At a glance
Continuous professional development and upskilling are increasingly important to stay current and ahead of the competition in a fast-changing global landscape.
Achieving a balance between work and study time is a significant challenge for any professional.
However, whether you are an ASA or a younger professional completing your studies, or a mid- to senior-level CPA professional determined to upskill, it is possible to successfully divide time between work and study without suffering stress and burnout.
1. Work with your body clock, not the one on the wall
“We’re designed for mental adaptiveness in the morning and being more physical in the afternoon,” says Donna McGeorge, productivity coach and author of The 1 Day Refund: Take back time and spend it wisely.
“You may find that getting up earlier in the morning is better than trying to complete study at night.
“Ask yourself when you are at your best and adapt work and study around your individual body clock.”
Hybrid working also gives increased flexibility about the times you choose to be officially on the clock.
2. Schedule, schedule, schedule
Be disciplined about setting a time for study and make it finite, says Dr Amantha Imber, organisational coach and host of the business podcast How I Work.
When you know you only have one or two hours, you are more likely to apply yourself than when the deadline stretches indefinitely.
Ideally, do the same thing at the same time, to strip away what McGeorge calls “decision fatigue”.
Talking of scheduling, an easy-to-view calendar – digital or print – will help you stay on top of your professional, academic and personal commitments.
3. Practice saying “No”
“If you have chosen to prioritise work and study, you may have to put other areas of your life on hold for a while,” says McGeorge.
“Cutting back on your social life or hobbies is realistic.”
To recover some time, she suggests having an honest look at how many hours you devote to social media and use scrolling only as a reward for tasks completed.
The average time spent on social media is almost two hours per day – that’s a lot of time you could add back to your schedule.
4. Ask for help
Ideally, your manager should be aware that you’re studying and for what purpose.
“You may then be able to have a conversation that says, ‘I need to knock off at 5pm because I need to get home and study’,” says McGeorge.
Some employers may be willing to allow you to keep flexible hours that will assist you with completing study, or even allow you study leave or reduced hours.
Talking about your study goals and how they will ultimately enhance your job performance could net you greater allowances.
Imber adds, “Burning the candle at both ends benefits no one, because you are exhausted when studying and exhausted at work.”
In relationships, too, it’s important to have a conversation upfront about who will be handling the responsibility of children or taking care of the home.
Even though you are dedicating time to personal and professional advancement, you may still need to assume a share of responsibility.
5. Use “dead” time
Commutes to and from your place of employment can offer a chance to listen to podcasts. You could also read over notes if you use public transport.
Don’t be tempted to use up your lunch break or another essential “time out” for study, however.
It’s important to break up intense periods of mental exertion with rest and relaxation.
“Ideally you should leave 15 per cent of time for relaxation as a wellness buffer,” says McGeorge.
“In a seven-day week, there should be one full day of doing nothing.
“That’s what I consider decompressing time. It gives the brain a chance to breathe, and we are able to tackle study much more effectively.
“A lot of people will say, ‘I don’t have time for a break’. But you want to keep your hardware in the best possible shape to run your software.”
6. Stay alert for signs of burnout
If you reach a stage when you feel you can’t continue to combine work and study, it could be time to defer learning until you recover physically or mentally.
However, momentum trumps motivation, says McGeorge.
“Doing something small each day is better than spending a block of time trying to cram knowledge.
“Just decide to do 30 minutes, with the timer on.”
7. Keep study in perspective
Focus on your goal, celebrate the progress you make and remember that it’s not going be like this forever.
“Recognise that this is short-term pain for long-term gain,” says McGeorge.
While upskilling is likely to be an ongoing requirement for even senior professionals, study parameters become less intense as we gain more experience.