How to Manage Study Time and a Full-Time Job
“Remember that time is money.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Certification is a way of life for IT professionals, but so is making a living! Frequently the former requires a commitment as time-consuming as the latter, and few can choose to pursue one at a time because we’ve got to bring home the bacon. If you organize, prioritize and utilize a few time management tips, work and certification study need not battle with each other for time in your busy schedule.
Organization is the key to stay focused, motivated and productive. You can perform gracefully under pressure at consistently high levels, regardless of a time crunch if you eliminate clutter, plan and set goals. A little time at the end of the day to recap your accomplishments, budget time and set realistic goals for the next day’s work can save you time in the long run. Spending a little time at the beginning of the day to refresh work priorities can sharpen awareness and alleviate that “what should I be doing now?” feeling that comes when there’s a ton on your plate and wings on the clock. First, know how much time you need to respond to urgent e-mail, attend scheduled meetings, go to the bathroom, etc. Budget for daily necessities as well as new items. Write things down or make a to-do list. Writing things down on a large wall or desk calendar or in a planner is an excellent way to remember appointments or to-do items. Take advantage of technology (cell phone, Outlook) to remind you of appointments or when to start new tasks. Break less desirable tasks down into small, easy-to-digest chunks. It’s the opposite of taking medicine. With cough syrup you want to gulp it down and drown the aftertaste with a swig of pop. When you have to read five chapters on Java programming language in preparation for an exam you want to allow enough time to break the chapters down, take notes, highlight and review. Another way to improve organization is to control distractions. During busy periods, use your voice-mail to screen calls and close your door to improve your focus. Eliminate clutter on your desk and engage a simple, sensible filing system comprehensible to people other than you in the event of your absence.
There are only so many hours in the day, so it’s important to prioritize. First, accept that you may not be able to get all the things you want done in one sitting. Some things may have to be shelved until a more appropriate time. Keep your ultimate mission in mind and carefully distinguish between what’s important and what’s urgent. Remember the 80/20 rule. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noted that 80 percent of the reward comes from 20 percent of the effort. To stay ahead or on top of the game, isolate and identify your 20 percent. Once identified, concentrate your work efforts on those items, which will bring the greatest return. Flag items with a deadline, but stay flexible. Allow time for interruptions. Things crop up. Time-management experts often suggest planning for 50 percent or less of your time. With only 50 percent of your time planned, you will have the flexibility to handle interruptions. When those unplanned emergencies pop up, you’re stress levels won’t rocket your blood pressure because prioritizing by the 80/20 rule means you’ll have completed your most important jobs first. After a crisis has been averted, ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do right now to get back on track fast?” Part of prioritizing is identifying the right thing to do and the actions that will be most effective. Then concentrate on efficiency, or how to do tasks the right way. Ask questions to avoid mistakes in job/task execution. It’s never efficient to redo anything. Always eliminate trivial tasks that do not have long-term consequences. And if possible, delegate jobs that don’t require your sole discretion to members of your team.
After you’ve eliminated clutter and distractions, organized your personal and work time into manageable chunks and executed each important task in the most expedient manner, pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath and relax. Laugh over the water cooler over the latest episode of Deadwood (HBO western) or spend a few minutes of your carefully prepared schedule horsing around with the family. If you constantly keep your nose to the grindstone, eventually it will wear down and you won’t be able to sneeze, let alone stop and smell the roses. That’s why soft skills (interpersonal, written and oral communication, ability to work well under pressure) are so important in the workplace. When you fudge something up, and everyone does eventually, you’ll have a solid, professional image and track record behind you to help smooth over the bumps.
Stephen R. Covey, author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” talks about sharpening the saw or engaging in a habit of self-renewal. There are four elements. The first is mental and includes reading, visualizing, planning and writing. The second is spiritual, which means value clarification and commitment, study and meditation. Third is social/emotional, which includes service, empathy, synergy and intrinsic security. Finally, the physical element includes exercise, nutrition and stress management. It’s far easier to adhere to a demanding study and work schedule if you don’t forget to budget time to sleep and refresh your body and spirit. Play with the kids/dog/significant other. Balance, work, study, pass.
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