If you have the drive and commitment to take on additional study, it can enhance your skills, accelerate your professional development and increase your appeal to future employers. But anyone that has studied while working will know that it isn’t always easy – it can be a juggle that requires sacrifices to be made, and a level of understanding and accommodation from employers and families to make it work.
Siobhan Ferreira is no stranger to these challenges. Currently working full time as a Principal at Gerard Daniels while raising a young family and studying to complete her MBA, Siobhan shares these insights on how to manage the load and realise the benefits of further study.
Know what you’re getting into and why
As someone who prioritises and invests in her own learning, Siobhan advocates for continued professional development (CPD) and making the longer term commitment to complete additional qualifications. She also appreciates that not everyone has the capacity to take the additional load and that extra study does not necessarily allow you to skip other career milestones.
“Before committing to study, do your homework and talk to others to determine the type of course or qualification that’s right for you, because an MBA is one option, but post-graduate diplomas or certificates can be of value too,” says Siobhan. “Study requires a significant commitment of time and money, and if the qualification or the circumstances aren’t right, you might not see the benefits or the return on investment that you expect.”
It’s also important to be clear on your ultimate goal. “Know what you want to get out of your qualification, what you are willing to put into the process and what it will take you to get through it.” Siobhan continues. “Although it’s not easy juggling study with work and my family, I’m enjoying being able to network and develop and refine my skillset. I also value the opportunity to demonstrate to my young children the importance of study and the benefits of being committed to your goals.”
Set yourself up for success
For the greatest chance of success, Siobhan recommends taking time to understand your own unique circumstances at home and at work, and any opportunities or limitations that you may face.
Finding the right approach
While her original plan was to work back-to-back through all MBA modules, Siobhan’s need to juggle study with full-time work, young children and a husband that travels frequently has required some flexibility in this approach. “An intense approach to study works for some people, but it does not work for me,” she says.
“To give the best version of myself to all areas of my life I’ve learned that I cannot be spread too thin. Instead, I need to focus on dedicating quality time to work, study, family and to myself,” says Siobhan. “At times this approach has come at the expense of my social life or family time at the weekend, and it has meant extending the time that my MBA will take to complete. But finding the right approach has helped me to achieve better balance, to get much more out of my study and continue to achieve goals in other areas of my life.”
Being able to apply new skills and knowledge as she learns is another factor in Siobhan’s choice to combine study and work at the same time. “Completing an MBA needn’t be a race and it certainly isn’t a check-box exercise,” she says. “Study makes life busier and requires sacrifice, but I’m getting a lot out of it and have no regrets about taking it on.”
To successfully combine work with study, Siobhan recommends communicating openly and early with work and family to find the best arrangement financially, for your home life, work environment, and for your future career.
“This might mean studying full time or taking it slow; working back to back or taking breaks between modules; finding extra help at home to manage the domestic load; or negotiating reduced hours with your employer,” she says. “Whatever it takes, finding the right approach early on will make study more enjoyable, limit the impact on others around you and lead to far better outcomes in the long run.”
When juggling work and study, investing time in preparation and self-care will help you meet work and course deadlines, achieve better grades, and ultimately have a positive impact on your overall health and well-being. To manage the additional load:
- Develop and practice good time management skills
- Map out your work and study deliverables and identify periods where they overlap
- Find the best place and time of day for your studies – we are all wired differently
- To prevent burnout and stay productive remember to exercise, get enough sleep and take breaks
- Accept any offers of help and use the family and friend networks that you have
“Despite the best planning and preparation, there may still be times when something has to give, but acknowledging this and making the necessary changes is part of the process and needn’t feel like defeat,” says Siobhan.
Manage the impact of your study
People don’t exist in isolation, and committing to study on top of work will likely impact other aspects of your life. Having early discussions around what is expected of you while you study and the support that you will need, can lead to better outcomes and prevent unnecessary misunderstandings and conflict.
“At times your personal and professional goals and commitments will overlap. Being clear on how they fit alongside each other will help you to navigate your studies and make it easier for your family and employer to support you on your learning journey,” says Siobhan. “The more value that you can demonstrate in your continued learning the more likely you are to receive the support that you need, so communicate why study is important to you personally and professionally, and what those impacted will gain from supporting you.”
“There’s no point sugar coating it – with or without a partner, and with or without kids, completing any form of further study while working full time is hard work. But if it’s something that you want to do and you can find the right approach, you will find it rewarding,” says Siobhan. “What’s important, is embarking on the journey with your eyes open, knowing what you will gain and what it will take to get there.”