Lucy Cape Sampson, learning partner at Let’s Talk Talent, appreciates the difficult situation in which working students find themselves.
‘Anyone doing a job and studying for professional accountancy exams at the same time is balancing two critical elements of time management – the fulfilment of longer-term goals and ambitions alongside day-to-day time management and delivery challenges and commitments,’ she says. ‘For success in life we need to spend time building skills in both of these areas – so, first of all, give yourself a quick pat on the back for the fact you are making efforts in both areas.’
Time management is all about forward planning, says Emily Coltman, chief accountant at FreeAgent Central: ‘Plan as far ahead as possible. If you’re a long distance runner, you’ll know good preparation enables you to tackle your goal. Take one mile at a time, rather than just thinking “I have to run 10 miles”.
‘It’s the same with accounting. You’ll find you utilise your time much better – and feel less stressed – if you plan ahead and break down your workload from the start.’
‘Remember to keep your schedule real and alive by regularly reviewing it. Life happens, and you may need to adjust your work and study schedule to accommodate changes, but that’s fine’
When it comes to making a plan, don’t just list what you need to do, but schedule your time.
‘You need to decide how and when will you do everything you need to today, this week, this month, and so on,’ says Cape Sampson. ‘And remember to keep your schedule real and alive by regularly reviewing it. Life happens, and you may need to adjust your work and study schedule to accommodate changes, but that’s fine.’
As Cape Sampson explains, making a clear plan forces you to confront how time is limited and ensures that you make sufficient time for your priorities – which, as a minimum, will include work commitments and study commitments.
Treat it as a marathon, not a sprint
‘You might also need to consider what you can stop doing,’ she adds. ‘At the moment are there things that are not a priority, which you can stop doing to make more time for study and work? Be realistic – remember this is a short-term pain for a longer-term gain – but for sanity’s sake, save time for sleep, exercise, to get some fresh air and try to eat well. If this is a marathon, don’t treat it as a sprint.’
If you are indeed studying while holding down a full-time job, try and find time to get away from the hustle and bustle of other people who are not also working.
‘Libraries are lovely – if yours is currently open – or, if you must, shut yourself in your car when the worse comes to the worst,’ suggests Coltman. ‘Whatever happens, make sure you have a quiet space so that, when you have allocated time for study, you are able to give it your full attention.’
Finally, Cape Sampson’s advocates finding out exactly when you’re at your most productive and acting on it.
‘We all have a time of the day when we are most effective and productive. Work out when that is for you and check to make sure you are making good use of that time,’ she says.
Cape Sampson suggests auditing your last week by dividing each day into four parts – for example, 7–10am; 10am–2pm; 2–5pm; 5–8pm. Then rate each day one to four by what was the most to least productive period of the day.
‘Use this knowledge to zone your day, so that you can focus on different priorities at different times of the day,’ she says.