A Masters in Economic & Management Sciences is already tough – now try adding a full-time job! Read how Devan took on the daunting task, and nailed it.
If you’re like me, sometimes you chew off far more than you can handle. Let me explain. When I returned from a brief working stint in London back in 2013, I had my eyes set on finding a full-time job and beginning my career back home in Cape Town. But when I returned, I was thrown a curveball.
Upon my return, I was offered a hugely enticing bursary from Stellenbosch University to pursue my studies by undertaking a Masters in Economic & Management Sciences. The offer seemed too good to decline, but I was also at the stage of my life where I was eager to begin my career and get cracking with life in the ‘real world,’ as they say.
Faced with a tough conundrum, my 23-year old self needed to make the decision between continuing with my studies or finding a job. Mother’s advice: get a job. Father’s advice: continue with your Masters. Certainly no help there.
I then turned to my girlfriend whose take was,
“Do what you feel will benefit you long-term.”
Back to step one with that response.
So, after weeks of deliberations and weighing up the various pros and cons of each, and unable to reach an answer, I simply decided,
“Screw it. I’ll just do both at the same time!”
Killing Two Birds with One Stone
Turns out it was possible to do just that. While I completed my Masters via correspondence (in other words, without having to attend lectures), I also took on a full-time job.
The job I landed was at the Green Building Council of South Africa as an intern with the technical team, doing some exciting work there in a rapidly growing industry. It seemed I had some pretty important job responsibilities lined up there too, so I knew from the get-go that the year would be tough and full of tears, compromises, frustration, and pure hard work. Oh, and lots of coffee.
A thing I might add is that I decided to complete a two-year thesis in one year. As if there wasn’t enough pressure already, I somehow thought it’d be a great idea to do this too… I mean, what’s a quick-‘n-easy 40 000 word thesis (or 180 pages of academic writing). The end product, as it were, was my dissertation Diversifying South Africa’s Renewable Energy Mix Through Policy.
How to Throw that Stone…
At the time that I wrote my thesis, however, there was no platform like EduConnect. If there had been, I would have cherished all the useful information and tips, because I would have had much more help with the entire process.
Fortunately, I did indeed complete my Masters in Economic & Management Sciences, and graduated with a better-than-expected grade. But I had to figure it all out by myself. Now I’d like to share my experiences with all of you, because I fervently believe I discovered some tips during that year that are useful to anyone who faces similar decisions than I did.
Hopefully, something below can help you in some way as you embark on your endeavors. So, without further ado, here are my best tips for those of you that are trying to receive a degree whilst working a full-time job.
Point 1: Prepare for Hard Work
Know from the very beginning that doing studies and work simultaneously is not easy. Don’t kid yourself here. I cannot stress this enough.
At the beginning I thought to myself,
“How hard could it really be?”
I can assure you that I was brought down to Earth very quickly with this incorrect mindset. There will be times when you feel like quitting, and there will be times when you feel on top of the world.
Manage your emotions, and never, for a single second, think that the road ahead will be a breeze. This is a constant temptation and a trap that can prove to be inescapable. It certainly is achievable, but not without the hard work and commitment it takes to get there.
Point 2: Manage Your Time
You learn quickly that your time is extremely valuable, and you simply don’t have the luxury of wasting it.
Procrastination is a danger, for sure, but you will in time learn how to overcome it (or at least reduce it). Keep yourself away from the many distractions that are so present in our everyday lives: television, cellphones, gaming, social media, etc. by making a concerted effort not to engage with them. Make your schedule at the beginning of the week and make sure you adhere to it.
Set yourself measurable goals, and do everything in your power to meet them. Sure, sometimes your boss will task you with unexpected work duty, which can affect your study goals. Make sure you account for these over the year, and get back on schedule as quickly as possible.
Point 3: Keep the Study Ball Rolling
Working a long 9-5 day job can be taxing on both your physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s all too easy to return home and put on the TV, thereby switching your brain off for the evening.
At the beginning of my studies, I did this on a regular, consistent basis. I felt my long workday justified my relaxing. I thought to myself,
“I’ll relax during the week and work on my thesis every Saturday, for the whole day.”
Wrong approach, Devan.
I would wake up every Saturday morning and drive from Cape Town to Stellenbosch at the break of dawn (one of the few perks with this was that I got to watch a magnificent sunrise over the Drakenstein Mountains every weekend – it’s pretty incredible and worth the early wake-up). But when I finally entered the library at 8am sharp, I would find myself spending between two to three hours recapping where I left off the previous week.
I realised very quickly that this was extremely inefficient, detrimental to the quality of my thesis, and quite simply a waste of my valuable time. My recommendation to you would be this: make sure you keep the momentum going throughout the week.
After a while I started spending one hour per day working on my studies. Do the simple things that you would otherwise do on Saturdays: read the articles and research papers on your to-read list, and do your thesis edits. When I arrived at the library after discovering this, I found myself to be much more productive and made the most of those two hours in the morning (which, it turns out, was my most productive time of the day to work – see Point 8).
On some afternoons, I could even afford myself the opportunity to use those two additional hours (wisely) to meet with friends and share some laughs. I was also then able to watch my beloved Sharks (who were enjoying a stellar season in Super Rugby) beat most teams on Saturday evenings. What a score (excuse the pun).
