“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice”

Brian Herbert

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Have you chosen to learn, despite having a busy job and/ family? If you are a learner who fits this description, I salute and applaud you.

Despite being proud of yourself for taking such a brave step, have you ever asked yourself, “What was I thinking?”

I know exactly how you feel.

As a lifelong learner, I know how tough it can be to learn as a full-time student with no other responsibilities. I also know how challenging it is to study with a big family and a business.

This was my situation a year ago at the height of the pandemic. As if that wasn’t bad enough, add homeschooling three energetic, young children to the messy mix. There were days when my sanity seemed a distant memory and peace and quiet were fantasies or fairy tales only read about in children’s books, or seen on Disney +. So, if you’re going through it now, never doubt your brilliance and resilience.

To help increase your productivity, decrease your stress, and overcome your overwhelm, here are some effective strategies on how to become a successful learner even if you have a busy job and family. I hope you find something useful that makes your life less nightmarish.

When things get too tough, remember to be proud of your progress. Whether it’s slow or fast, “You are unstoppable!”

“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are willing to learn, no one can stop you.”

Zig Zigler

 

Organisation is essential

Life happens. This is especially true during these dodgy times where the economy is wonky and jobs are unstable. If you have a young family, you know that life happens without warning all the time. Little Joey/Jane could be the picture of health one second, running around, or getting on your last nerve. The next moment, they’re curled up in a ball, bawling their eyes out, and claiming some random body part’s hurting. Next thing you know you’re stuck in A&E for what seems like an eternity.

This is an experience I’m familiar with that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Therefore, it’s always best to be prepared and stay organised so that if the unexpected occurs, you don’t need to instantly activate panic mode or engage in a meltdown sequence.

Thankfully, most courses will give you a breakdown of what’s expected to be completed each week/month. Use this knowledge to strategically stay organised, time manage well, and be as productive as you can, as often as you can, even if it means getting well ahead of the syllabus.

This way, when the unexpected occurs, you don’t have to feel guilty about falling behind. You can be smug and confident that you’re well ahead of the game. Say to yourself, “I’ve got this! “Well done, you genius!”

If you’re into apps, don’t worry.

Here are three awesome organisation/time management apps that are FREE:

  1. myHomework StudentPlanner: This app has a calendar that enables you to track your upcoming exams, assignments, projects, and other significant study stuff. It also has a homework widget, so you can receive reminders with due dates, so you never have to miss a deadline.
  2. Trello: If you like, or hate (but are forced to work with others) group/team work while learning, then Trello’s for you. Trello allows you to organize what you’re working on through boards, which you can then customize either individually, or with a group/team. Additionally, Trello allows you to have separate lists for tasks on your to-do list. This includes, tasks you’re doing now, and tasks you’ve completed.
  3. Evernote: It’s excellent for keeping track of your thoughts and your assignments. Evernote enables you to:
    • WORK ANYWHERE: Keep important info handy by syncing your notes to all your devices.
    • CAPTURE WHAT MATTERS: Add text, images, audio, scans, PDFs, and documents to your notes.
    • YOUR NOTES, YOUR WAY: Express yourself with formatting tools that help you write how you think.
    • FIND THINGS FAST: Get what you need, when you need it. Search gives you results as you type.

BONUS READ: 7 Time Management Strategies Super Successful Students Swear By 

If apps are not your thing, consider something tangible and visual like a massive A1 wall planner. Write down all your essential dates and details for home, work and learning, so you can see it at a glance and never have to worry about clashes or cancellations.

If this sounds too complicated/confusing, consider setting yourself reminders on your phone calendar with important dates and times. This is a simple, effective way to stay organised and it provides you with quick and easy access to everything, with or without internet, wherever you are.

Set realistic goals

As I said before, life happens. So, when it does, and things don’t go as planned, don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t give up and be defeated. Remember what Maya said,

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”

Maya Angelou

To help minimise the risk of things not working out, set yourself realistic goals. If you have a job and/a family, then don’t expect that you’ll be at optimum focus and productivity to learn after working X amount of hours throughout the day and/night.

