Finding the time: How to do a master’s when your life is already full

Kirsty Palmer - MSc SCL AlumnaMSc Strategy, Change and Leadership graduate Kirsty Palmer shares her top 3 tactics for finding the time to study for a master’s alongside a busy job and lifestyle.

Having started my adult working life as a Graduate Trainee with the John Lewis Partnership, and then been fortunate to work for organisations where opportunities for professional development were not only available, but valued and recognised, I started to find myself questioning the point of attending any more workshops on the latest fad in leadership development. But I was still keen to learn. I wanted to find something that would both scratch the itch for learning, and give me something useful and practical that I could apply to the real-life challenges in my day job.

After casting around for a bit, I landed on the MSc in Strategy, Change and Leadership. Here was something that was properly academic, with an intriguing mix of topics, and designed to be as much about learning from other students as from lecturers. Surely a no-brainer? But hang on, my job is incredibly busy, and getting busier, I’m involved heavily in my local parkrun, and as a Trustee for a Wales-wide charity, and I’ve got a home and marriage to keep healthy. Where on earth would I find the time? Having decided to commit, I settled on three tactics.

Find your productivity window and working style

I worked out when I’m at my best (before lunch) and how I learn best (in quite long, focussed sessions) so I negotiated study days with both work and husband that matched those patterns. And then I stuck to them. During the dissertation this meant six months of 6am Saturday starts, but it was worth it. You might be better in the evenings, or in short, focussed bursts. Whatever: set aside that time and protect it fiercely.

Make the most of the time you have

I accepted that sometimes I couldn’t give as much time to an assignment as I wanted. That’s hard, especially when you want it to be perfect. But it helped me make the most of the time I had. What can I accomplish with these hours, rather than wasting some of them wishing I had more, proved to be a successful approach.

Set personal targets and goals

Lastly, I was a ruthless planner. Having identified my timeslots, I set myself targets for what should be achieved in that time – a number of words to be written, or journal articles to be read and digested. This really helped me feel like I was making progress, even on the hard days. It might sound too rigid for you, but find something that helps you feel like you’re getting somewhere.

So, yes, it can be done, even with a stressful job and a full life. No, it won’t always go to plan, but you already know how to adapt to the left-field issue that threatens to gobble your time – that’s what leaders do all the time. If you can find your own tactics, then there’s no question that you can do it too.

Kirsty Palmer, MSc Strategy, Change and Leadership graduate.

Find out more about the programme: MSc Strategy, Change and Leadership. Sign up to our online open event on 17th May 6 – 7 pm.