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Balancing work, study and a life - top tips to make it work

If you decide to return to college for further education, you had better get your ducks in a row, advises Eoghan McDermott.

Eoghan McDermott

THERE ARE LOTS of reasons why someone should go and pursue further education - improved career opportunities, more money, a change of career direction, the college experience.

If you’re going to do it, you’ll need to have it planned in a way that suits for work, home and study. You have to figure out whether or not you have the time, and the money. For example, if you have kids, will your husband or wife be able to take on the extra burden that will naturally come with you around less often?

You need to think about your career, and life, and figure out where you’re at. If you break your career loosely into three phases, it gives you a sense of when could be the best time for you to pursue further qualifications, or shift career.

Phase One: from when you start working to around your mid-30s.

Phase Two: settled in a role or area or industry, maybe have a family, a mortgage and all the pressures those can bring.

Phase Three: the autumn of your career, kids gone, mortgage paid and more freedom than Phase Two.

You have more career mobility in Phase One. If you hate the industry or profession you’re in, you can ditch it and move into a new one with some ease. You’re typically not on a significant salary, not embedded in an area and aren’t tied down to life’s wonders of mortgages and putting bread on the table. Essentially it’s easier to change your career at 28 than it is at 38.

If you’re in Phase Two, let’s say around late 30s, going and getting a further qualification can be a difficult thing to fund, to justify and to do. Your company may support you to do this, which would be wonderful. And this is a benefit many companies are happy to offer if they can see a clear return on investment. One thing that client organisations tell me is that they now struggle to hold on to their people.

Keeping their staff and keeping them engaged is a major challenge. It’s now, in some industries, becoming a sellers’ market, where candidates have more control, and it’s thought that by supporting employees in further studies, it improves their loyalty.

But if your company doesn’t pay for it, how are you going to manage? Sometimes a redundancy is an opportunity to make a change. There may be an educational element in the package, or with the money from the package you could fund your studies.

However, no more than if there is a company funding it, if you’re funding it yourself you will need to clearly see the return too. For example, if you’re hoping to get into online marketing, are you sure the qualification you’re looking at will help get you there?

Or if you’re doing a post-grad in management, will it help you make the next step up.

shutterstock_176025509 Those in Phase Three of their career can find a late upskill or sector switch highly rewarding. Source: Shutterstock/Claudia Paulussen

With life-expectancy improving, and the age of retirement increasing, Phase Three is now giving people an opportunity to do what they want, without being tied to long-term bank debt or their children. For example, a client of mine who worked in the motor industry ended up retraining and becoming an addictions counsellor. It was something in his mid-fifties that he began to really want to do. And when he was ’free’, he took his chance.

Going back to study can work in whatever phase you’re in. You just have to make sure it works for you. If you do, here are some quick tips to keep in mind that will make it easier to juggle life, work and study no matter what…

Set goals

‘If it doesn’t get written, it doesn’t get done’. Set yourself small, achievable goals each week – this can help in motivating you to get things done. That could be chapters studied, essays written.

Manage your time

This is sometimes easier said than done, but you can try some simple things like keeping a common diary for work, study and home. Try and build a routine where you set aside some time for study after work, or in between other commitments. And time to spend with the people who matter – your family and friends.

Manage your stress levels

Figure out what helps you de-stress. Is it a run, walk, gym, movie, pint? And make sure you set aside some relaxation time and give yourself time for any important social events with family and friends.

Have all your ducks in a row

shutterstock_268278716 It can be hard to balance home life with evening study, so talk to your partner about how to share the load. Source: Shutterstock/d13

Communicate. Talk. What can often create stress for people who are studying and working at the same time is their boss, their lecturers and their partner. The boss is putting pressure on for work, the lecturers expect projects done and the partner is worrying about home life. You should have all of this talked through, planned and agreed so you aren’t getting it from all sides.

Depending on your circumstance, how easy-going back to study is will differ. But if you know it’s worth the time and money, if you’re focussed, have it planned and remember the important relationships in your life, you’ll find the right balance.

Eoghan McDermott is a Director of The Communications Clinic and is Head of Training and Careers there. 

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