G4S ASSISTANT TREASURER SAMANTHA ALLEN PROVIDES HER THOUGHTS ON HOW TO ENSURE WORK AND STUDY WILL COEXIST, RATHER THAN CLASH
Samantha Allen is assistant treasurer at security services firm G4S, following a promotion last year.
From September 2016 to last December, she studied for the ACT’s MCT Advanced Diploma – amid what proved to be an extremely busy time in her life.
Who better, then, to provide some top, time-management tips for how to balance work and study? Here are her thoughts and insights…
How can you ensure that your workplace understands and sympathises with how much you are doing outside work?
Our group treasurer is very supportive of our team undertaking professional qualifications, and allowed me to work flexibly and take study leave to accommodate the MCT workload, which was invaluable. To help manage his expectations, I discussed the course timetable with him and flagged any times that were likely to be more demanding, such as the run-up to the exams, case studies, and the submission dates for the assignments and project.
How can you plan your time so that you’re not doing the study in small dribs and drabs, which may not ‘take’ in your mind?
I have two children, so it was very difficult to find time to study on weekday evenings. My strategy was to block out entire weekends and, often, my husband would take the children out on a trip somewhere at the weekend, so I could get a solid session of study completed.
How can you mentally switch between work and study modes, so you're not thinking of one while you’re doing the other?
You can take some pretty simple, practical steps. I tried to avoid studying with my work email open, or my work phone at hand, and only checked these at set intervals, although this was made easier by mainly studying at the weekend.
I’d also print the course notes out rather than read them online from the course website, so I could avoid the distraction of having internet access readily available.
There are some brilliant apps out there based on the Pomodoro Technique, which is designed to improve concentration and keep you fresh.
You do cycles of 25 minutes of work and then five minutes of rest, during which you can get up and stretch your legs, make a tea, or just sit back for a bit, followed by a longer break after a few cycles. I used one of those apps, and it was very helpful to keep focused and productive.
What steps can you take to ensure you don't get exhausted?
This was quite a challenge for me, because as well as working, studying and looking after two children, I was in the middle of a house refurbishment and going for promotion. It was a tough 16 months!
My rule of thumb was never to study too late into the evening. The further I get into the evening, the more my retention fades and it gets to the point where the material just won’t go in.
Midnight cramming the night before an exam is also something to avoid. Better to get some rest before the exam itself so you go into it feeling fresh, rather than stay up all night trying to remember those last few facts!
How can you adjust your planning if a curveball or emergency comes up that eats into hours you'd set aside for study?
I had a few of those with the house renovation, and occasions when my husband couldn’t take the children away at the weekend because of his own work commitments.
When anything like that came up, I’d immediately revise my study plan to catch up on the time lost. That often involved going into work an hour earlier for a few days running, so I could still get the necessary course time under my belt.
How do you make sure you don’t fall behind on the study?
Give yourself mini-deadlines to encourage yourself to finish each module within a certain period of time. That way you get a kind of flow going, and it prevents parts of the course building up, which can be quite daunting.
Realistically, urgent work issues are likely to take priority over your studies, and it can be easy to fall behind. However, one of the advantages of the structure of the MCT is that you have the option to defer, so if necessary, you can spread it out over time and weave it around your work commitments.
Some people in my cohort decided to defer the project element of their MCT, as this part has a very tight timeline and is difficult to manage if you are heavily involved in preparation for a December year-end.
Are there any other tips that come to mind?
It’s important to remember that the MCT is a very different format to the AMCT.
From a time-management perspective, one thing you really need to be aware of is that the case studies are assessed as a seven-week online forum discussion that is really time intensive, and although it counts towards a relatively small percentage of your mark, is invaluable in consolidating your learning.
It plays out across a series of four-day cycles – so on day one you get a new question to answer, day two you post your answer, day three you’re commenting on other people’s answers and day four you’re reviewing the model answer.
It’s back to back – there are no gaps for weekends or any time to catch up if you fall behind… It’s relentless, so you definitely need to make sure you’re prepared, not planning on being away on holiday and have time set aside each day to keep on top of it.