Point 4: Try to Match your Studies with your Work
This is a difficult one, but if you can (somehow) manage to coincide your studies with your work, then they can benefit from each other greatly. My studies were very disconnected from my work responsibilities, and I wasn’t able to apply the knowledge I had learnt from either to one the other.
My studies revolved around renewable energy policies in South Africa, while my work was on green buildings. Yes, they’re both environmental, you may be thinking, but I can assure you the two are distinctly different fields of study.
If I had done a thesis on green buildings, then I may have been able to apply both the theory and practice that I was learning to both my studies and work. In other words, they could feed off each other positively. But on the bright side, at least now I have an in-depth knowledge of both industries, so I guess there some positives there too.
My recommendation: If you find a job before deciding on your thesis topic, then you have the opportunity to align them by deciding on a topic that fits in with your day job. Choosing a thesis topic and then finding a job specific to that topic, well, that’s much more difficult.
Point 5: Surround Yourself with People who Understand
At the time, I failed to fully appreciate and acknowledge this, but I was extremely fortunate to surround myself with people that understood the pressures and workload I was facing.
My girlfriend, my family, and my colleagues at work – everyone understood that I was under immense pressure and that my mood would often reflect this. I had constant support from those around me, who continuously motivated me to continue with my ambitions.
Let me give you a good example. My colleagues at the GBCSA allowed me some time off when my studies were entering crunch time. Had I not been given this opportunity, then I very much doubt I would have finished in one year.
Point 6: Treat your Family and Friends Well
Referring back to the previous point, I made a conscious effort to treat those around me with the greatest respect when I wasn’t overloaded with work (which, I must admit, wasn’t all that often).
You need to show your family and friends that you appreciate their continuous support and encouragement. Remember, everyone goes through tough stages in their lives. And if I have to quote Zac Efron from the film That Awkward Moment,
“Being there for someone when they need you the most – that’s all that friends are for.”
Always remember this, because you’ll need their support and encouragement, especially towards the latter part of the year.
Point 7: Enjoy Time Out
It happened often that I would find myself so overloaded with tasks to do – both from my studies and work – that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. On many occasions I let my emotions get the better of my judgement, and I would break down.
You need to know that it’s alright to step out of the work mindset and enjoy some well-deserved time out. Whether that is spending some time with your friends, watching a cool movie (like The Martian or Interstellar), or sipping on a glass of wine.
Your emotional state needs this dearly. ‘Creative blocks,’ as they’re called, occur often and everyone is susceptible to them. Embrace them, and learn how to use them in your favour. When I felt my brain wandering off and becoming unable to focus on the task at hand, I would often step away, take my mind completely off work-related things, and upon my return, I was spectacularly refreshed and determined.
If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s that you will inevitably experience days where things just don’t go your way. That’s simply part of life. But, if you’re smart enough, you can use these blocks to your utmost advantage. Removing yourself from the work environment helps dearly in this regard. Oh, and on Sundays, unless it’s an absolute necessity, try not to open a book or laptop. This is the day where you can work hard on improving Point 6!
Point 8: Find What Works for You
By our very nature, each and every one of us is different in our own unique ways. The specific things that increased my productivity may work for you too, or they may not.
There will be certain things – like your most productive time of the day, your work routines or schedules, or whether coffee gives you that much-needed psychological boost – that you’ll discover in time through trial-and-error.
My most productive times of the day were between 8 and 10am and between 9 and 11pm; these were the times of the day that I found myself working the hardest. I also started every day by reading the previous five pages of my thesis. Every day. No exceptions. Find what works best for you, and work tirelessly on optimising it to your advantage.
Point 9: Stay Focused
On many sleepless nights I felt like dropping my work commitments and focusing full-time on studies. It’s important to remain focused and keep the end in sight.
For me, it was the thought of standing proud and wearing that red gown at graduation that kept me motivated, whilst at the same time having enjoyed working at a fantastic organisation. Never lose site of that finish line, and enjoy the journey as you embark on it, because it appears quicker than you’d think.
Understand that a focused plan coupled with sheer dedication will certainly allow you to achieve that monumental goal of yours. At the start of 2015, after having successfully completed my difficult year of studies and work, I thought to myself,
“Okay, Devan, this is the year to exclusively focus on you career.”
As it were, another curveball came along.
Green is not a Colour
In February of 2015 I had an epitome. I had an urge to write a book educating people on environmental issues facing our world – you can find out more about that by reading this article. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, no matter how much I tried to persuade myself to focus on one thing at a time. My friends and family said to me,
“Surely 2014 was a difficult enough year for you? Take some time off to enjoy life.”
The thing is, I knew I could still enjoy life just as much whilst working and writing a book at the very same time. I had the tools to evenly balance things out and complete both tasks to the best of my ability.
Fully understanding what would be required to handle the workload for the year ahead, I once again decided to take on two ‘full-time’ commitments simultaneously. By applying the above principles to my endeavours, I managed to successfully write Green is not a Colour link to review together with my varsity friend Simon Atlas. All this, whilst working hard to advance my career. It’s important to mention that writing the book didn’t negatively influence my career performance by any means. I have no doubt about this.
I am still waiting for my yearly curveball to come my way this time around. But, when it eventually does, I’ll be more equipped and excited to take it on – while working a full-time job, of course.
Devan and Simon’s goal to educate people on how to live a ‘greener’ life is super important. The time for self-sustained living has arrived long ago, and we should all take off in one way or another. Read our article on self-sufficient farming to learn how you can make a difference without much effort.