Location and time are the two biggest limitations working professionals face upon trying to advance their education. Availability to coordinate and meet becomes a major issue, especially for the student trying to juggle school, work and family life. Online education alleviates those issues by providing flexibility, something that’s critical to balancing the different phases of life.
However, with flexibility comes the need for students to be motivated and take ownership of their academic experience. While the online learning environment, instructors, student services representatives and student resources at Florida Tech are all created to support academic success, the time and effort required still falls squarely on the student’s shoulders. As graduate Glenn Nelson puts it,
“Any student who wants to embark on this journey should make sure they are disciplined. The mind has to be strong enough to think clearly and express itself coherently at the highest level regardless of what is going on in your everyday life.”
One way to prevent becoming overwhelmed is to stay organized. Here are some strategies students can use to stay organized and be successful in their online program.
Create a Master Calendar
Florida Tech instructor Jarin Eisenberg suggests that students create a master calendar to keep track of all tasks and responsibilities:
“One tip is to create a master schedule for the next two months then build artificial deadlines for your school work. For example, if you know you have a research paper due in Week 4, set the deadline for the assignment in Week 3 of your master calendar.
This approach will prompt you to get an early start, which will not only build in some extra days in the event an emergency arises, but will also give you time to reflect on the content and quality of your work.
Establishing a master calendar for the term will also allow you to honestly assess your limitations. You will have to say no to people and you can’t be afraid to do so. Sorting out your priorities and restructuring your life to accommodate your coursework is necessary.”
Whether this calendar is printed or digital depends on what works best for you. Keeping a calendar with all of your obligations on it – school, work, family and social – helps ensure that you have time to complete everything and creates a picture of each week as you go into it.
Have a Routine
A plan is only good if you stick to it. Having a routine can help you stay organized and make your schedule feel less hectic. Graduate Dan Pino says, “It’s very important to get into a good study habit and work on your assignments in the order that they are due. Get into a routine early, and don’t break that routine. Before long, it becomes second nature. This makes life much easier.”
MBA graduate Jody Thrash says that often means creating a schedule that works for you: “You need to find a schedule that works for you – for me, it was getting the majority of my work done during the week at night – and stick to that schedule.”
Whether your routine revolves around work, family, or both, adding your schoolwork into that routine is crucial for staying organized.
But Keep it Flexible
However, having a rigid schedule and routine can be more harmful than helpful when the unexpected happens – your child gets sick, you have a big project at work, etc. Providing some flexibility in your schedule often means creating target dates to get assignments done that are earlier than the actual due date. You can do this by leveraging downtime. Thrash says, “If you know when you have time to spare for some downtime, you won’t feel so overwhelmed when things are due.”
Working ahead and finishing course assignments and exams early can free up your schedule for other things. Grad Amanda Knittweiss says, “The key to success is really strategic scheduling. Not allowing all the work that needs to be done overwhelm you, but give yourself some flexibility throughout the week, break things up into small pieces, and just work every day on achieving just a little something.”
Whether it’s finishing up a discussion board post at your child’s dance practice or waking up a little earlier to get started on a paper, finding the little moments to make progress on your assignments can really add up. Even for larger projects, breaking them up into smaller objectives can help you take advantage of pockets of downtime, instead of thinking you need three hours of free time to do homework.
When in doubt, ask the instructor for help. Doing this will keep you connected and engaged as the course progresses. Florida Tech Instructor Tim Muth advises that students get to know their professor: “Don’t hide in the shadows. I think in every class there’s always like five or six students who stand out just because they’ve written to you a couple times. You start to get to know them because they’re corresponding with you, and other students are really good students but you don’t hear too much on a personal basis from them. So, email your professor – make up the question or whatever – just to try to establish that relationship.”
Staying organized helps you make sure you are asking the instructor for help before the night the assignment is due. This also applies to any questions you have for your student services representative. “Always utilize the student reps, as they are the forefront of one’s success due to their contact with so many students and feedback received from students. Never hesitate to state a problem at its earliest inception to the professor and/or student rep. Always log into your class just in case the professor has made changes to the assignment,” says Chrystal Young, another graduate.
Set Aside Time For Yourself
Work, family, social obligations – upon adding “school” to that list, sometimes it feels like life never shuts off. That’s why it’s also vital to set aside time for yourself in your schedule. Eisenberg says, “Being on the computer all day at work and then going online to do your assignments – not to mention the time spent on social media sites – can quickly become overwhelming. Set aside specific times to power down. Use the time, instead, to connect with your family, get some fresh air or exercise.
This valuable time away will help you feel refreshed when you go back to your coursework. It will also help you regain your focus.”
Setting time aside for yourself could mean going for a walk when you get home from work before sitting down to do homework. Or, taking the time to meditate in the morning before the rest of the family gets up. Whatever “me-time” you can find will help you de-stress and re-focus on the tasks at hand.