Fitting a Degree into Life

I started my MBA with Arden University due to the opportunities I thought it could open up to me. I’ve been lucky enough in my time as a web developer to be exposed to and built good relationships with excellent people at the top of the companies I’ve worked for. These relationships gave me a lot of exposure to business thinking and knowledge that I may not have got elsewhere, and helped me realise that I wanted to pursue a more senior managerial/leadership role, hence the MBA.

Quick side tip — building good relationships is the cornerstone of everything, so put the effort into it.

Back to the main thread. I had two main concerns when starting my master’s:

  1. writing “academically” — I enjoy writing, but I’ve never done a formal degree (I spent 3 months at university aged 18 and decided that it wasn’t the right path for me at that time). Writing in an academic way is a challenge, but it’s something you can learn to do if you put the effort in (you’ll start to notice I use the word “effort” a lot) and seek help from people who know.
  2. fitting it all in

I have a fairly hectic life. I work full time, I’m married with 4 children (ages 11, 8, 8 and 3… yes… twins), I run a side-line web agency with a handful of clients and I am in the process of starting up another venture. I also like to write, read and stay fit through cycling and have recently started a strength training program. What can I say? I get bored when I have nothing to do. I went into the MBA blind, not really knowing what the work commitment would be like and quickly found out that, even though it was a distance learning part-time course, it was still pretty intensive. There is a LOT of reading in order to engage fully with the material and you get the most out of the course when you engage online with other students.

Pre-MBA, my daily schedule ran:
6 am: wake up, get ready for work and help get the children ready for school
7 am: leave for work. Cycle to train station and then cycle from the train station to work
8 am — 12 pm: work
12 pm — 1 pm: lunch
1 pm — 4.30 pm: work
4.30 pm: leave for home
6 pm — 8 pm: evening meal, spend time with family, kids’ bedtime routine, etc.
8 pm — 10 pm: EVERYTHING ELSE

2 hours isn’t a lot of time to fit the rest of your life in. At one point I got into the habit of going to bed around 12 am. That is not a good place to be, especially if you are trying to learn. The material just doesn’t stick, and I couldn’t remember the notes I had written when revisiting the following day. I could sometimes manage 11 pm at a push but I wouldn’t recommend it on a regular basis. What I do recommend is reading Why We Sleep by Matt Walker to understand why sleep is critical to pretty much everything you want to achieve.

Have you ever actually sat down and really analysed how much time you have? We are, rarely, busy for every waking moment of the day. The time period when I wake at 6 am and leave at 7 am probably involves some element of me looking at Twitter or LinkedIn. If I’m honest, I could lose maybe 20 minutes of that time in a black hole of threads and shares and, yes I admit, amusing videos of animals. My lunch break was similar; I don’t spend an hour eating so what else was I doing with that time? Once you are able to reflect on your time and admit when time could be better used, you can start to make changes. For example, I haven’t changed anything in my 6 am to 7 am slot because this time is erratic and depends on whether children want to get dressed in the morning (parent issues). The 12 pm to 1 pm slot though is ideal for study time — there are 45 minutes right there I’ve freed up. I enjoy reading and don’t particularly want to stop so I combined my cycling time with an Audible subscription creating an opportunity for me to catch up on books, and sometimes podcasts, whilst I commute to work.

At some point, you’re going to get to maximum optimisation for your day. Now you have hard decisions to make and realise that sometimes things have to drop. Deciding what is important to you is the key and again being absolutely honest with yourself is critical. For me, the family time in the evening was non-negotiable but the side-line business work could be scaled back in the short-term whilst I studied, with the expectation that I would complete the course in 18 months. I still wanted to work out and felt I could fit that in by buying equipment for my home rather than having to travel to a gym; two days during the week and once on the weekend I now have an hour doing that. I can now fit another hour of study in the evening comfortably during the week and then spend a little more time on it on the weekend.

I’m not perfect and life is not a predictable series of events. Occasionally I miss a workout, or a study session doesn’t happen because I’m too tired. Try not to be too hard on yourself in these times but do try and catch up with study when you can. Have a calendar of when your key dates are, deferral deadlines, submission deadlines, etc. and share the load of the module material over the period you’re studying, giving yourself enough time for assessment research, writing and editing.

I am very lucky that I have an incredibly supportive and understanding wife, but I recognise that this is a journey that I’m taking my family on as well as myself — make sure that you pay that support back if you find yourself in similar circumstances.

One final thing and probably the most important of all — schedule downtime. You are going on an incredibly intense, stressful, wonderful adventure after which you hope to come out better qualified. But the journey you take will also make you a different person, so make sure you come out a better one.

Originally published on