As a degree apprentice, managing my university studies and exams while staying on top of work projects, embracing the opportunities offered by the course, having time to relax and reflect (as well as having a social life) is a bit of a juggling act… Then throw in the impact of COVID-19 and those balls are at risk of being dropped.
After seven months into an apprentice role at the Prince’s Trust while also studying at Queen Mary University of London, I’ve found that not only is time management one of the most difficult skills to master, it is also one of the most important (I’ve even had to manage my time to be able to write this article!).
Despite occasions when I have a mountain of work, I always seem to get to the top unscathed and it’s good to know that it’s getting easier as time goes on. Interestingly,I feel that the more work I have to do, the more mechanisms I develop to cope with it.
In the midst of the tragic effects that coronavirus has brought, we as society have adapted, reflected and learned – and I’d like to share my personal experiences as an apprentice.
PLAN TO DO SPECIFIC WORK
In normal circumstances, most of my time is structured for me – I work three days a week and attend lectures at university two days a week. A shift to remote working and learning means that I have to plan my time more than usual, in order to get both things done, while finding time to deal with technical problems (which I’m sure we’re all experiencing on a daily basis!).
With studying, I find that I’m more likely to follow through if I plan to do a specific bit of work rather than tell myself that I’m going to get a vague ‘something’ done. That always leads to the dreaded procrastination!
MAKE LISTS FOR WORK AND UNIVERSITY TASKS
I’m sure everyone has their own way of managing tasks, but I know myself that I’m a devoted list-maker. There are plenty of resources out there to help. I use the Tasks app where I can create lists, colour-code tasks, set deadlines and reminders and prioritise tasks as and when I need to.
I’ve found this especially useful to distinguish my work tasks from my university tasks. I now also have a ‘lockdown list’, devoted to relieving boredom and listing all the new Netflix docs, free gym apps and new recipes that I’m determined to get through by the end of this period! This lockdown list has definitely been a saviour in helping complete my university assignments as I’ve managed to complete a section and then reward myself with something from the list – I recommend something that involves food if it’s a difficult task!
SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM WORK REGULARLY
I’ve also found that while it’s important to complete work or study-focused tasks, I still need to prioritise wellbeing and give myself time to relax away from all the work. During this period it’s even harder to pull myself away from my laptop when it’s always in close proximity, but I’m using my daily walks to switch off from work and get some space from the house which, for the first time ever, I’m in 23 hours a day.
If there is one thing that I’ve learnt of these seven months, it’s that every week is different – especially in these uncertain and changeable times. Nobody could have prepared us for the events that have unfolded over the past few months but I’ve adopted a flexible mindset as a consequence. It’s helped me realise that we sometimes don’t have control over things and all we can do is make sure that we are looking after the main priorities – our wellbeing and our loved ones – and I will undoubtedly be taking this attitude away with me.
Finally, one of the most important things I’ve learnt so far is that there is only so much time in a day, and sometimes I need to say no. This is even more relevant in today’s climate where when we leave work, it’s a two-minute ‘commute’ home from our study area to the living room! Of course, this is easier said than done but it’s important that we can switch off from work and feel accomplished rather than trying to do too many tasks and end up dropping the juggling balls.
I know there are going to be more learning curves and challenges to come, but I’m hoping that each one will give new experiences, teach more lessons and reveal new attitudes so that all of us take some positives out of a very negative situation.
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Why not watch our Better Managers Briefing, where Ann Francke and Sir Charlie Mayfield discuss learning in lockdown?
For more Covid-19 related articles and stories, visit CMI’s Leading Through Uncertainty hub.
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