Working from home can be amazing: There’s no rush-hour commute to waste your time, you can work in your pajamas and bunny slippers if you want to and you don’t have to deal with noisy or annoying co-workers. Oh, and the refrigerator is only steps away. It’s really the perfect setup for many people. Online education gives you all of the same benefits, plus the bonus of almost total flexibility in scheduling. For some people, the extra ties to staying home might seem like too much of a good thing. Don’t worry. Work and school can both fit into your life. It’s just going to take some planning for you to keep everything in balance.
Begin at the Beginning
Success starts with a solid schedule. Before you settle on an online program, take some time to evaluate your work situation. If you’re a freelancer with totally flexible work hours, then you should be fine choosing any type of online courses. If you’re required to work a certain shift, be available for scheduled meetings or spend a few hours in the office, then your online degree program will need to work around those obligations. Signing up for a class that requires on-campus testing or live chats, for example, could require that you take time off from work.
Pick Your Program
Online education comes in a few forms. Some degree programs are offered purely online, with no requirement to ever visit a physical campus. Other programs are hybrid formats, with most of the work submitted online and exams completed on campus or at a testing center. Scheduling may be based on traditional semesters with students taking a few different classes at once, or it may be a one-class-at-a-time arrangement with a year-round schedule.
As you research your options, you may see the terms “synchronous” or “asynchronous” used to describe the class format. This is important because it ties into your scheduling. Synchronous courses require students to log in to chats, forums or virtual classrooms at specific times. Asynchronous classes still have homework deadlines, but each student is responsible to complete the work and review lectures on her own schedule. A blended format might require occasional live chats, but most work would be done independently.
Consider Your Career
Scheduling isn’t the only concern when you’re picking a program. You don’t want to spend a ton of time and money getting your associate degree only to discover down the road that your credits won’t count toward a bachelor’s degree. For many students, an accredited degree or certificate program is essential for opening doors to continued education or professional licensing.
Divide the Day
When you’re ready to start your classes, it’s time to get serious about how you spend your time. Break out your favorite office supplies and start mapping your day. Check online for free downloadable schedule templates for Microsoft Excel or Apache OpenOffice. A paper planner can work too. Use color to designate blocks of time for work, school and household duties. Don’t forget about time for sleeping, eating and interacting with real-life friends and family. Post your color-coded schedule in your work area to help you stay on track. If needed, you can fine-tune the details after a week or so.
If you have down-time during your work shift, you may be able to do a little reading or studying here and there. But multitasking has actually been shown to lower productivity, so don’t be surprised if you aren’t able to accomplish as much as you would like. Your best bet is to designate certain hours for work and school and then stick to the plan. Resist the urge to procrastinate or waste time on social media sites or random blogs.
Survive the Crunch
The convenience of working from home and attending online classes can turn into a big problem if you aren’t careful. It isn’t healthy for your physical or mental well-being for you to be stuck in front of a computer all day every day. As you build your schedule, think about ways to give yourself little breaks. You could use an online timer to remind yourself to pause every so often. Grab a healthy snack, go for a walk or do some gentle stretches. You need to get away from the screen for at least 10 minutes to give your eyes a break and to rest your brain. Add in some ergonomic stretches to keep your hands, wrists and shoulders in good shape for typing. These little health breaks boost your efficiency and productivity by refreshing your body and mind. Along the same lines, find ways to mix things up to ward off boredom and burnout. Load audio lectures onto an MP3 player and listen while you walk or work out. Take your laptop to a coffee shop or head to the library for a change of scenery.
Make It Happen
Combining a work-from-home job with online courses has the potential to bring on major burnout if you aren’t careful. You need to be purposeful about carving time out of your work and school schedule to tend to the needs of your body, mind and spirit. That includes having some sort of a social life. Taking care of yourself will make you more productive and better prepared to tackle your professional and educational challenges. Keep your priorities straight, and in no time you’ll be finished with your online classes and ready to grab the next opportunity.