7 Top Tips To Balance Study with Work

Keeping a work life balance while you study is crucial.

Charity Fast-Track exists to make better change makers, and part of that is promoting a mindset amongst our community that will enable happy, focused learners. The habits that will help people study are the same ones that social sector employers want from their staff teams: solving the world’s biggest challenges requires professional people with a clear approach. With that in mind, here are some top tips from the team at Charity Fast-Track on how to balance study with work and make your learning goals a reality.

Child.org CEO Thomas Muirhead speaks at our Bootcamp.

1) Actually set some goals

Whilst this might seem like a blindingly obvious place to start, it’s also one people take for granted. When we meet a learner with clear goals it is usually the best predictor of success. A good goal will be be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based (SMART). For instance:

“I’m looking to shift careers from teaching into the charity sector by the end of this year, so that I can address some of the issues I’ve seen impact the lives of children”

“The next 12 weeks of study will enable me to better understand what charities need. I’ll use that to develop a corporate social responsibility strategy for my company”

“My charity needs to support donors and volunteers more effectively. By learning from experts and peers across my sector, I can bring the best of what others do into my own practice. My manager and I can plan ways to implement this at my next work review”

Ultimately, only achieve the impact you’re looking to create by actually stating some goals.

Heather worked to a plan, and now Mentors others to follow her own career transition

2) Develop a plan to meet those goals

“A goal without a plan is just a wish”.

Each Foundation course we run includes a free bonus event: Bootcamp – a chance for our learners to come together and learn from one another, as well as hear from sector experts. Our Course Coordinator (also a qualified careers coach) Coraline Pawlak runs sessions for our learners on developing their goals.

“Developing your career won’t always run smoothly. If you’re serious about making progress it helps to have realistic plans that you can break down into smaller chunks. When you encounter obstacles or self-doubt, return to the clear pathway you developed and give yourself credit for how far you’ve already come. It can be a really powerful motivator.”

Cora Pawlak, Charity Fast-Track Course Coordinator

Remember, it’s ok if plans need to change, so long as you maintain some element of decision-making in that. A great way to support that? Boundaries.

3) Set clear boundaries

Sometimes life gets in the way. Carving out protected time when you can learn without interruption, in a space where you can focus best, will protect the investment you’re making in your own development.

When we design courses at Charity Fast-Track we set clear boundaries so that learners can decide where study fits within their life:

  • our Foundation course lasts for 12 weeks
  • the course can be completed 100% online
  • you unlock content as you go, so the journey is manageable and makes total sense
  • we include guidelines on how long each task should take to complete so you can box off that time
  • there are clear deadlines, but we keep the assessment load light
  • For our Foundation course we recommend studying for around 4 hours per week, with a minimum of 2 hours.

We also open our learning platform up 4 weeks before the start of our Foundation programme so that those expectations can be fully understood.

What boundaries will you need to set in order to make the most of your investment in yourself? And who needs to be on board with that? What other clear do’s and don’ts will you need to balance study with work?

4) Respect and value your own efforts

Let’s be clear: investing in your own learning takes courage and is something to be proud of, especially if it’s something you haven’t done for a while. The story you tell yourself (and others) about your development is vital to your ability to make progress; having a work life balance while you study is so much easier when the narrative in your own mind is a rewarding one.

“Change makers whose stories include how important their learning is to them tend to be compelling people to work with – other people become excited by their efforts and want to learn themselves. Part of why we founded Utopy was to flood the sector with people advocating for better ways of working.”

Emma Whelan, Co-Founder, Utopy

The charity sector operates on people’s ability to tell great stories about the work they do: campaigners, funding applicants, donor supporter, and partnership brokers all depend on this skill set. Building trust and collaborations with the communities charities serve is vital too. If those are roles you want to fulfil in your career then you can start practising by telling your own story with confidence, including the role training pays in that. The more you practice, the easier it gets.

5) Connect with others

Growing your career can feel really isolating, especially as you transition into another sector, or add responsibility. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Identifying people to share that journey with you (and remind you of your value when things feel challenging) will help you stick to your goals and identify new opportunities. The charity sector is full of great networking events, as well as resources such as Charity Connect, so take your goal, your plan, your stories, and tell the world: who knows what partnerships it will bring?

Many of our Charity Fast-Track graduates return to us as mentors to support future learners too; whether it’s supporting with practical tasks like the Foundation course’s fundraising challenge, or sharing stories from their own career, this reflects the mentality of the sector we want to see: collaborative, rather than competitive.

6) Give feedback

A key topic that Charity Fast-Track’s How Charities Deliver Impact is Coproduction: the idea that in order to be most effective, social sector organisations need to work with their communities, not deliver to them. We’ve all experienced services where we felt listened to and empowered; that’s a standard we want all Charity Fast-Trackers to take into their careers.

That’s why we’ve made improvements over the years to make our courses relevant, contemporary and affordable.

But feedback is about more than just suggesting improvements, it’s about managing the stakeholders you encounter when your workload is challenging – that includes training providers like Charity Fast-Track. We ask our learners to be direct, solution-focused, and not hide away from problems because those are the behaviours our sector needs. A great example might look like this:

“Hi, I’m letting you know that I have 2 job interviews coming up in the next fortnight that I need to prepare for. It’s really exciting, but means I may be less active on the learning platform. I’m arranging a catch-up session with [fellow course member] in case I feel like I missed anything.”

Anon, Charity Fast-Track 2019

Remember: people generally want to help where they can. That’s why our last point is so vital:

7) Celebrate the wins

A big part of celebration is that it builds own resilience; if you want to to keep a work life balance while you study you need to reward yourself when goals are met. That way, you’ll be more excited about the next goals you set

If you work for a charity then chances are you’ll encounter some pretty big challenges. It might be working with communities in real need of help, campaigning for change, or (as is so often the case) you might be operating with far fewer resources than you need. The pay-off in charity jobs is that, when you achieve your goals, you generally get to celebrate something far more meaningful than simply making someone else rich. In our How Charities Communicate module we study why a culture of celebration is so important to helping create social impact.

Besides, by the time you’ve met your goals, you may have some people to thank.

Our next Foundation course begins soon. Find out more and start your learning journey.