Juggling between full-time work and school is the hardest. I went through it once and had my share of failures and successes. I have learned a few things over this journey that I would like to share. Background I have an MBA and chose to pursue a Masters in Science (MS) in 2017 since my interest was to understand database and machine learning side of things, and at that time, data analytics seemed like a perfect fit. When I started a master's degree, I did not have a job, but eventually, in the second semester at school, I found a job (internship), which turned into a full-time position six months later at a startup. Working at a startup gave me the experience to work in multiple roles and grateful for the experience. Six months later, I got a full-time job offer at a mortgage company with a better position. Job change, the internship that converted to full-time, studying for exams, and assignments make me quite eligible to talk about some lessons I learned over these two years. Lesson 1: Weekly Planning
Every Sunday, I spent on planning the week. I set aside two hours and made sure I had no distractions. I use google calendar for looking up my assignments or exams and used a todoist as my planner. Each week I would note the classes ahead of time and allocate time it took for homework (although it never completed in the allotted time). I had online courses twice every week in the evenings after work. When I had no class, I spent the time studying, completing homework, and preparing for exams. Lesson 2: Prioritize your goals
I can't stress enough how vital prioritization can be. I am sure we all have things come up at the last minute, and you should always be ready to say NO. I learned this the hard way. Let me tell you a story about the mistake I chose to make. During summer, I took a class that required me to submit homework every week (which I realized later). Little did I know that during the first few weeks, I missed one of my homework due to plans I had with friends that were made ahead of time and did not want to say NO. I received a low grade, with which I was not happy (as expected). That taught me a valuable lesson to focus on your goals and keep them in mind, so it does not distract you. Here are some tips and tricks that I have tried and tested to combat prioritizing time: - I chose this method after reading the power of habit. I began to reward myself for each task I would complete either by watching one of my favorite TV shows or have a piece of cake (wouldn't occasionally hurt, right?). It created a rewarding feeling which made me happier similar to hanging out with friends, and it was worth it. - Repetition is essential and having low, medium, and high performances are suitable for habit formations. I read this from Atomic habits, and it stuck to me, so I made sure to deliver quantity work over quality work this gave me an advantage over my peers since my professor knew that I was putting in hard work not to make the same mistakes.
Lesson 3: Communicate with your peers and employer at work
I had team projects in some courses, and a few sessions had individual homework. The reason I bring this up is that in my first semester, I did not get in touch with my peers during class. In a class session, my professor announced a surprise team project for the end of the semester. To find good teammates was a challenge because you would have to team up with the ones who would not have any friends in class or are unsure of their capabilities. Lesson learned - always to talk to your peers during the first few classes. Communication with your employer is critical. Make sure your employer knows about your education. Some companies help you cover the cost of your education, at least a small percentage of it. In some cases, you could get more flexibility at work schedule, and it would be easier to get out earlier in the evenings so you could spend some time on school work. Tips that will help you communicate with the employer effectively: - Being transparent on your schoolwork and how much workload you would be able to take is vital to meet your expectations at work. Request your employer to give you work that is a medium priority because if you receive a high priority, and you cannot respond quickly, it affects your performance.
- Please communicate with your colleagues regarding your current school programs and make sure they know that you are putting in work and studying. Some colleagues may appreciate it, and few may feel pressured, but it is good for them to see that way, there is a reason for you to have medium priority work.
Lesson 4: Never Procrastinate Procrastination is hard to battle, especially after a great vacation and distractions at home. The time you realize when you have procrastinated enough is when all the assignments and exams start piling up on you. I have been in this situation and learned that this would be the last thing I would ever do again.
Tips that will help you to never procrastinate: - When you feel yourself hesitating, immediately count 5-4-3-2-1 and go! I learned this trick from the 5-second rule, and this has been my lifesaver ever since. I learned about this during my fourth semester, although never late. But once I started applying some key concepts from it, my productivity increased by 50%. - Keep your study environment distraction-free with many options like games, movies, and TV series; we are all spoiled for choice. Once you are involved in these activities, we tend to procrastinate. By being deliberate about creating your environment, that is by purging all items that create distractions should help improve your productivity.
Lesson 5: Always take notes Notes! Notes! Notes!
During my courses, I learned how to take notes effectively and tried out a couple of notetaking mediums that help me be productive from anywhere. Note Taking is as important as asking questions on topics in-class sessions. Note Taking helps your information retention rate. All my courses were online and recorded. Class recordings helped us go back to the lectures and listen. I made sure I was well prepared before the class to take notes. The courses in which I did not take notes meant more work for preparing during exams. Tools I used to take notes: - I used the Cornell method for the notetaking system. It allows your brain to think in different ways so it can help you understand and retain the information. - I love Microsoft's OneNote for notetaking and use it always on my Macbook and tab when I want to write things down. The best feature of OneNote is I can use it on any device like your phone or tablet when I do not have my laptop around. I set up the page before class using the Cornell method on OneNote.
Lesson 6: Keep in touch with Professors Asking the right questions in class and making an effort to learn the topic in class sessions takes a lot of effort. But being at work and having to listen to the lecture with a complete focus was not something I could do every time.
I chose to email professors once I heard the recording of the course or sometimes jotted down the questions that come up in the email drafts. When we had a constant email chain going on, it helps me keep in touch with the professors even after graduation. If you like such stories, please comment below and share them. I would love to share more of them.