Undertaking an MBA is a serious commitment of time and resources. Key to a successful (and enjoyable!) MBA experience is establishing a routine from the start and sticking to a healthy work-life balance throughout the programme. Current MBA student Siobhan Blackwell, FCCA is one such MBA student who shares her tips for managing work, family, and MBA responsibilities while studying for her degree.
"I am an FCCA Accountant and prior to starting my MBA, I had spent 13 years working in the same finance department. Once I had returned to work after my second maternity leave, I felt like I needed a change from the familiar. Although I had a good range of accounting and people management skills, I wanted to develop myself further - both personally and professionally. I had spent my career surrounded by finance professionals and was keen to work with and learn from people from a variety of backgrounds. I was inspired by my Dad’s own MBA experience when I was about 6, and at this point in my life I knew my time had come to follow the same path.
Whilst many MBA candidates undertake the programme with a subsequent career goal in mind, I actually changed careers at the very start and joined TD Securities Dublin as VP Trading Business Management. Whilst this has probably made the last couple of years more challenging for me to manage, the learning curve has been phenomenal and in many ways the MBA programme and my day job complement one another.
Tip 1 – Do a little bit everyday
The biggest challenge with an MBA is managing the volume of material and deliverables around a busy day job and family. In my case I have two young school-going children and I have other interests outside the MBA as well (I am a Board Director with Plan Ireland and I am also a member of ACCA’s Leinster Panel). The key to making it all work is to spread the workload and do a little bit everyday. For example, prior to lockdown last year I had a one-hour train commute to work. I got into the habit of using that time to read my MBA materials – that was two hours of study right there!
Styling some MBA Merchandise
Tip 2 – Plan your time (meticulously!) around key deliverable dates
There are times during the MBA schedule where, inevitably, there will be few key deliverables on the go. For example, in my final term this year I will be juggling one module, two electives and a live project (25 credits). These periods are your classic ‘MBA rigour;’ they are short but incredibly intense with a lot of credits to be earned in a short window. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when looking at several module outlines and a succession of due dates for the first time, but it is far more manageable when broken down into bite sized chunks.
In advance of these, I look ahead at key dates and work backwards, setting reasonable targets for myself each week. Where possible, I try to get some materials in advance. I also factor in known busy periods with my day job and family events such as anniversaries and kid’s birthdays. I let my family know when I will be particularly busy and take a few days off of work to relieve some of the pressure at home.
MBA Induction Week
Tip 3 – Make concessions
It’s fair to say that a two-year Executive MBA impacts the whole family – as Himself wryly tells others, “We are all doing the MBA.” Especially when I am in the final stretch of a term with a few things on the go, I feel a huge burden of guilt spending less time with my children. And when I do put things down for a few hours at the weekend, my mind is either too occupied or too exhausted to feel fully present.
When I was a relatively new parent, I swore blind I would never have my kids in front of a games console. Now we have two different versions, not to mention the endless game apps I have downloaded onto both my phone and iPad so they can play together. Something had to give. Recently I’ve also been giving my kids more decision-making power around their favourite meals (what I call ‘Celebration Fridays’) and weekend activities. With all the chaos at home and their own lack of social interaction with the pandemic, it’s important that they have something compensating to look forward to.
Tip 4 – Make time for yourself everyday
For me, my daily 5k run is sacrosanct. I don’t announce I’m leaving; I just slot it in literally whenever my calendar allows and I go as fast as I can. My daily run is my release, my time for me, and no matter how miserable the weather might be I always come back through the front door feeling better than I did half an hour earlier.
Another important routine for me is cooking the evening meal. Even if I am unable to sit down with the family to eat it with them, I recognise that my ‘ambitions’ have put a temporary strain on the household and this is one daily chore that I am happy to look after. It’s also a good time of the day for me to properly refuel.
Out and about
Tip 5 – Rest in between terms
My passion is high altitude climbing, and I’ve noticed the MBA requires similar mental and physical stamina. Just when you feel you are too tired to go any further, you resolve to carry on ‘just a little longer.’
Summiting Mount Elbrus
At least a few days each week, I wake up before everyone else and go to bed later than I should be. There’s a busy day job, quickly followed by a few hours on the MBA with the kids getting a look in between. There’s also a house that won’t clean itself, shopping for my parents and a husband who needs attending to.
Adrenaline works wonders during term time, but as soon as those periods are over, I am napping at the weekends and in bed by 9pm during the week. It’s important to take these rest periods seriously so you can repair, refuel and crack on with the next term.
Tip 6 – Make the most of the experience
I’m near the end now, and my biggest MBA regret is not making the most of the extra activities that are offered. Because of my ‘Mom guilt’ I have prioritised those events which are beneficial for the programme itself or networking opportunities. There are a ton of optional events and courses which are all included in the programme – so my advice is to make the most of it; these opportunities pass once the programme has been completed.