To get the most out of your learning sessions, try focussing only on what’s relevant when you’re at your most energetic and engaged. Don’t try to learn everything all at once but set yourself realistic chunks of time to learn. The Pomodoro Technique is an ideal way to do this.

The Pomodoro technique involves:

  • Setting a timer to learn for 25 minutes without disruptions or distractions, like your phone.
  • If you are distracted by random thoughts, write them down and move on. Don’t dwell on them and cause them to make you lose focus.
  • Taking a 5-minute break when the 25 minutes are over. During your break, do something like drink some water, get some fresh air, grab a healthy snack, walk around to stretch your legs, or just clear your mind. Try not to reach for your phone. You don’t want a seemingly harmless 5-minute video break on youtube to turn into an hour-long social media session.
  • After your break, do another 25-minute interval. Although 25 minutes may seem like nothing, trust me, every little helps.

However, after you’ve done 25-minute intervals 2-3 times, you’ll have gained momentum and may want to increase the time. This may occur because of Newton’s first law that an object in motion stays in motion.

If this happens, feel free to extend your time to 45 minutes or even an hour. Remember to take 10-15 minute breaks, when you increase your learning time. You deserve it, “You genius!”

Another aspect of setting yourself realistic goals is finding a suitable time to learn despite your daily duties and responsibilities. Perhaps you could wake early in the morning and get an hour or two in before the workday officially starts. Maybe you could sneak in a power nap during the day, or some exercise to recharge your brain cells.

If early or throughout the day is impossible for you, then maybe you could consider some time in the evening. Have a meal, relax a bit, and then tackle your learning. Your long-term memory is more likely to retain what you learn when you’re not exhausted from your job or arbitrating arguments with your kids all day.

If you have a day or two where life is crazy busy, don’t force the issue of learning and don’t feel guilty of procrastinating. Trying to learn when life’s crazy is a pointless exercise that will only leave you frustrated and demotivated. Accept that you’ve got a lot going on and focus on moving forward towards a time when your life is a little less hectic. Preferably a time when you can concentrate on your learning without the distractions of your daily life.

Although you’re amazing, you’re not superhuman. You need some downtime to function fully, or your health and happiness will suffer. So set yourself some realistic goals, focus on what’s important, keep moving forward, and you’ll succeed.

Be creative & flexible

Life is hectic, so it pays to be creative and flexible as a learner while juggling a job and/ a family.

Most times you may not have the luxury of getting time off work just to learn. Unless you’re one of the fortunate few, you’re unlikely to have a babysitter on call, just so you can waltz off to a library/café and learn for hours in peace and quiet. Waltzing off is a dream I’ve had for years. Unfortunately, I believe that I stand a better chance of winning the lottery than living this dream.

If you live in the real world and you don’t have hours and hours just to learn at your disposal, don’t panic.

Here are a few creative and flexible ways you can squeeze in some time to learn.  

  • Use the Pomodoro technique as explained above. The fact that the intervals are short, is advantageous because you can easily slip it into your busy day. For instance, if you’re working, then get in 25 minutes during your lunch break. If you’re at home with your family, get in 25 minutes while older kids watch an educational programme and/ younger kids nap, or play quietly nearby so they may still be supervised. (You don’t want them burning down the house, now do you?)
  • Consider reorganising your schedule to accommodate more time to learn, at least until you pass your exams, complete your course, etc.
  • Do you work out in the early morning when your brain is most energised? Why not learn at this time, and work out later in the day or in the early evenings after work, or after the kids have gone to bed?
  • If you commute to work, try learning while you’re on the bus/train by reading, using flashcards, watching videos with headphones on, etc.

You could also get to work earlier and learn for an hour before having to begin working. If you drive, are you able to listen to audiotapes and learn on the go? If there’s no ready-made audio, why don’t you record yourself reading your notes? You can then listen to them as you commute. This also works if you have a family. Take your recordings with you while you’re out and about doing errands, standing in queues, or just waiting for an appointment at the doctor, dentist, or elsewhere.

