Going back to school when you're already working full-time in the business world can be daunting. The hours you used to spend unwinding are now devoted to learning new material and fulfilling the course requirements for a business education degree program. It's easy to become overwhelmed, particularly when one of the first things to suffer when a person takes on so much responsibility can be self-care.
The following ten tips for going back to school are designed to help you achieve a comfortable balance between ongoing job performance and future career success.
1. Create a Schedule
You already know your work hours. Now it's time to figure out how much time you can devote to study. Be realistic. If you are a morning person, setting the alarm for 5 a.m. makes sense; that quiet time is perfect for learning. Another person may prefer studying on weekend afternoons. Once you figure out when you will be learning, write it down – and follow through. Keeping a regular schedule is the best way to avoid stress and burnout.
2. Carve out Blocks of Free Time
It's essential that you not only make time for yourself once a week, but also that you find some time to spend with your family or friends. Without the former, you will feel deprived. Without the latter, your loved ones may start resenting you for pursuing a business education rather than spending quality time with them. Dedicated free time keeps everyone focused on the big picture.
3. Designate a Study Place
If you have a family, the place to study should not be the kitchen table – or possibly even in the house. Going to the library or a quiet coffee shop after dinner a few nights a week may be the best way to get coursework accomplished. Even better, when you set aside a completely separate area just for your studies, you are engaged in a positive form of compartmentalization, a coping mechanism used by many successful entrepreneurs.
4. Find Time to Exercise
Regular cardiovascular exercise has been proven to improve memory, and with so much going on at once, you are definitely going to need a boost. No time to exercise? The good news is you can work in exercise in short stints, and it is just as effective, as long as you find enough time to move every day for a total of at least 150 minutes a week.
5. Get Enough Sleep
It's the rare person who can get by insufficient sleep for more than a few days. So when you set your schedule, make sure you leave enough room for sleep. In the long run, you will work more efficiently if you are well rested. If your good intentions fail, though, power napping has been shown to erase the deficit created by a lack of sleep.
6. Eat a Diet Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed oil, benefit your body in many ways, including lowering triglyceride levels and fighting depression. The use of fish oil supplements to help repair neural damage after head injuries suggests that the anti-inflammatory property of omega-3 improves mental function; some studies even suggest that it can prevent diseases like Alzheimer's. When your brain has to work overtime, eating lots of omega-3 fatty acids may help to ease mental strain.
7. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
When done correctly, meditation is a powerful means of both stress reduction and mental focus. Its goal is to allow you to look at life's events from a perspective of detachment, separating the event from a person's reaction to it. Regular meditation gives you a built-in tool for moderating those negative emotional states that stand in the way of efficiency and productivity.
8. Know Your Limitations
Most online MBA programs allow for flexibility in the length of time it will take you to complete the program. You can pace yourself by taking one eight-week-long session at a time, which allows students to concentrate fully on one subject and may be the best option for those juggling family responsibilities and a career in addition to their coursework.
9. Learn to Delegate
It's one of the most important entrepreneurial skills, after all, and when you are pursuing a business education, you might as well start thinking like an executive. It may be time to hire someone to mow your lawn or clean your house a couple times a month, freeing you the time to devote to your education.
10. Enlist Support
Going back to school to get a business education will translate into a better life for you and your family. Before you get started, it's essential to make sure that everyone in your life is on board. Call a family meeting or have a serious discussion at the dinner table. Be clear what you expect in terms of shared sacrifices and responsibilities. It can be hard to reach out and ask for help, but you will find that things go more smoothly when your family is working together toward a common goal.
When you are already working in a competitive field like business and decide to go back to school for an MBA degree, you are thinking about the long-term rewards. But in the short-term, you might be setting yourself up for stress unless you make a concerted plan to find the right balance. These tips should help you find that balance by making time for self-care and family life, the two things that will support you during this transition.