- Take time to read and understand the contents and schedule of your course.
- Discuss your plans and goals with your supervisor, as they may be able to provide practical and financial support.
- Make a plan and stick to it.
- Create a realistic timetable or project plan around key dates and milestones.
- Studying on your own can feel quite isolating, particularly if it is an online course, so find ways to connect with other students and tutors.
- Create a comfortable and practical study space and buddy up with someone for regular discussions.
- Try to keep yourself fit and healthy and in control of your time, so you can get the most out of your studies without becoming unduly stressed.
The role of a practice manager is one of ever-increasing challenges and responsibilities. As a result, some of us feel that we should, or would like to, embark on professional development to support our own learning alongside the growth of the role. External providers set the course schedule and pace, which at times may be overwhelming when attempting to make space for a new pursuit amid an already demanding workload and personal life. Here are a few ideas that can help you to be organised from the outset.
1. Review your course outline as soon as you receive it
Take the time to thoroughly read and understand the contents and schedule of your course. Put key dates and milestones in your diary. This will also allow you to visually ascertain where you may have clashes with work or personal commitments over the duration of the course, enabling you to plan and find a way of accommodating busy periods well ahead of time. Make sure you fully comprehend the course tasks, the expected outcomes and associated assessment criteria against which you will be marked. Display them so they can be absorbed easily and regularly. Ensure that when you begin your reading, research and writing activities, your energy is wholly focused on meeting the tasks, outcomes and assessment criteria, and that you remain on a direct path throughout. Avoid time wasting and distractions.
2. Talk to your supervisor
You should discuss your plans and goals with your supervisor, whether your practice has provided the funding or you have met the cost and organised the continuing professional development (CPD) on your own initiative. After all, you are improving your skills, benefitting your current role and responsibilities and ultimately your practice. Your supervisor may be open to supporting the redistribution of certain aspects of your work and, where possible, rescheduling priorities around your key dates and milestones. Ask if they can provide a regular, ring-fenced period of time each week to allow you to focus on your professional development, ideally off-site to ensure that you can study with minimal interruption.
3. Make a plan, and stick to it
There are only so many hours in a day and most of us feel we already have more than enough going on to fill these, never mind accommodating something new that needs a regular slot for a period of time. Working smarter and not harder will need to be a priority. Start by analysing how you spend each hour of your week:
- What superfluous activities can you let go of?
- What could you streamline to create efficiencies?
- Research some time management tips that you can incorporate into your day.
Get used to working with your phone or a tablet, sync all your devices and applications, research and use new apps to make your life easier and support those potential efficiencies you've identified.
4. Maximise your time
Create a realistic timetable or project plan around key dates and milestones. Break this down into detailed tasks you hope to achieve each week. Develop a weekly routine that plays to your strengths – if you know you digest information and work better in the mornings, or late at night, schedule studying at the time of day that suits you best. If you know a regular short burst of an hour a day, or instead one full day a week suits your learning style better, organise your weekly routine to accommodate what works for you. Be realistic, as over-scheduling tasks may set you up to fail and demotivate you. Identifying and keeping in mind the reason and end goal you have for completing your studies will motivate you through short-term course deadlines.
5. Become sociable and network
Studying can feel quite isolating, especially if you have chosen a course delivered online, as you don't see your tutor or fellow students as you would in a traditional classroom. Find out if the course offers an online discussion forum and if contact with your tutor can be via video conferencing as well as email. It may be a different approach to forming a connection from what you are used to, making you feel a little exposed, as anything new can do. However, as you experience the benefit of creating a sense of community around your studies, with others facing similar issues, you will soon find yourself enjoying the connection. Online forums can be motivating as you get inspiration and support from each other by discussing ideas and sharing your goals and challenges with fellow students.
6. Find a productive space and productivity buddy
Spreading your study resources around the house or your desk at work, or worse, both, will create a feeling of chaos. Create a workspace where you can keep your things organised and don't have to pack away between sessions. Minimise distractions on and around your desk area and make sure you have a comfortable chair. Your chosen study space should be the anchor for your study, even if you sometimes have to take your resources elsewhere to study.
Find someone either in your personal life, at work or on your course who can partner up with you for study days, or to schedule a regular video chat with. Having someone you can share and discuss your goals with will help you feel accountable, generate ideas and inspiration, minimise procrastination and encourage motivation.
7. Look after yourself
Common sense tells us that unless we nurture our health while managing our studies on top of our work, stress levels will rise and our immune system will lower. Minimise stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and energy-dense foods that can impact on the quality of your sleep. Try to schedule some brief exercise in the morning, eat regularly, avoid skipping meals and stay well hydrated. The moment stress increases the temptation is to do the opposite of all these things, sending you into a spin of habits that feels increasingly hard to escape from.
As well as your own personal goal for completing your studies, there are many other core benefits. You should try to keep these in mind during the more challenging times you will experience as you try to maintain a balance across your work, personal life and studies. Get organised from the outset and be proactive in trying to incorporate the ideas above. Avoid a situation where you are being reactive – if you feel on top of the situation and in control you will gain more from your studies, both professionally and personally.