Juggling Study and real life

cat interrupts studying

I’m in the middle of recertifying as a SQL Server MCSE, studying for a Mathematics Degree with the Open University and trying to train for various long distance cycling events. It can feel like an uphill struggle to fit it all in and still have time for friends and family (and the cats). And that’s without the usual 9-5 we all have

So how to juggle it all?

I try to think first in long term chunks, usually 6 months and 12 months. For an OU module I have to think across a whole 12 month period as that’s the teaching period. For my MCSE I can split it into 6 month chunks (doing MCSA in the first 6 months, and then the remaining exams in another 6 month period).

Once I’ve made sure that I am not overloading myself in one period I make sure I have all the dates on the calendar.

First off I block out any immovable dates, for example our wedding anniversary, OU exam periods, important birthdays, etc. These are sacrosanct and I either can’t or won’t move them. Everything else has to fit in around these, or will have to be a once in a life time opportunity.

Next to go in are the dates I want to achieve something. This could be an MCSE examination or a particular Audax event. These could be fixed or movable. This year for example:

  • I have a fixed goal date of the end of July for being fit enough to ride the London Edinburgh London audax.  This can’t be moved.
  • I have an exam date set in August for completing the MCSA phase of my MCSE qualification. This could be moved if needed.
  • OU assignment hand ins. These are a fixed deadline, but I can hand in earlier if needed if I need to free up time. (Next week I’ll be doing this so I’m not working through a holiday)

Now I’ve got the goals I can start working backwards to work our what needs to happen when. How I do this for each goal will be different depending on how I need to study or work towards them. For my cycling goals I know I’ll need more time and effort as the goal nears as I’ll be taking longer training rides. Studying for my courses and exams should hopefully remain constant with just a slight increase in time as I revise before exams.

Now I’ve a good idea of what I need to do and when I can start to plan my weeks to make sure I’ve got some time set aside to get everything done. So I’ll block out 3 hours on a Wednesday straight after work to go for a long training ride on the bike, with shorter 1 hour rides on a Monday and Friday. Then I might schedule 2 hours on a Thursday after dinner to work on my OU course or even 2 evening for some of the tougher modules.

By having a set routine it gets easier to remember what you’re meant to be doing when, and all the other bits and pieces fall into place. And by sharing the routine with my wife we both know when I’m going to be busy, or days when I’d rather not have something else happen.

But having done all that planning it’s important to stay flexible, stuff happens.

  • A tier 1 database down at work 10 minutes before clocking off time on a wednesday, you can be sure my bike ride’s gone out the window.
  • A friend is visiting town for the first time in years on a Thursday evening, not a problem, as I know when my free slots are so I can move my study time around to suit.

All of it’s easily coped with if you’ve left yourself some slack. And remember, it’s always good to have some downtime. A night in from of the TV isn’t wasted if you’re relaxing from hard work on the other nights, especially if you’re relaxing with loved one.

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