How to Manage Your Time While Pursuing an Online Master’s Degree

student studying on her laptop
student studying on her laptop

How to Manage Your Time While Pursuing an Online Master’s Degree

Work-life balance goes beyond managing two competing priorities. For most professionals, “life” includes school, family responsibilities, hobbies, volunteering, social events, exercise, downtime, and the prioritisation of mental health. Professionals who choose to further their education and enrol in an online master’s degree must learn time management skills to achieve their goals without compromising their well-being.

Schools like Aston University offer flexible online programmes designed for busy professionals with online modules that are accessible for students of all abilities. If you’re interested in pursuing an online Master’s degree, learn more about tips for studying online and how to employ time management skills to complete coursework, juggle responsibilities, and prioritise your mental health. 

The Benefits of Studying Online vs. Studying On-campus

Leading universities offer online programmes aimed at mid-career executives who are pivoting in their career, upskilling for an existing role, or becoming thought leaders in their area of expertise. The traditional on-campus business school model is becoming obsolete as schools adopt online programmes that are flexible, accessible, and personalised for students across the world.

Students enjoy many benefits of studying online. Flexible online programmes allow students to:

  • Enrol in international programmes from the comfort of their home
  • Work with like-minded students and join a global alumni community
  • Complete coursework in as little as two years
  • Save time by avoiding unnecessary travel to a campus
  • Save money by enrolling in an affordable and valuable accredited degree
  • Access online learning for those with disabilities
  • Achieve better work-life balance 

7 Time Management Skills for Online Learning

Flexible self-paced programmes make online learning easier for students, however, even the most highly flexible programme requires students to set goals, stay on schedule, and limit distractions to complete their degree. The following time management skills will help you organise your schedule, prioritise tasks, and manage stress.

Set Goals and Create a Schedule

A typical online Master’s programme, such as an MBA, can be completed in as little as two to three years. The first step to achieving effective time management is planning ahead with a study schedule. Plan your days and assign time slots for online classes, personal matters, and work responsibilities. 

Setting both long term and short goals will help you maintain focus and keep your eye on the prize: a degree that will propel your career growth. It is important to set realistic expectations to go through your course load, the time you have in hand and allotting deadlines.

Use the following steps to develop the ultimate schedule around your goals for a successful online study routine:

  1. Identify available time.
  2. Create a to-do list of essential actions.
  3. Schedule high-priority tasks.
  4. Add contingency time to scheduled tasks.
  5. Add discretionary time to scheduled tasks.
  6. Review your final schedule.

Start Your Day with a Plan

organising tasks

It’s useful to examine the organised schedule you outlined for the semester and feel prepared but when you wake up for day one, where do you start? Forbes shares a helpful time management hack you can use when you’re feeling overwhelmed with a long to-do list. Start the day by asking yourself, “What are the three activities I need to complete today in order for this to feel like a successful day?” 

It’s important that you limit this list to three things. Oftentimes we will compile daunting 30-50 item to-do lists for the day that provoke us to waste time on small tasks while procrastinating on the most important responsibilities. Instead of wasting the first few hours of your day responding to emails, determine your list of three and plan your day to ensure you complete each one.

Prioritise Tasks

How do you decide which big three items you will add to your daily plan? An essential tool for effective time management is the act of prioritisation. How do you prioritise tasks when everything is important? Swap being busy with being productive by getting strategic about how and when you complete tasks based on time allocation, importance, big-picture goals, and urgency. Engage in the following steps to succeed at prioritisation:

  1. Write down all of your tasks.
  2. Identify what is most important based on your goals.
  3. Highlight urgent items.
  4. Prioritise in order of importance and urgency.
  5. Determine how much time and effort each item will take.
  6. Get started.

Create a Dedicated Study Space

One way to promote work-life balance while working from home or engaging in online learning is by creating a dedicated study space. You can create a “learning-friendly” home by finding a quiet, separate room (or corner of your home) to set up the essentials.

The first step to creating a dedicated study space is claiming a low-traffic area of the home where your partner, children, or flatmates will not spend a lot of time. If this isn’t possible, you can always invest in noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs to limit distractions.

The next step is to optimise the space by keeping it clean and organised; physical clutter can lead to mental clutter. Another way to optimise your space is by playing relaxing music, removing unnecessary digital devices (like your phone or nearby television), and sitting near a window that offers lots of natural light. Working in a space you feel comfortable will encourage you to sit down and complete tasks with ease. 

Communicate with Friends and Family

Involve your family and friends in your decision so that they can help you rather than distract you. A cooperative partner, friend or parent can offer support and encouragement. Communicate your goals and get everyone on board so they will anticipate your new routine, which will likely include work, school, social commitments, among others. It’s okay to say “no” to social engagements that interfere with your study schedule. Communicate with friends about the duration of your programme and set expectations around your availability. You can maintain a healthy social life while continuing to prioritise your online degree.

Inform Your Employer

Students enrolled in continued education, whether it’s a Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate, are often working professionals balancing their education with a part-time job. Employers may even fund programmes to help reskill or upskill their teams. 

Enrolling in an online programme could even open doors for promotions and leadership roles. According to The Guardian, 90% of MBA alumni say the skills they developed in the programme have advanced their careers. Inform your employer that your schedule and workload will be changing to accommodate your coursework. Many employers see students enrolled in continued education as driven employees and lifelong learners who will add value to the company and will be accommodating.

informing employer

Manage Stress to Improve Your Mental Health

An unexpected way to boost productivity and enhance time management skills is by scheduling downtime and focussing on bettering your mental health. Scheduling regular breaks will help you be more productive during work time and allow you to relax during downtime. When life, work, and school get busy, it’s common to skip essential self-care routines like eating healthy, logging quality sleep, and exercising regularly. If you’re choosing to pursue an online degree, it’s critical that you learn how to manage stress. The UK’s Mental Health Foundation recommends three steps to manage and reduce stress:

  1. Identify when stress becomes a problem. Is stress manifesting as physical symptoms or illness? Headaches, migraines, chronic pain, and skin conditions can all be symptoms of underlying stress. 
  2. Pinpoint the source of stress. Sort stressors into categories and determine which stressors you can control versus which stressors are out of your control. Take practical steps to manage the stressful events you can influence.
  3. Review your lifestyle. Engage in basic self-care, from going for regular walks to eating healthier whole foods. Improving your lifestyle can boost your resilience to stress. Use time management skills to help you make time for personal health and well being. 

Why Study with Aston University?

At Aston University, we are passionate about making high-quality education affordable and accessible for all learners regardless of age, location, or physical abilities. Our online programmes, including the MBA, MSc Business & Management Suite and MSc Business Analytics Suite, are designed with the utmost flexibility to allow busy professionals to pursue their educational goals without compromising their quality of life.

Aston University is committed to delivering the following:

  • Accessibility: Our online programmes are built to be accessible. We offer individualised support for all learners so that students can access coursework with ease and have a positive user experience. 
  • Affordability: We offer affordable programmes that provide real value to our students both during and after graduation.
  • Flexibility: We offer 100% online, self-paced learning so busy students can govern their schedules and win at effective time management.
  • Community and inclusion: Our global alumni network of more than 100,000 is inclusive of students of all backgrounds, ages, and abilities.

Aston University was declared the University of the Year 2020 by the Guardian and Outstanding Entrepreneurial University by the Times Higher Education in 2020. As a triple-accredited university from EQUIS, AACSB and AMBA, Aston is an ideal place to earn an internationally recognised Master’s degree.