I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL from this blog—there’s not much to write about lately, workwise. Plus, I have been trying to query a novel and finish another first draft so I can dive into a vast pile of research. And teach myself how to write a screenplay. While working full-time. Argh.
In spring of 2014, I finished my last finals for the Semester of Hell (you can read my periodic whinges about that over on Graphomaniac). I don’t know how I got through it this time. Both classes were online, which helped.
How does a person juggle school plus work? More people are taking the Money Bus to College Town in hopes of improving their job skills. I’ve been through this once, and I actually managed to finish. These tips helped me and I hope they’ll help you.
You can use these same tips for outside projects. Like writing a novel.
Time management is key
This might seem obvious, but if you’ve never tried to do it, figuring it out can be a bear.
- Make a schedule. You can use a Gantt chart (hah, I learned about this one in school). Click the link for more information about them.
- If you have children and they are in school, and you’re trying to go back to school at the same time, you can make their homework time your homework time (and get a little done, anyway). Seeing you study will also give them incentive, and you’ll be right there if they need help.
- Cook healthy foods on the weekend and freeze them. Seriously, I hate having to stop and make food when I’m this busy. I usually end up shoving crap into my mouth and regretting it later. Why do you think college students subsist on pizza? It’s cheap, fast, and someone else does all the work. If you’ve pre-made meals, you can just pop them in the microwave and still eat well.
Note: Make sure you build time to relax into your schedule. You will need it.
Use your lunch hour
This one is completely up to you. Some people like to study over their lunch hours. I write on mine. When I’m not taking Buzzfeed quizzes, that is.
I wrote most of my police procedural this way, dragging my laptop to work every day and tapping out scenes whilst I shoveled leftovers into my gob. Now I use a flash drive, but the principle is still the same.
You may prefer to keep your lunch hour as Me time. Go shopping, go for a walk, or read a book you know you won’t finish when you get home because you have too many assignments.
Leave your work at work
Once you leave for the day, you might have to go to class. You won’t do well if you can’t stop thinking about your job. Make it a point to disconnect once you walk out the door. Blast your favorite music on the drive over, or listen to it on public transport if that’s your ride to school (quietly, please!).
If you have the kind of boss who texts you at 3 a.m. because she just woke up from a nightmare of OMG DID WE PROOF THE TPS REPORTS CN U PLS CHK WHN U GET IN TMRROW, then the difficulty level rises. If you’re hourly, you may not be able to deal with any emails outside work hours without clocking in. Tell your boss that would be overtime—that usually kills it right there.
Set small goals each day or week, rather than one huge one
This is such common advice I almost didn’t want to include it, but so many people forget this. Then they look at the giant thing they have decided to do and give up completely.
As with New Year’s resolutions, you can’t just say “I’m going to write ALL THE PAPERS this semester!” and expect it to work out without some kind of plan.
Almost all classes will have a syllabus—use it. Put each due date on your calendar and make note of what you have to do each week before you reach that date.
Example: You have a fifteen-page paper due in six weeks.
If you look at the example sentence, it’s huge. It’s insurmountable. It looks like a lot of work. It is, but you can do it. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, my friend.
Try something like this instead:
|Week 1||Choose topic; submit for approval||2/1/15|
|Week 2||Receive approval; research||2/8/15|
|Week 4||Body of paper||2/22/15|
|Week 5||Bibliography/works cited||3/1/15|
|Week 6||Paper due||3/8/15|
That is very, very broad, but you get the idea. Each week, you have specific tasks you need to accomplish. Don’t think about the entire paper at once; just think about what you have to do that week.
Below, see a screenshot from the spreadsheet I used to keep track of my fall 2013 semester.
Image: Elizabeth West
The highlighting let me tell at a glance which tasks I finished and which were still pending (or which I forgot to mark as finished). This is my general routine; your results may vary.
Just in case you’re still mired in despair, remember that I did finish two degrees this way. I can tell you it is possible to work full time and still go to school. Yes, I quit this time around, but I did it because I needed to write. That was more important to me than school right now.
If you have any ideas or suggestions that might help other readers, please feel free to share them in the comments.