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I would like some help, I am starting classes in the fall and I am worried that time management will get the best of me. I am a husband and a father, with a house to take care of and I normally work about 50 hours a week. I have managed to automate some of my work, but I am on a project that's scheduled to continue throughout the year which will require attention.

question: What is the best possible way to manage my time to be able to maintain all of my responsibilities and still take on ~9 credits per semester?

Clarification

I plan on cutting back to 40 hours per week, and I will be taking general education classes. I have 0 college credits so I am starting at the bottom.. I'm assuming these will be the easier classes. 9 Credit semester is equivalent to 3 classes.

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    It's great that you're trying to plan ahead, but this is a really broad question. Have you talked to an advisor at the school, or other resources you might have who can help you come up with your own plan?
    – dwizum
    Mar 9, 2020 at 18:13
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    @dwizum It is a somewhat broad question, but I still think that this kind of question is useful to future readers. It's hard to narrow it down too much without making it too localized. Mar 9, 2020 at 18:21
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    I think you have to choose the priority order for yourself. Answers here would probably be better suited to having a plan to implement whatever choice you make. People will have different priorities.
    – dwizum
    Mar 9, 2020 at 18:27
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    @d_hippo In the U.S., most courses are either 3 or 4 credits. Occasionally, you'll see 0 credit hours for a required departmental colloquium or something (I had a few of them). Mar 9, 2020 at 19:00
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    "...I'm assuming these will be the easier classes...." Remember what they say about professors, "Every professor thinks you have nothing better to do than study for that professor's class." Don't underestimate the effort involved in these "easier" classes.
    – B540Glenn
    Mar 9, 2020 at 20:28

5 Answers 5

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I was in this exact situation with 3 kids and a full time job, except I took 6 credits at a time instead of 9. Here were some of my time management techniques:

  • Create a detailed schedule in Google Sheets(or something) with all due dates for every class and every assignment in the semester, so you can quickly look at the following week as see everything that is due and on what day. Offloading this information from your brain will mitigate much anxiety.
  • Keep all active assignments that you are working on open on your computer desktop, so right when you log in, the assignments immediately visible.
  • After work, every night, dedicate 1 hour to sitting in front of your computer with the open assignments, even you don't accomplish much. If you are not productive, review/refine your schedule, do some reading, and stop for the evening. If you are productive, keep going until 2 or 3 AM (depending on your tolerance for sleep deprivation).
  • For each assignment, figure out what the teacher wants, don't assume. Then prioritize and complete what is necessary, and move on to another assignment. Revisit, polish and refine the assignments if time allows.
  • If you have group work, make them stick to a schedule, use a Work Breakdown Structure(WBS) for every assignment (with documented owner and due date for each subtask). If you are in a cohort, find a good group, and stick with them in every class if allowable.

Side note: I recommend using Google Drive or One Drive (and the autosave feature) to synchronize your schoolwork folder to the cloud. This way you can access it from any computer, so if you have a malfunction your work is easily recoverable.

Congrats! I wish you great success!

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    This is all great advice except to skip sleep. Being even an hour or two short on sleep a couple nights a week can make it very difficult for your brain to commit things to long term memory. That's obviously the opposite of what you want when you're learning. Your schedule needs to include enough sleep..
    – Kat
    Mar 10, 2020 at 5:50
  • ... And before you say "that's why I said depending on your tolerance to lack of sleep", almost nobody can escape the effects of not enough sleep (it's a very rare genetic condition). Like drinking, a lack of sleep impedes your judgement, so you just don't realize how poorly you're functioning. I get why you suggest it, sometimes it feels like the only way to have enough hours in the day is to sleep less, but it will harm more than help.
    – Kat
    Mar 10, 2020 at 5:57
  • I know by experience that without enough sleep, everything else falls apart. Do not ever do this to yourself. Sleeping is first priority before anything else. Ideally, you should be sleeping at 11PM or below.
    – reg
    Mar 10, 2020 at 15:10
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The core of some of the existing answers is good:

