fulfilling. It wasn’t adding any value to my education and my newfound passion, therefore, I cut it from the roster. I traded the stress of a job I no longer enjoyed for the exhilaration of living off my life savings – kind of scary but exciting at the same time.
I have learned quickly to do more with less and every purchase is evaluated with a ‘need or want’ filter. Let me be clear, I’m not implying that needs are inherently good and wants inherently bad but if something is important enough to you, it will make the cut. It just so happens that this ‘need or want filter’ is also a useful filter for managing a busy schedule and school. Here are a few tips I’ve learned so far.
Ask yourself, what needs to be done this week and what do I want to do this week? Since I already committed to going back to school, that tops my list. My daytime hours are set aside for schoolwork and the rest of the time is split between family and personal time.
I use my course outline to sketch out my week. I know when my assignments are due, what I need to have prepared for this week’s collaborate session and I set a deadline for my forum posts. Readings, lectures and research are done primarily at the beginning of the week to ensure I have read the material for the assignments, posts and quizzes, which are usually due near the end of the week. I have also learned that the material provokes much self-reflection and self-evaluation, so some of the time blocked off for school is set aside for that.
I find moments throughout the day and week to shut everything off and just “be”. It’s time that I have purposely built into my schedule, so I don’t feel guilt or panic. My textbooks, computer, social media and music are put in a ‘time out’ because I need time to absorb what I’ve read and let my creative brain resurface again. These pauses consist of meditation, good old house cleaning or going for a walk in the park – any activity that allows my mind to wander. These breaks allow me to reflect and internalize the course material. Sometimes the reflections are emotionally taxing so some breaks are longer than others and that’s okay.
I also dedicate some time to do things that challenge me differently, like trying out some new recipes, playing the piano or going for a hike with my husband. These are not mindless tasks but instead, are activities that require my full attention on something unrelated to Therapeutic Recreation. These breaks help me focus when it’s time to focus and thus reduce distractions and procrastination.
Academic writing is new to me so specific formats and structures were all a mystery. I have found the sample assignments and draft submissions to be very helpful for completing assignments in a meaningful and timely manner. Rather than spending time wondering if I have the formatting and structure correct, referring to the sample assignments as a guide and taking advantage of a draft copy submission before my deadline have been big time savers. Using those as academic maps, I’m able to organize my time more effectively and research topics more comprehensively. I can internalize what I’m learning because I’m focused on the material and not distracted by format and structure.
I found having a dedicated space to work in is fundamental to managing my schedule. A benefit to this is that the space can be organized as I need it. Some weeks I have all my textbooks out and open and it looks disorganized, but I know where every thought rests. Not having to clean up before my family comes home is an enormous time saver. Also, having a dedicated space works well when you need to take a break and want to get away from it.
My “classroom” includes connecting my laptop to two computer screens. I can have my assignment open and visible along with any website, PDF or Moodle dashboard I am working with. It helps reduce fatigue as I am not constantly opening and closing windows to access what I’m working on. You need to have a space that you can focus in, be comfortable in and want to spend a large portion of your time in.
Take the time to look back at where you started and how far you’ve come so you can enjoy where you are right now. How does a pat on the back relate to schedule management? Well, successes like the great feedback on your assignment, the ‘better than I thought’ mark on the quiz, the forum response from a classmate saying that your post was useful, are all worthy of a pat on the back.
These don’t need to be champagne and confetti moments but rather, an acknowledgment that the focus, dedication and effort are paying off. If you want to keep up the good work, you need to acknowledge that what you are doing is effective – it keeps you engaged.
Diligent schedule planning allows you to submit to the process and persevere and it’s totally worth it.