How can you make the most of extra time during a break, with extra public holidays, or when work is somewhat quieter than usual?
The last two or so years consolidate a challenging and hectic period for most of us due to the complexities of Covid-19. This is even more so for someone who has been (or still is) juggling studies in tandem with full-time or part-time work. A question that then crosses the mind is: how can you make the most of extra time during a break, with extra public holidays, or when work is somewhat quieter than usual?
Rest, Recharge and Re-connect
We now live and work in an environment where we need to constantly improve and often stay in contact 24/7. And yet, while it may sound counter-intuitive, disconnecting from your studies and work is critical for productivity. Rest and adequate sleep fuels problem solving and creativity, and enables productive re-engagement. If you are not taking leave, look at your calendar for 2022 and plan a weekend away (and/or a holiday). Put the arrangements in place and stick to your plan. Rest and recharging might also take the form of self-care and exercise. With less rush, the caffeine can be down-scaled – and walks or other forms of exercising can be easier to do in a less rushed manner. Playing games with friends and family, or swimming with kids can be recharging, both physically and mentally. Spending some time outdoors, perhaps appreciating nature, has numerous benefits. The natural world with its beauty can feed the soul and inspire. Reassuringly, doing activities you enjoy, especially with loved ones, has been shown to improve long-term productivity. Furthermore, reconnecting with loved ones and friends improves your social support networks and resilience when things get tougher during your work/studies.
Learning is a verb. It, therefore, requires reflection, deliberate intention, and action. In his seminal book, The Seven Habits, Stephen Covey included the habit of “sharpening the saw” where he describes a woodcutter preparing to cut down a tree and regularly stopping to check if the axe is sharp. While many have referred to this as both taking care of your tools and your ability to “cut down trees”, this has also included the deliberate practice of getting better at what you do, what you know and keeping up with a dynamic context. In your studies, this can be implemented through reflection and deliberate action. Take an hour or two and think over your studies and their interaction with your life in the year. Can you identify what’s working for you? Can you identify your challenges? Would you be able to do more if you could type or read faster? Would you be less stressed if you spent time learning how to use Office 365 better? What in your toolset is dull or needs sharpening? Do you need to renegotiate strategies and time allocation with work or family? Reflection is part of the Kolb learning cycle and tends to precede useful changes in direction or new action. Reflection is very much an education process – about your learning and developing skills related to meta-cognition and meta-learning.
Regain lost ground, if needed
When you commit to a qualification, over time it can become easier to plan the time to show up for lectures or tutorials, to do the required reading and any other related learning activities. Deadlines and schedules can help a person focus and prioritise, whether they are work or study-oriented. However, the reality is that we all fall behind at some point, especially as adult learners where there is juggling with work or family commitments, and when the unexpected happens. I once came across a proverb, which suggested that if you keep your eye on where you stumbled, you’ll never reach your destination1. Perhaps you made a mistake, failed at something, scrapped through, or need to redo something to move forward – do it, with your goal in mind. If you have missed an assignment, were not able to complete some pertinent readings or need to do some research towards your research report, you can address this in any extra time you have. Plan no more than three to four hours, e.g, either during an afternoon or a morning in a week. Limited time helps you balance multiple responsibilities and may allow you to go to a study or coffee shop without disrupting family or preventing meeting other commitments. Ironically, having limited time may increase focus and productivity on a fixed task. After all, doing something instead of nothing will reduce anxiety and guilt.
Lastly, take all the lessons learned and re-strategise for a better 2022 in the remainder of the year ahead. Perhaps you can meet the same output, but work smarter and healthier. In addition, choose to work in ways that improve relationships. Whatever emerges, plan your work and work your plan… Adapt should the need arise. Learning can help you achieve the goals of your life and improve the quality of your life. Thinking about your learning, planning to learn, setting goals, showing up to learn, and improving your capacity to learn will enable you to move forward to your qualification goal, steadily so and more smartly. Make the best of your time by including recharging, refreshment, and reconnection.
(Disclaimer: If you are in Retail, Logistics or other industries that step up in “off-seasons”, adjust this advice to another time of year.)