How Do You Manage Your Time When Studying an Online Master’s Degree?

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We surveyed our newsletter subscribers and scholarship entrants about what the hardest information to find when preparing to take an online university course was. One of the top themes was time management and how much time was required each week when studying online.

Based on this feedback we asked our first Scholarship winner, Anna C, how she manages to fit studying for her MSc Psychology Conversion from Glasgow university into her schedule.

Anna is now halfway through her course and we hope you find her insights and experience useful.

Real world experience of studying Online and working full -time

How do you typically manage your time to balance your part-time master’s degree with your work and personal commitments?

I work alongside my studies so lunch times and evenings are dedicated to studying as well as my weekends. Having a job forces me to be organised as I don’t have a lot of time to waste! I have also adjusted my social schedule – what was once a night out with friends is now a brunch or a coffee on the weekend, meaning I still get to spend quality time outside of work and studying, but with less impact to my schedule.<

Can you share any specific time management strategies or techniques that have been particularly effective for you in maintaining a study-work-life balance?

I’ve found the Pomodoro technique useful as it prompts you to take short breaks. I also find calling a friend or family member for a quick catch up a great way to spend a break from studying as it enables you to step away from your tasks whilst maintaining a social life.

What challenges have you encountered when trying to fit your studies into your schedule, and how have you overcome them?

Despite trying my best to remain organised, life can get in the way, but I remind myself that I’m not alone in this! Health and family emergencies have on occasion, thrown my schedule out the window but this is where it’s helpful to keep in touch with the university and my peers. My advice would be to let your university know if something external has impacted your studies so that they can offer support to get back on track. Talking to other students is helpful too, the nature of a part-time course means that most people are juggling other commitments alongside studying and it can be really reassuring to share experiences and support each other.

Are there specific tools or apps that you find helpful for staying organised and managing your time effectively?

I’m a big user of lists. I find it really satisfying crossing things off and looking back on what I have achieved. Keeping my diary on my phone also helps as it gives me reminders throughout the day of what I need to be doing, instead of trying to keep everything in my head and forgetting something. Also, during assessment periods, I like to print out a calendar and fill in and highlight assessment dates. Crossing off the days is really satisfying as well as giving a visual representation of the time available.

On average, how many hours a week do you spend on the course? How much does the amount of time you study vary each week?

This can vary depending on whether I have a deadline, but I tend to aim for around 20 hours a week of studying.

Have you established a routine or schedule for your study sessions? If so, could you describe it and explain how it helps you?

If I’m planning on spending a day studying, I find it helpful to set up my desk with the materials I need the night before, this saves me scrambling around and losing time the next morning. I’ll make myself a healthy breakfast (it seems evident, but it really helps with concentration) and then make I’ll make a to do list, breaking my study into chunks for the day and pencilling in breaks. At some point I will force myself to get out of the house to go to the gym or for a walk as this really clears my head and then pick things back up again. I learnt quite early on in the course that working late into the evening can really impact my sleep (and the quality of my work), so I try and make sure I’m away from my screen at a reasonable hour.

Can you share any experiences where you’ve had to adapt your time management approach to handle unexpected challenges or increased workloads?

I suffer from endometriosis so it can definitely be a challenge managing study and unpredictable bouts of illness. Speaking to your course lead or advisor and gaining access to support is really important and they can offer you advice on how to get back on track. It has certainly been helpful for me.

How do you maintain your motivation and focus when juggling various responsibilities and the demands of your master’s program?

Keeping in touch with other students is a great way to boost each other and offer support. Also, allowing yourself a reward of some sort, even if it’s just your favourite meal or whatever treats your like with each small success is a great way to stay motivated and proud of your accomplishments! I try to plan something nice to do with family or friends after a deadline, so I have something to look forward to.

Have you found any particular time management mistakes or lessons learned that you’d like to share with others considering a similar path?

I began the course by trying to do as much studying as I could for as long as I could. This led to late nights, and lost time the next day feeling exhausted, whilst other commitments built up around me. I learnt that breaks are productive and saw an improvement in my work and mood as soon as I learnt that I need to break things down into chunks rather than diving into studying head-first. This can initially feel counterproductive when you’re anxious about a deadline, but the end result soon proved me wrong!

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