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8 time management tips to help busy adults go back to school

By Brian Fairbanks

At a glance

  • Online colleges can make time management while attending college easier for busy adults by attending class on their schedule, day or night.
  • Transfer credits, prior learning assessment and financial aid options can help shorten the time and cost of a degree.
  • Fitting classes around life can help to alleviate the stress of juggling school with life’s other responsibilities.
  • University of Phoenix offers flexible start dates and the ability to take one class at a time.

For some people, it can be hard to know how to prioritize the responsibilities that compete for their time. Many working adults hold full-time jobs, spend weekends catching up around the house and may want or need to spend time with extended family or friends when they’re not working. And before any of this, they must attend to their child’s needs.

For example, parents may work all day before picking up their child from school. After that, comes homework, dinner and bedtime. Factor in a few more kids, bills, emails and the dozens of other things normal people take care of every day, and it’s easy to see how it can become overwhelming, even without adding classes into the mix. In these instances a traditional, on-campus and semester program may not work for their needs.

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As notes: “When you say ‘yes’ to one activity, you are saying ‘no’ to something else, because you can’t do it all. If you say ‘yes’ to that new book club, you may be saying ‘no’ to family dinners. …. If your priority is to have family dinners together consistently, then the book club may not align with your values.”

You must ask yourself: What are my priorities? What are my long-term goals? If one of these is going back to school for a degree, that’s obviously a long-term goal that may need to be prioritized over short-term needs or wants.

Time management, of course, will help tremendously when you are in college, regardless of what your outside responsibilities are, especially if you are taking several courses at a time. Being able to successfully carve out time for classes, studying and coursework and then sticking to that plan will be a lot more doable with some solid time-management skills under your belt.

Finding the balance: Family, school and work

When it comes to finding the right balance between work, life and education, adult students face uniquely different challenges than many of their traditional, often younger, counterparts. For this demographic, attending a physical campus for classes at set days and times, even at night after work, may be a challenge. Outside of work obligations, they may have a family or older parents to care for, as well as their own life to live.

While it may seem impossible to juggle all these responsibilities at once, an online education can help make it possible. Fitting classes, homework and learning into available times throughout the day — like lunch breaks during work or children’s soccer practices — can help create a better balance. Let’s look at some of the ways working adult students can better balance work, life and school and how an online education can help.

One of the best ways to create more time for yourself when attending college is to learn online. Online universities give you more time and money to enjoy your life while you’re going to school.

Time management tips for working adults

So, where do you start? Here are a few tips to consider:

1.    Schedule at least one or two days a week for studying. Especially during the school year, plan for at least one or two days when you and your kids have fewer activities to accommodate. This includes pick-up and drop-off duties.

2.    Share some responsibilities. Enlisting the help of your kids around the house teaches them life skills (like how to clean a bathroom or wash the dishes). They can also learn the importance of teamwork.

3.    Set a stopwatch/timer every time you study or do schoolwork. A literal reminder that time is ticking away can help you stay focused on immediate, important tasks such as completing an essay or tackling some math problems in a textbook.

4.    Try to kill two birds with one stone. That means find ways to multitask. If you’re cooking, listen to a course lecture. When you’re getting some light exercise, listen to notes you’ve recorded for yourself. This also may be a good strategy for reviewing some material before an exam.

5.    Download a time-tracking app. Just as it is important to make the most of your time. It can be helpful to identify the ways you may be wasting it too. Smartphone or desktop apps can tell you how much time you spend, say, browsing the internet or watching videos. (Other apps can be directed to temporarily block those URLs if you think you’ll be too tempted to slack off.) If you spend hours each day on something that isn’t important, having the app tell you how much time you waste on it can help you prioritize.

6.    Set a time limit for all activities except important ones like studying or completing urgent coursework. In fact, for college coursework, you should try as often as possible to clear your schedule for two to several hours at a stretch. Make sure you have plenty of time and you’re not feeling pressured to rush. Remember that in college, quality is key, so take your time with each assignment and task.

7.    Make the most of unexpected time. Go through your list of priorities and tackle as many as possible. You may be tempted to slack off, but there’s rarely such a thing as a social media post you need to see urgently.

8.    Rest. Get plenty of sleep, drink plain water and cut down on caffeine. When you feel your best, you can do your best.

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Sources of stress for students

Everyone faces stress in their life and, while school itself may be one of them, figuring out how to make time to earn an education shouldn’t be. For some college students, the toughest part about school isn’t the exams or papers but finding time to commit to their degree program. This can become even more challenging when work and family responsibilities are thrown into the mix.

