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Successful Self Education while holding down a job – Sticking to the plan and succeeding when you just want to quit

Do you find it hard to study? Do you struggle to stick to things once you’ve started? 

Studying while working is a whole different animal to getting your undergraduate qualification while studying full time. When you are a full time student, your whole life revolves around study. You might be broke but you can always go to the library. You also know that in order to start your path, you need to study so it’s easier to stay motivated. Sticking to the plan and succeeding when you just want to quit requires commitment, planning and unshakable motivation. 

Once you are career bound, self education, while essential, requires supreme discipline to do it well and get the outcomes you desire.

High performers are always pushing themselves and in general have drive and ambition to spare. Despite this, I can tell you from experience that studying and working at the same time requires an extra level of commitment and focus.

If you are imagining yourself coasting through your online MBA or night school Diploma, think again. This is one of the hardest things you will do this year. If you have kids, it will be even worse.

Here are some tips for successful self education while holding down a job and sticking to the plan and succeeding when you just want to quit. By following these guidelines you can get the most out of your self education plan without messing up your life or letting down your company.

1. This is going to be hard so only do it if you really want it

As a senior manager, the development of people is a big part of my role. I’m a big believer in encouraging people to take on education but I always give them one piece of advice. ‘Only do this if you really want it, if you’re prepared to put in the work. This is your responsibility.’ 

I want my team members to know what they are getting themselves into before they get started. 

The prospect of starting a new course of qualification is attractive. We casually brush over the recommended hours of study as if they don’t apply to us. We fail to remember how difficult it was to complete our previous qualifications. Instead, we visualize ourselves holding a completed Diploma and getting a promotion. 

Too many times I have seen people jump into qualifications only to drop out three quarters of the way through when it all gets too hard. This is bad on two fronts. Not only do you not have the qualification you wanted, you also spent all those hours of study for very little tangible return although hopefully you learned something.

Better to spend more time at the beginning making sure that this is the right qualification for you. Make sure that you understand the required workload, the duration of the course and that the end result justifies the commitment you are going to make.

2. Schedule, schedule, schedule

So you’ve committed yourself, you’re enrolled and your coursework is about to begin. This is the time to reorganize your life for your new normal. Do not assume that you will ‘find the time’ to fit study in around your life. I can assure you that is a sure fire way to get into a world of all night cramming sessions. 

Instead, reassess your schedule around the new most important thing on your list, your qualification. Ring fence specific time slots to allow for the required study and/or class times. Make sure you are increasing those hours closer to assessment or exam times. Add additional hours to cover any extra revision you require if you are struggling.

Suddenly, you may realize that there are not enough hours to the day to meet all the needs of your course. If this happens, it’s time to reassess your priorities. The reality is that by signing up to this course of study you have effectively said that this is one of the most important things you are doing right now. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth making sure you put 100% into it. It may be time to say ‘no’ to some things so you can say ‘yes’ to committing to succeeding in your coursework.

3. Stick to the plan.  No slacking off.

A schedule is only good up to the first time you ditch it for drinks with the girls on Friday night. To get to the point where you are holding that Diploma you will have to have the discipline and social life of a saint. Sure there’s time for the odd night out but keep it to a minimum. When I was an undergraduate my socializing hours reduced in direct proportion to the years I had completed. In Freshman year, I partied as much as I studied. In Senior year, I saw the inside of a bar once or twice in the whole year. Our priorities govern our future outcomes so be true to what you really want, a Mohito or a chance at a better life and career?

I also have some advice for you social media junkies. Now I’m lucky  or unlucky enough to be of the pre social media generation. I am Instagram challenged and only figured out the difference between Twitter and Facebook last year. Social media, binge watching streaming programs and unchecked YouTube will be death to your awesome study schedule. My advice, delete them from your devices for the duration of your course. At the very least, find a way to minimise your usage so you can focus on your important goals.

Again, in my undergraduate Sophmore year, I was getting fairly addicted to World of Warcraft. Now this was the 90’s PC version so not quite as exciting as today’s networked interactive version but still as addictive as hell.  I had so many exams one semester that things were getting pretty grim. I was so addicted that I gave my computer to my roommate and told him not to give it back until after exams were over. Sometimes you have to take brutal action to succeed. That is the mark of a high performer.

4. Stay motivated

Motivation is the toughest part of any long term goal. We are all motivated in the first few weeks but around three quarters of the way in we really start to suffer. About that time we start to resent our schedule. We have been working hard for ages but still no Diploma or tangible results. Totally sick of missing out on socializing, we get tired of studying. We even start to question whether the qualification was even worth it in the first place.

This is the danger time and the best way to handle it is to see it coming. When I did my undergraduate qualification I was ready to quit towards the end of my Junior year. Three years of intensive engineering study was exhausting. The hours were terrible, the workload was overwhelming and the content just kept getting harder and harder. I was done and so was everyone else I knew.

The way to get past this stage is to get back to those heady visualizations from the beginning of your period of study. Now is the time to start seeing yourself in your cap and gown, or getting that promotion at work, or getting new business cards made with extra letters behind your name. Use whatever you’ve got to start seeing the positive side of your reality. All you have to do is stock to your schedule and hold on and those dreams will be reality.

When your motivation levels start to drop you really need to make sure you are taking good care of yourself. How are you feeling physically? Mentally? Make sure you are eating right, getting enough exercise and getting some sleep. Bend your schedule a bit if you can and take a couple of days off while you mentally regroup. 

At no time should you listen to the inner voice that says, “This is too hard, I don’t really need this course anyway.” That is just your tired self trying to come up with a way for you to quit and feel good about it. Just ignore the voice, quitting is not an option. Remind yourself of the commitment you made. Calculate out how many more days you have to be strong and just keep going. It will be worth it in the end. It may be a good idea to start talking to family and mentors for additional support. Having an experienced mentor at this time will really help. A good mentor will help you reframe your negative thoughts, offer inspiring advice and probably some good stories about their own experiences. 

It will be worth it in the end

Completing the qualifications I have gained in life has taught me some of the most valuable lessons I have learned. While studying I have succeeded admirably and failed spectacularly. I have grown and I have matured through every stage. I’ve learned to accept my limitations and push through to achieve levels of performance I never thought possible. I have learned new things, met new people, suffered humiliation and triumph. I have spent hours and hours alone with nothing but my notes knowing that I was the master of my own destiny. 

The most rewarding thing about higher education is the knowledge that you yourself are responsible for what you achieve. You completed those assignments, you sat that exam and you are now holding that Diploma. It is the ultimate symbol of independence and personal success and it is worth every sacrifice you will make to achieve it.

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