 Plan & Prioritise​

Take a moment to think back over your learning life. Have you ever just showed up without any preparation, hoped for the best, and things went exactly how you had hoped? If so, please contact me so I can have you choose the winning lottery numbers, because your luck is phenomenal. Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky. If like me, you’re a mere mortal, then you know that although things may not go exactly to plan, planning reduces the risk of catastrophic events occurrences, like failing miserably, disappointing yourself, and possibly your loved ones.

To reduce this risk, here a few actions you could take.

  • Plan and prioritise what aspect of your learning you’re going to focus on before each session.

Is it going to be reading and taking notes on a specific topic?

Will you complete a quiz/answer questions at the end of a chapter, to improve your memory and subject knowledge?

Are you going to watch specific videos to help clarify a specific area that you find challenging?

Be specific about what you’re going to do and what you want to achieve. Write it down so that your intentions and outcomes are clear to you. Put a reminder on your physical/digital calendar to ensure you can access your plan quickly and easily when ready. Planning what you want to accomplish before you begin minimises the possibility of wasting precious time vacillating and procrastinating under the guise of multi-tasking.

  • Not only should you plan and prioritise WHAT you’re going to learn in each session, but it helps if you plan WHEN each learning session will be.

As a busy learner, look at your lifestyle, and your responsibilities. Think about where you can slip in at least 25-30 minutes consistently throughout your day/night to learn. This may be all you can afford on a regular basis. However, it all adds up if you’re focussed, determined to succeed and consistent.

Consider, could you get in a session just before or just after dinner? How about just before bedtime/early in the morning? I’ve found that waking up 2-3 hours before the kids and hubby wakes is very productive. This may or may not work for you. But whatever does work for you, be intentional and consistent about it and you’ll eventually achieve your learning goals.

  • Don’t plan to the point of suffering from analysis paralysis. Overplanning may swiftly become overwhelming. Planning your learning session may be as simple as making a note on your phone, your wall calendar, or a simple sticky note about 2-4 learning priorities you want to achieve by the end of your session the day/night before your session.

BONUS READ: How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Working

If you’d like more help with your planning, so you can be more organised, productive and manage your time better, then grab this FREE Planner Package. It includes:

  • Advice for learning via distance/remotely,
  • A guide for learning from home and,
  • Done for you planners & timetable templates.
  • Tips and resources you can share with homeschooling parents (in case you are a homeschooler or know any).

Ask for help

If you’ve tried all the above and are still struggling with your learning, perhaps you should admit that although you’re awesome, a little help would be appreciated.

It’s ok to ask for help. After all, even Jesus, the son of God, had 12 disciples to help him out. If God’s son needed assistance, then surely you shouldn’t feel guilty about calling in a few favours.

Some things I got help with when I was working on my dissertation, homeschooling, running a home, a business and a blog include:

  • If your partner/spouse can cook, “HOORAY!” Ask him/her to sort out meals so you can focus on learning. This too reduces time and energy spent elsewhere that could be used for learning.
  • Ask someone else to do the dishes or take care of the kids at bedtime, so that you can concentrate on your learning without disturbances/distractions.
  • Ask someone to babysit and/ clean, so that you have a break and can focus on getting your learning done without worrying about the kids killing each other, or the house becoming infested by vermin.
  • If possible, learn when your kids do. When they’re doing their homework, why don’t you crack open a book or a digital device and learn something also?
  • Get help to prepare meals in bulk. Try cooking enough on the weekend to last for a few days. Freeze portions that will be defrosted and eaten on different days. This reduces a ton of time when it comes to cooking.

If you’ve chosen to learn despite having a busy job and/family, again, I salute you.

Like I said before, as a lifelong learner, I know how tough it can be to learn as a full-time student with no other responsibilities. I also know how challenging it is to study with a big family and a business to look after.

Hopefully, these top tips on How to Be A Successful Learner Even If You Have A Busy Job & Family will help you achieve your learning goals, live a happier, healthier life, and live your dreams. Just remember:

  • Organisation is essential
  • Set realistic goals
  • Be creative & flexible
  • Plan & prioritise
  • Ask for help

Now, Go Be Great!

Which top tip are you hoping to try?

Let me know in the comments below or on social media.