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Dear CertMag: I have a job doing tech support at a community college. I’d like to eventually work in data storage, so I’ve been trying to carve out some time at night and on the weekends for certification. My biggest problem has been that, after being at work all day, I have a terrible time focusing when I finally sit down to study. I’m married with four young children, so I have plenty to do even when I’m at home. When I get to the hour or so at the end of the night where I can sit down by myself, it’s often hard to zero in on what I should be doing. When I was in college, lining up regular study blocks and staying on task was no problem. Finding the mental energy to dig into my studies after 9 p.m. at night is different. Help?
— Dustin, Cedar Mill, Ore.
This is a very common challenge for those of us working in our careers. My own experience with certification has been very similar! I would like to find the time to certify further on Microsoft technologies, for example — I’ve held credentials for several successive generations, and I think it’s a great story to go in to a client and demonstrate that I have worked with every cycle of Windows server back into the depths of obsolescence. As a married father with another due next month, however, I too am challenged to find the time to invest.
One of the keys I have found is to start with purpose: Why does your family (and you) want you to be certified? Is it about career interest? Money? It sounds to me like there is definitely a field focus here, but are there other benefits that your wife and kids will care about? Purpose can help set priority. Where does dad having time to go get certified come in on the stack of family things that need to be addressed? My guess is it’s not going to be “top” of the list, but that you can reasonably find a position in the priorities that helps you make it clear that the family will benefit — not just you.
The third thing is that you need to make a plan and the family has to be on board: This is daddy’s study place. You may not go in here when daddy is in here. Wait for daddy to come out and then talk to him.
Another key consideration is distractions. I can only guess at your situation, but I have things going on all the time. Finding ways to focus on one thing (studying) is something of a luxury in itself. I have had to find ways to let me “zone” in that way. As an example from my own life, I have ear pieces for one of my headsets. These ear pieces are particularly effective at noise isolation. I will use my ear pieces even though I am not listening to music at all, simply because I know that they will help me not get distracted by the noise from the house, my daughter, etc.
One of the other advantages that you may have in your unique position is a job that is learning-oriented. Does your community college have a way of perhaps providing access to a class or two that can help with your certification? Maybe that becomes part of your study plan. Or maybe they can allow you to set aside an hour or two a week to study. Find out what kinds of benefits in the training and learning space you may already have access to. You may need to ask for them —they may have been part of the job all along, and simply unused by you. No one can give you what they don’t know you need.
I’ve done the bedtime studying and I agree, it’s a tough proposition. At the end of the day, taking care of my family and being a good father is much higher on my priority list than becoming the Senior Vice President of Something Special next year. Finding where that balance is — the blend of elements that allows me to serve my customers and still be a husband, father and every other role I play — is a lot of my life experience right now.