Working adults have a plethora of responsibilities to manage on any given day. Below, we’ve listed some common stressors. Perhaps you are experiencing some of these. Or, if you’re thinking about going back to school, there may be some here you didn’t think about but should be aware of. While it is normal for these stressors to occur, they can be overcome with the proper preparation and support.

  • Financial concerns around paying for school and life expenses
  • Commitments to spouses, children and extended family
  • Work obligations, which can range from overtime (and less time for school and family) to finding enough time to network or finish a big project
  • Homework and studying (that you’ll have enough time to focus on both)
  • Tests, papers and end-of-class deadlines that cause worry about doing your best on outstanding assignments; whether you’ve learned enough or even about whether you’ll pass a class
  • Student life, such as group projects, homework and assigned reading
  • Physical and mental health, including general stress (which is reported by more than three-quarters of students)

Learning how to manage stressful situations

Always remember that your well-being comes first. Feeling stressed is part of life, but practicing self-care can help mitigate those feelings. Self-care can come in the form of managing your workload, seeking help or taking some well-deserved “me time.”

As a student, it’s important that you don’t overcommit yourself. Often, there’s a minimum number of credits, classes or hours a student must take to remain in school. Consider your responsibilities and obligations and plan accordingly. Think about the free time you have throughout the week to commit to school and then determine your academic plan.

If you do become stressed, you can help manage it by focusing on the things that make you feel relaxed and happy, whether that’s exercise, socializing or just watching TV. Make time for those things each day or every few days to recharge yourself. If you find that you’re often overwhelmed, you may want to consider professional counseling. Counselors can identify the causes of anxiety and help students learn how to process those triggers and move forward in a healthy, sustainable way.

Professional counselors can also help students learn to identify and express their concerns in productive ways, which in turn helps refine their communication skills. This can also help prevent new problems from developing.

For example, introverted people may keep concerns to themselves instead of going to a professor and asking for clarification on a class lecture, test result or other issue. However, keeping concerns bottled up can add stress to the higher education experience. Learning how to address a concern like this can make a big difference to the student experience.

Managing priorities and being productive

Another way to avoid creating undue stress is to plot out your week or month well in advance. Having blocks of time dedicated to certain tasks planned out can train your brain to focus on the activity at hand. For example, you might devote time during your lunch break to homework and studying, take a break in the evening for dinner, family time or self-care, and read any outstanding lessons or materials after the kids have gone to bed or your work and other responsibilities are finished and you’ve had time to unwind.

6 techniques to reduce stress

Sleep is vital for physical and emotional well-being, and it can also play an important role in reducing stress. Studies have confirmed that getting less than seven hours of sleep each night can create a domino effect of health problems, and improving the quality of your sleep by avoiding caffeine and screens ahead of bedtime is almost as important as how many hours you log.

In stressful moments, you may want to try simply taking deep breaths or meditating.

Looking for more ways to reduce stress? suggests trying one or more of the following:

  • Lighting candles
  • Going for a brisk walk (or getting other invigorating exercise)
  • Cutting down on coffee and other caffeinated beverages
  • Taking omega-3 supplements to reduce anxiety
  • Watching funny YouTube videos (avoid news clips)
  • Avoiding procrastination and saving any “rewards” for after you’ve completed your studying or work

It’s also worth noting that some problems require diagnosis and treatment by a medical provider. If you think you may have a more serious physical or mental health issue than general stress, contact your healthcare provider for guidance.

Going to school at University of Phoenix

Eager to find academic success? Whether you’re ready to find the right program for you or are just starting to explore admissions requirements, University of Phoenix has resources to help you take that first and critical step toward going back to school. UOPX offers online classes, 24/7/365 class availability, multiple start dates, one-class-at-a-time schedules. Online learning is perfect for college students whose weekly schedule needs more flexibility and requires the ability to address school work at any time.

If you’re considering going back to school and obtaining a college degree or certificate, talk to an enrollment representative or see what student resources are available. If you’re still worried about time management and other obligations, talk to an academic counselor. At University of Phoenix, experts are available to guide you through the admissions process five days a week. Additionally, they can provide advice on studying, time management and career services so that you make the most of the time you do have.

Some schools offer resources for new applicants (meaning they can help potential students before they attend their first class). They may also offer ongoing academic, professional and personal guidance throughout a student’s academic career.

No matter what stressors you’re facing, there are ways to manage them. There are also people and resources to help you get there. The important thing is to focus on your goals and work toward achieving them!


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