The major barrier to learning that comes up in our research findings and conversations with women learners is time. Women are telling us that they simply don’t have the time to learn.
You might scoff at this. They can’t even carve out a couple of hours a week? What are they doing?!
But this shouldn’t surprise us given that women in the UK do almost twice as many hours of unpaid work a day as men. This means that UK men have a whopping five hours more leisure time than women per week. That’s a lot of learning time.
And with the ageing population, it’s women that are carrying the additional care load so not only are they caring for their children, they are also caring for their parents (and often their husband’s parents). Women makeup 70% of all unpaid dementia carers in the UK and are 2.5 times more likely than men to be on-call around the clock as a carer.
So it’s really no surprise that women are telling us they simply don’t have enough spare time to learn something new.
We do speak to women that admit they would have a few hours a week to learn something new if they sacrificed leisure time activities such as watching Netflix, but they tell us they just don’t have the headspace for it. They just can’t imagine juggling that extra plate and worry that one extra plate could send the whole lot crashing to the floor. Mothers slump in front of Netflix exhausted - so the idea of spending that time learning a new skill doesn’t seem plausible.
There is no denying that learning something new is going to be a challenge for busy women and particularly for busy mothers. But it can be done and it needs to be done. Learning delivers so many benefits that can be particularly powerful for mothers who can lose confidence, their sense of identity and purpose, outside of motherhood.
So here are our top tips for finding the time and headspace to learn. We’ve compiled this list of top tips and lots of this advice has come directly from our successful graduates who managed to fit their learning in successfully.
1. Find a flexible course that works for you
You’ll find it easier to fit learning into your life if you choose a flexible course that fits in with your life. Here are some things to look for.
- Convenient offline courses. Unfortunately, so many offline courses are either 9-5, which means they run over school pick up and drop off, or they are in the evenings slap bang in the middle of bath time / bedtime. Not ideal for busy mothers. There are courses that run from 10-2 around, so do your research to find them.
- Flexible online courses. The most flexible course of all is a self-paced course where you can learn at your own pace, whenever you want, over the time period you want. Lots of people are attracted to self-paced courses but be aware that they do come at a price. Average graduate rates are 8-13% as students struggle to stay motivated. So work out whether self-paced is right for you. Online courses that have a fixed start and end date to your course with weekly sessions help keep you motivated. With any online course ensure that you can flex how you learn each week, fitting the learning around your schedule.
- Accessible lessons. Choose a course that has lessons that come in easy to absorb formats. Podcasts are particularly good for busy people as you can listen to them while doing something else. Visual summaries of key information are also helpful as you can easily digest and remember the salient points.
- A study buddy. If you can find another mother that also wants to learn you can lean on each other to help with childcare. If you want to study on an offline course, for example, but the learning is during the day then she could handle school runs on that day and you can help her out on the day that she studies. The same goes for online courses, it’s great to have someone on hand that is also studying online, so you can support each other.
2. Ask for and organise support
All our graduates agreed that having a supportive partner or family member on hand can make all the difference. If you have a partner, they need to fully support you throughout the study period. As mentioned above women do 75% of the world’s unpaid care work and men have on average 5 extra hours of leisure time each week. If this sounds like you - get your partner to step up and do their fair share so you can find the time you need.
If you’re a single mother then speak to family and friends to see if they can help out, and consider finding a study buddy locally too. It’s time to pull in all those favours so they can chip in and take the kids so you can study.
It will help to have the kids out of the house when you need some time to focus, and having someone to pick up bedtime and bath time when you want to join live lessons or peer hangouts, will be critical in helping you.
“If you have a partner they need to fully support you or if you don’t then pull in favours from family or friends to take the kids so you can study.” Ali Birtwell
3. Get organised
Time management came up time and time again when we asked our graduates for their tips. They all agreed it can be done, but it’s just about planning your time as efficiently as possible.
- Before you start training map out your daily and weekly routine to work out when you can fit the lessons in. Make a timetable of any time you have to devote to study, even those odd 10 minutes. Podcasts that can be listened to coming back from the school run, or while commuting, or while doing chores. Bite-sized lessons can sneakily be accessed while at the swim class or during nap times. Think creatively about those small chunks of time and how you could use them to study.
- Book specific slots into your calendar each week to complete any practical challenges you might have to do. Our students generally do these in the evenings or at weekends.
- Put a planning session in the diary each week, ideally on Sunday or Monday, to look at the course and see what needs doing each week. Schedule everything you might need at the start of the week so you have a plan.
- Make friends with time management tools. We love Trello for organising your time. This is a brilliant time management tool that can really help you. Check out some inspiration to see how others are using Trello to organise themselves. Of course, you can also buy some nice stationery if you’re more analogue about things.