  1. Make a schedule
  2. Stick to that schedule
  3. Regularly evaluate how your performance (at school, work, and home) compares to your goals
  4. If you're not meeting your goals, return to (1)

A few other things may be helpful:

  • Take courses year-round, including Summer sessions and J-terms (if your school has those), with fewer credits per term
  • Use time estimates for out-of-lecture study expectations (many course syllabi include these), and make good use of the add/drop period each term to adjust your course load
  • Don't deviate from your schedule due to convenience or good luck. If you have 90 minutes scheduled for schoolwork, but have no homework assignments, then use that time to study. Don't give in to the temptation to view it as "free" time, as it's easy to annihilate your discipline that way
  • Keep schedule times distinct. If you block out 90 minutes for studying, consider doing it at a library or café rather than at home, where there may be pressure to blend home-based tasks into your study time
  • Keep a proactive schedule for all work. Don't plan schoolwork for as close to the deadline as you think you can manage, plan it for the earliest completion you think is realistic and then follow through
  • Make use of study groups, review sessions, and professors' office hours. Studying on your own is inescapable, but other people may be able to help you understand course material more quickly and completely in many cases
  • Don't bank on "easier" classes. Not only is that hard to predict (different people have different natural talents for different subjects, some professors are harder than others, required coursework may take up time even if you understand the topics, and many more), but it won't be stable as you pursue your degree. Your degree will almost certainly require some difficult classes which you cannot avoid
  • Look for complementary courses. A class which focuses on expanding certain topics you've already studied, or applying concepts you've studied to real-world issues, can give your already-completed study time more leverage than taking a class on a totally new topic would
  • Be ready to take fewer credits per term, if that's necessary. Burning out is no good, and if completing the degree will require you to take only 6 credits per term over 33% more terms that will work better than imploding and not finishing at all
  • Consider blending your work with your school work, where possible. You'll have to consult with your boss, but if you can apply a new technique you're studying to your day job, you may be able to complete a course project and a work project. Best of all, you may be able to double up that time and complete school work while on the clock without being dishonest

Always remember that you've chosen to embark on a very difficult task. No amount of time-management and schedule preparation will guarantee, or even necessarily realistically offer, an easy path. This will be much harder on you than not taking classes would be, and it's likely that you will at times feel overwhelmed and want to quit.

Bear in mind why you are going for the degree, and remember that the value of completing 99% of your degree is zero (at best-- if you've paid enrollment and tuition fees, your return will be negative).

I didn't have any kids, but I worked full time while also pursuing my graduate degree as a full time student (12-14 credits per term). It was beyond exhausting, and was easily one of the most difficult periods of my life. I ran as tight a schedule as I could manage, but it didn't stop being extremely difficult until I graduated. Time management made it possible, but at no point was it anything other than extremely difficult.

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  • I don't usually ask after this sort of thing, but if downvoters would care to explain their downvotes (or if other users can see elements of this answer which might invite downvotes), I would appreciate hearing about it. I don't see which portions of this answer are unsuitable, and would like to improve it and future answers.
    – Upper_Case
    Mar 10, 2020 at 15:05
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You'll need to create a schedule and realistic expectations, and try your best to stick with them. You're going to be very busy for the next few months, and if you communicate effectively with your spouse, then you can identify and mitigate problems before they become insurmountable.

After getting your syllabus and understanding how heavy the workload is, communicate with your spouse how much time you expect to have to do house work and help with the children. If your workload for the week is heavier than usual, ask your spouse to assist with your household duties. If it is lighter, volunteer to do additional work.

Remember to schedule time to rest in addition to work so you don't get burned out. Burning out lowers the quality of all your work, makes you irritable, and snowballs into further problems down the road. Self-assess regularly to make sure you're feeling alright, you're getting enough rest, and if you're working too long without producing quality work. Taking a short break and coming back to an assignment you're stuck on helps out.

