An online degree program can help you earn your bachelor’s degree on your own schedule, at your own pace, and without uprooting your family to a university town. But once you’re enrolled in a program, you’re going to need top-notch time management skills to make it work.
A commitment to work-life balance will give you the stamina that sustained academic effort requires, especially when you’re juggling a full-time job and a family. Give yourself the care you need to be in top form, and focus on managing your time well and doing what works for you.
Take Care of Yourself
If you’re not going to make time to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep, you’d better make time to get sick. Caring for yourself is a lot more predictable, and takes less time out of your life, than getting a physical illness, or developing mental health symptoms from stress, or experiencing burnout. Make sure you’re getting what you need in terms of rest, daily activity, time with friends and family, time with your spouse, relaxation, and healthy meals so that you’ll have the physical and mental stamina to complete your degree.
You may have to employ some new stress management techniques, making time for them each day just as you would make time to brush your teeth, shower, or sleep seven hours. Relaxation exercises, like meditation and yoga, can help relieve stress, but so can getting a pet or spending time on a favorite hobby. Making stress management a part of your daily routine ensures that stress levels rarely get too high to handle.
Use a Day Planner to Schedule Your Time
When you’re juggling full-time work and full-time school, you have a lot to keep track of. Add in a couple of kids and a spouse and household and you need a day planner. It’ll help you keep track of events and deadlines, but you’ll actually need to use the hourly scheduling pages to allocate your time in the day to different purposes. You only have so many hours, and in order to make time for all of the things you need and want to do in a day, you need to be strict about scheduling. Plan out what you’re doing with each hour or half-hour in the day, so you can find time to work, study, help the kids with their homework, listen to your spouse’s day, and have a quiet glass of wine, all in the same day.
Create a Study Space
When you’re in an online bachelor’s degree program, you can study from anywhere — but that usually means you won’t be studying from the campus library or even from the common room in the dorms. You’ll need to set up a study area in your home where you can minimize distractions and maintain your focus. Choose a quiet corner of the house or, if you have one, a separate room where you can close the door against noise, needy kids, and equally needy spouses (needy pets may be allowed at your discretion). Keep your study space well-organized, so you don’t waste time searching for what you need. Grab a comfortable chair and hang a “do not disturb” sign on the door. Put some house plants in the window. School is in session.
Do What Works for You
You’ll do better at just about anything in life if it meshes well with your natural proclivities. If you’re a night owl, for example, it’s easier to work at night, when you know you’ll be awake and alert, than in the morning, when you know you’re probably going to be groggy no matter how well you managed to sleep the previous night. On the other hand, if you’re a morning person, your natural inclination is to be wide-eyed at the crack of dawn, so that’s the best time for you to get in some uninterrupted study time. Knowing your own habits as a student, and what works best for you in terms of learning environment and scheduling, can go a long way towards making the work of earning a degree feel a little less like work.
Online degree programs are making it easy for students of all backgrounds to follow their dreams, but finding work-life balance in such a program is a challenge you’ll face every day. Focus on doing what works for you and your family, and don’t be afraid to ask those around you for help if you need it. Chances are, they’re just as invested in your success as you are.