Studying to degree, masters or doctorate level is extremely hard work. The popular image of students as carefree and underemployed could not be further from the truth, especially if you are also juggling a full or part-time job and maybe even have a family to look after. Going back to school as a mature student, when you already have a full life to manage, can be the hardest task of all, whether you’re going into college, taking evening classes or studying online. Achieving a healthy balance between life, work and academic activities is essential.

Plan your time

Once you have an idea of the workload involved, the first thing you need to do is create a realistic schedule that will allow you to complete it all in the time allowed. If this seems impossible, work at it and look for ways to rearrange your time until things seem manageable. Prioritize projects according to deadline, while not forgetting to account for regular chores and reading time. Doing so will not only help you achieve your goals, it will also help you feel more in control, thus reducing stress.

Break your studies into chunks

Doing an online course allows you to fit your studies around your everyday life. Wilkes University offers a PhD in Nursing in a flexible format of 17 courses over nine terms, with students taking an average of three years to graduate. Clearly define what you need to do at each stage, whether that’s completing a chapter of your dissertation or a unit of coursework, and then break this down into smaller actions if necessary.

Schedule fun and downtime too

When planning out the days, weeks and months ahead, don’t forget to give yourself some time off. This could involve fun activities like date night or a film, unwinding with a spot of gardening, or just leaving in some empty space for spontaneous enjoyment or just complete relaxation.

Unless it’s absolutely essential, don’t be tempted to use these slots as “buffers” for extra cramming. Respect your scheduled ‘me time’ and don’t feel guilty about taking some time off for your health and sanity. If it’s in the schedule, then it’s manageable and allowed.

Look after your health

Get plenty of sleep, eat well and exercise. Working all night can be counterproductive, while getting enough sleep boosts memory and helps you work harder. Natural light and fresh air are also important. Just taking a walk can clear your head and help you to solve a knotty problem on your return.

Don’t forget family and friends

You need to spend time on studying and your family and friends may see a bit less of you as a result. Make sure that they understand this, and don’t shut yourself away completely. Friends and family are your support network and will be essential in helping you to achieve your goals. A friendly chat and some human contact away from your computer screen can work wonders for de-stressing and re-establishing your focus and self-confidence.

By setting realistic goals, practicing good time management and not letting stress overwhelm you, even the most ambitious course of study can be undertaken successfully. Hard work and mental focus can be applied towards getting a qualification that will be a milestone in your life.

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