Juggling life and career can be challenging — and can become even more so for adults returning to school.

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Juggling life and career can be challenging — and can become even more so for adults returning to school. Here are time-management and productivity tips from post-undergrads (including certificate holders and graduate students) about higher-ed life.

Lina Hodkinson

Lina Hodkinson
Lina Hodkinson

Program: Master of Arts in Teaching degree (elementary education)

School: Seattle Pacific University’s Alternative Routes to Certification

As a mom of four, being extremely organized is my number one tip. I created detailed weekly checklists for each of my courses, including adding due dates for every single item, ranging from discussion posts to papers. I used both a paper calendar as well as my iPhone calendar to organize my workload.

My second tip for effective time management is to complete projects or papers in advance of their due dates. By writing papers a week or two before their actual due dates, I was able to edit and revise them prior to turning them in.

My third tip is to maintain a positive attitude. Focus on your long-term goal of why you are in grad school and what you hope to accomplish when you are done.

Travis Salad

Program: Web Development Certificate

School: Seattle University’s School of New and Continuing Studies

One of the most important skills needed when juggling work and school is the ability to separate the two and focus 100 percent of your attention on whichever it is that you’re working on at the time. For me, I kept work at work, and as soon as I got home, it was time to shut that part of my brain down and focus 100 percent on school. The same went for when I was on the job. In order to be successful, I had to completely forget about what I was working on in school, which could be extremely difficult at times when I had deadlines and projects lingering over my head.

I think it’s also important to note that school and work must take priority. Most of my nights and weekends were spent studying and working on projects. While this doesn’t give you much time for a personal life, it’s important to consider what you’re working towards, keep your eye on the prize and realize your time will be better spent when you land your dream job from the new skills that you have gained.

Jill Reddish
Jill Reddish

Jill Reddish

Program: Master of Communication

School: University of Washington

Tell yourself you’ll do just 20 minutes — often you get into a productive flow that lasts longer, but if not, at least you’ve chipped away at your task!

When you have a project on a deadline, don’t forget to look ahead at the time you realistically have available. If you realize you can’t count on a whole weekend of free time to work on something because you made other plans, that can motivate you to start your project a lot sooner in the week.

Just start working. Don’t let a blank page intimidate you. You actually know a lot about what you want to say or do for a project, so just start working until you hit a point where you need to do more research.

Sam O’Hara 

Sam O’Hara
Sam O’Hara

Program: Master of Business Administration

School: Pacific Lutheran University

I’ve found good success sharing my study guide with my classmates when preparing for an exam. The process of making it accurate and easy to understand helps the info sink in a little deeper for me when it’s test time — sometimes even more than studying it does.

As soon as I get the syllabus, I block out the weekend before each exam on the family calendar, so my husband and daughter know I’ll be unavailable during that time.

I had evening classes, so my lunch and dinner break were dedicated to getting the required reading done before the class that evening. I’d make sure to pack meals that were easy to make and eat those days (leftovers were great!), so they didn’t distract from my reading time.

Roxanne Moore 

Roxanne Moore
Roxanne Moore

Program: Applied Educational Research Methods Certificate, Mathematics and Science Education doctoral program

School: Washington State University

In the certificate program, similar to the doctoral program, time management has been critical to my success. The most important thing is to “backwards plan;” that is, start with your end goal in mind. You have to know concretely how, on a daily basis, you will purposefully take actions that drive you toward completing the certificate program. This is crucial because graduate students may find themselves quite busy, taking many actions on a daily basis that may not necessarily be driving them towards that end goal.

Taylor Jacobs 

Taylor Jacobs
Taylor Jacobs

Program: Hotel Real Estate Investments and Asset Management Certificate

School: Cornell University Online

Have perspective. Make sure continuing education is a top priority for yourself. Then it doesn’t take the back seat to other things in life, aka sleeping in. That leads me to my second point: Saturday mornings, 7 a.m., three hours plus coffee. To effectively learn and complete the program, I intentionally reserved the first three hours of my weekend. Focusing on attacking a top priority early and often was key for me to completing the certificate.

Online school isn’t for everyone, but it allowed for a flexible schedule, a key criteria for me as I work in the professional-services industry.

Edwin Obras 

Edwin Obras
Edwin Obras

Program: Master of Public Administration

School: Northeastern University – Seattle

Always be aware of the time of day and how long it takes to complete a project or even mundane tasks. This hypersensitivity to time and space helps puts time-challenged students in a zone and mind-set to be intentional, and assists to get assignments done on time, and still assume the duties of parent, partner, community volunteer and employee.

Rhianna Hruska 

Rhianna Hruska
Rhianna Hruska

Program: Master of Environmental Studies

School: The Evergreen State College

I had to write a thesis within six months, and that required me to set my own deadlines and manage my time so I could graduate by June 2016. I was able to do so by having the confidence in my abilities that I could manage all of my responsibilities at once.
In both my professional positions and my academics, I will often write down the tasks I want to accomplish that day on a Post-it note and check them off one at a time.

I definitely take my life one day at a time. I mark everything into my Google calendar and review what my next day will look like the night before.
It is beneficial for me to break my tasks down by day/week in order to manage the consistent workload.