Studying for a paralegal certification—or any professional certificate—is a full-time job. But so is your actual full-time job. How can you do both at the same time? How do you maintain your performance at work, prepare for a certification examination, and not lose your sanity?
Here are five tips for legal support professionals who are studying for certification while holding down a full-time job.
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#1 Establish a support system
Having a strong support system at work and at home can make a huge difference in your performance at both places. Make sure your family understands and is on board with your decision to become certified (including the time you will have to spend studying and not hanging out with them). Find ways that other members can help out more while you’re preparing, and make the timeline clear ahead of time.
Keep your work in the loop regarding your pursuit of paralegal certification, as well. Hopefully, this information will make them inclined to be more flexible, allowing you time off to study as well as to take the exam, which might be scheduled over several days. Making your manager aware of your desire to become certified could even result in recognition or a promotion sometime down the road.
Do you have a friend or colleague who has talked about getting certified, too? Talk about whether or not the two of you would be effective partners for studying for certification, and consider how having a buddy could further enrich the experience for you.
#2 Practice effective time management
There are only 24 hours in each day, so you will need to use each hour wisely during this busy and somewhat stressful time. Try scheduling your days (even weekends) in hour or even 30-minute increments to maximize your time. This can help you balance work, studying for certification, and maintaining your relationships so that no part of your life falls through the cracks.
Make careful note of big events that will take place during your study era: the upcoming trials that will require extra preparation, family reunions or birthdays that you’ll want to participate in as much as possible. Be strategic about what you commit to, but schedule in those can’t-miss events.
One more thing: don’t forget to plan some downtime for yourself, so that you can recharge your batteries.
#3 Make adjustments as needed
Even the best-laid plans might not work all the time. Assess your schedule weekly and monthly to check in on how things are going. Consider whether or not things are getting done as they need to, what your stress level is, and if you need to make adjustments accordingly.
Based on these assessments, do you need to spend more or less time in one area or another? Maybe you’ll need to get up an hour earlier to study before work. Or perhaps you become strict about leaving work on time so that you can have dinner with your children before they go to bed. It’s possible you’ll need to postpone that weekend trip if it seems like it will be too much. Whatever choices you make, remember to:
#4 Keep your eyes on the prize
Nobody pursues certification because they have nothing better to do. Don’t just look your decision as a “certification” – consider it a way to fulfill a dream. Pin up pictures, quotes, and other forms of positive affirmation where you will see them multiple times each day. This will remind you of why you’re putting in all this extra work and help you to stay motivated.
If you are truly passionate about your career and about the impact that getting certified will have on your life, the effort can begin to feel less like work. All of the strategizing and time commitment can be seen as something that enriches your mind. This worthwhile endeavor can help advance your career and allow you to be a good example to your colleagues as well as your family.
#5 Stay positive
Getting your certification may have been a lifelong goal for you, or perhaps it’s an opportunity you seized when it came up. Either way, the reality of balancing work, studying, and family can lead to fading optimism, at least at some point in the process. Isolating yourself from others in order to keep on top of your busy schedule might seem like the easiest thing to do, but don’t make that mistake.
Continue to make positive connections in and outside of work that will help you enjoy life more, however you’re spending your time. While taking time to vent is perfectly normal, don’t forget to look on the bright side of your circumstances. Keeping a positive attitude will go a long way toward making your dreams of obtaining your certification and advancing your career a reality.
Do you have other tips for working full time, earning a certification, and keeping your sanity? Tell us about them in the comments!