You can potentially communicate with your employer and ask for an altered work schedule or less hours this semester, but that's less likely unless your employer is the one putting you through school.

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    I appreciate your answer. There is a lot of valuable suggestions included and I will definitely try to increase communication with my wife during this next phase of our lives.
    – Justice
    Mar 9, 2020 at 18:28
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    @Justice Going back to school after having children and a full-time job is very tough! Best of luck and don't let the workload bog you down.
    – JRodge01
    Mar 9, 2020 at 18:29
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Some of this will depend on how challenging the classes you're taking are. For general education classes, the workload can be "all over the map" - some of them are very straightforward, but some of them can entail quite a bit of work.

One thing you could do is to try to get the syllabus of the courses you're considering in advance to see how much work it is. You'll probably want to talk to an advisor to go over it with you, though, just to get a sense of how much time it might take you. You could also start by taking on or two courses to see how it goes so that you can get a better sense of how much work it entails. (It can actually be really hard to come up with accurate estimates if you haven't taken a college course yet, especially if the course is in an unfamiliar topic; in that case, you probably won't know enough to know what you don't know yet).

In general, I recommend not taking so many classes if you can avoid it (especially once you get into your major classes). That's close to a full-time courseload along with a full-time job and a family. I've gotten several degrees part time (currently working on my third); from my experience, taking one class at a time is more than enough - if you take several while you're working full-time, that's all you'll be doing.

In order to be able to successfully finish your degree, you need to find a pace that you can actually sustain for several years - otherwise you'll burn out and not finish.

Ultimately, you only have 24 hours in a day. You need to know your limits and make sure that you don't exceed them.

I also suggest trying to schedule out blocks of time to study. Personally, whenever I get an assignment, I typically try to think about "when am I going to do this?" The more specific you can get with this the better - that will help you manage your time better, and it'll also help you not procrastinate. "I'll do this sometime this week" - bad. "I'll do this on Tuesday night right after I put the kids to bed" - good. (There was a study on this recently by Dr. Timothy Pychyl at Carleton University, but I don't have the citation; he refers to this as an "implementation intention" and found that it helps people reduce procrastination, even if they didn't rank particularly high in self-reported procrastination to begin with).

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  • The reason I thought 9 would be good is because I'm scared of burning out either way. 1) take too many classes get stressed and quit. 2) take too few classes and it takes me 10 years to get my bachelors. I thought I could handle 9 but now I'm not sure.
    – Justice
    Mar 9, 2020 at 18:15
  • @Justice See my updated answer. Mar 9, 2020 at 18:58
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    I appreciate your edit. I lot of useful information, I already upvoted or I would again.
    – Justice
    Mar 9, 2020 at 19:05
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Working 50 hours per week and studying part time is almost manageable, but it's not something you can do on your own.

You will need two things:

  • support from your family
  • support from your employer

Your "performance" at home, and your performance at work will drop during the time you'll spend studying. It will be a stressful time for everybody involved with you, including your circle of friends who will probably lose track of you for one or more years.

To succeed, you need to focus and stay fully committed. On top of your 50 hours of work, you need to find another 2-3 hours a day for studying, possible 20 hours per week. In many cases, this will take most of your weekend. The rest of the time should really go for your family.

This model won't work if your employer and your family are not openly supporting you. While divorce is an extreme consequence, compromising your future career in your current workplace is much more likely. So, once again, you need to focus: learn as much as you can, don't just pass exams, because the whole point of studying is getting into new skills and perspectives which can become a stepping stone to advance your career and improve as a human being. If you just pass exams, you will find yourself having suffered a lot for little change other than a certificate.

tl;dr You need 2-3 hours of study per day, until you finish your last course; in many cases this will take over your weekend. The rest of your spare time should go to your family, friends are at risk. You can do this, but only if you first secure support from both your employer and your family.

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