Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: How does one manage a full-time job with studies and excel in both fields of activity? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
I finished my masters (classes and entire dissertation) while working full-time, and years later did my PhD while working full-time. My sister did her entire B.A. while working full-time and raising a kid. It’s possible to succeed in both work and school, but it requires some sacrifice and a lot of discipline.
Here’s a couple of suggestions.
Pick one as primary.
Either work or school is your primary goal. Whichever is not primary will have to have sacrifices made to keep your primary goal on track.
If work is primary, carefully pick your major and school so you can take night-time and week-end classes. Continuing education classes usually work best, and many are offered from good universities. Instead of having a bunch of small chunks of classes, you often get a full week’s classes in one dose (3 hours).
If education is primary, pick jobs which allow you to coast a bit from time-to-time, and ideally which have flexibility in scheduling. There will be education events you just can’t move, like finals, exams, and collaborations with other students.
Work in bursts.
Some things you just can’t nibble at. For my masters, I did classes one per semester. I saved up big chunks of time (e.g. a weekend day) for things that had to be done, like a week’s worth of homework or a paper. For my PhD I worked hard between papers, and spent a day on the weekend working either for work or my PhD.
When I was near an important paper deadline, I’d talk to my very supportive boss, and would focus on the paper until it was submitted. If something critical was happening at work, I’d have to wait for a different paper submission deadline, but otherwise… I made up for this time by working harder at my job between papers. Vacation can also be used.
Rest when you need it.
Some people can put in 50-60 hours of effort a week sustained, some people can’t. Pick a pace you can sustain for the whole run. You can make exceptions every now and then, but NEVER count on these exceptions. My sister sometimes took semesters off. I sometimes took a year or more off of doing my masters. Don’t be afraid to take time off, but make sure you understand the costs.
Nothing comes for free.
You most likely won’t get a four year degree and four years of full-time work done in four years. You can manage it in six years, but that probably means 60 hours a week between the two activities. Choose carefully.