Time management is a skill in and of itself, one that’s in-demand. Many of our graduates said that the time management skills they built during the training were the key to them being successful at work, particularly those that move into freelancing.
“I started the course whilst on maternity leave with a 6-month-old and finished it back at work doing a 50 hour week. To be honest it set me up well for organising my time. It was a juggle but I tried to keep a week ahead, did a lot of learning at night after I had put my little girl to bed or on my commute and my hubby would free me up on Sunday afternoons. It can be done it’s just about planning your time as efficiently as possible.” Emma Underwood
4. Stay focused
What we have learned from speaking to students who are really struggling with time is that they aren’t being as efficient as they could be.
Students fall down the internet rabbit hole and when they fall, they fall deep. Reading around the subject matter and clicking through link after internet link, can be the biggest time-suck of all. Use a bookmarking tool like Pocket to save links for later and don’t read around the subject matter too much, because your course provider should have done all that hard work for you.
Be careful of distractions while you study. Email, your phone, WhatsApp, even the cleaning and snack cupboard are all productivity killers and cause you to lose time and focus. Turn off all notifications on non-essential apps.
Set up a particular area of the house to study in. Try and find somewhere that isn’t going to be distracting so perhaps face the wall rather than the house, or you may end up being distracted by the need to tidy up. Definitely avoid being in the kitchen if possible, as it’s hard to avoid thinking about cooking and eating in our experience! If you find it a struggle to focus at home then why not get out of the house and work in a cafe or a quiet pub.
5. Be prepared to make sacrifices
Expect to miss out on some fun or to put those box sets on hold, because you’re going to have to prioritise to fit learning into your life. Ultimately, only you can decide whether you’re prepared to make those sacrifices but it will pay off in the long run.
“I did the Digital Mums Diploma in Social Media Marketing vocational training course, which requires 15 hours of study time each week, whilst working full-time and it can be done! You just need to put things on hold a little bit, hangouts came first before social engagements and I missed a lot of TV (maybe no bad thing!). If it’s something that you really really want to do, you’ll make time. Sunday’s were the day I made a really good start on the lessons whilst my kids were doing their homework too! You’ve got this!” Claire White
6. Take the pressure off
Because you’re suddenly having to find the time to fit in those hours of study, you should be kind to yourself and not place too many demands on being ‘perfect’.
Take the pressure off at home. If you’re the kind of parent that hand weaves your kid’s dressing up costumes from organic wool, or bakes GBBO showstoppers for family occasions, you might want to let things slide a little. It’s ok to buy a costume and a caterpillar cake from M&S, or feed the kids beans on toast occasionally. Ultimately, you are doing the course for them, and to take control of your career, which will benefit the whole family in the long run. Also, if you’re the kind of employee that volunteers to take on extra projects at work then, again, don’t do that for the period of study or you may find it too much of a stress.
“I was working part-time in a pretty busy job as a Communications Manager whilst I did the training. I was really really tired by the end. My tips are to let a lot of other stuff go whilst you focus on the course (doing anything at work that wasn’t absolutely necessary; cooking anything beyond basic!) as most early mornings or evenings & some weekends were my study time.” Ali Birtwell
7. Focus on the end goal
When you’re learning alongside being a mother, you’ll feel tired and you’ll be juggling a lot so it’s important to remind yourself WHY you are doing this. At the start of every week remind yourself why you decided to study and what you want to get out of it. That will help your motivation to make those sacrifices and not beat yourself up that the kids have eaten pizza for dinner.
We recommend mapping out your goals. Write down your ultimate career goal, break that up into smaller learning goals and note how the course will help you to reach them. Then each week reflect on which ones you’ve met and log how you are progressing towards your ultimate career goal. That will help you get through the tough times and keep you motivated to complete the course.
“I was working 4 days a week and commuting - I worked on the train when I could I worked in the evenings and weekends juggling two children and living in a building site. I found it a real challenge to be honest but if you want something you have to do whatever you can to get it. I would still do it again.” Hannah Robb
“Remember that it lasts only a few months so it’s worth it - keep the end goal in sight 😁” Ali Birtwell
If you follow these 7 top tips we’re confident that you’ll manage to fit learning into your life just like our successful graduates.
Don’t forget that all the Digital Mum’s courses are designed specifically around the needs of busy mothers so if you study with us you’ll be off to a good start. Visit our Work That Works Academy to find out what courses we have on offer at the moment. We are also offering free short courses and some free webinars over the next few months as part of our #LearnIn campaign to encourage mothers to lean into learning and these are all super short and easy to fit into your busy lives. Sign up to our newsletter here to find out how to access these.