Busy professionals must balance the conflicting demands of their jobs, families and studies - and work smart STUDYING PART TIME while holding down a full-time job - whether for an executive short course that lasts a weekend or an MBA that takes two years - requires careful time management. Learning how to use time as productively as possible is a useful skill. It might also be the only way that busy working professionals can balance the often conflicting demands of their jobs, families and studies. The key is learning how to work smart. 'The buzzword now is working smarter rather than working harder,' Academic and Continuing Education director Joanna D'Ettorre Leung said. 'Even if you work really hard at something you won't necessarily get the results you want if you don't work smart. It is all about managing your time, and time is money. If you look at the people who are really successful, they didn't necessarily start with a great deal of money or a brilliant idea. It's not simply an issue of the rich getting richer. Successful people know how to prioritise and stay focused.' But is studying part-time for one or two nights a week or every weekend for an extended length of time a realistic option for a busy working professional with a spouse and children? Not according to Lene Jensen, associate director of the Hong Kong MBA programme at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). 'In Hong Kong it is unusual to be free on the same night for 12 consecutive weeks,' Ms Jensen said. 'I would suggest that people look for a programme of study that is specifically designed to suit a busy professional lifestyle by offering teaching times outside working hours.' Some programmes offer built-in flexibility, while others follow a lock-step format. While there is something to be said for both types, many students have to drop out half way through programmes with rigid formats because they cannot keep up with their professional and academic commitments, or because they undergo a change in schedule or they decided to have children. If you anticipate any alterations in your working hours or the amount of time you have to travel, or your personal life, look for programmes that offer flexibility - in the number of courses you take and the length of time required to complete the programme. Many students find out part of the way through that they need to take one or two semesters off - so make sure you can do this without being penalised. 'Things to look for include a choice in when you can start your study, the number of subjects you are required to study each year, the number of years you are allowed to complete the programme and the choice or variety of subjects offered, ' Ms Jensen said. 'Many people find they may need to stop and start a programme of study because of changes in work commitments, changing jobs or having children. As a result, it is important to check that the programme you choose allows you plenty of time to complete it.' Part-time programmes come in two broad types: those that meet at regular intervals every week or month and those that group their contact hours into intensive modules, with time off in between. Pierre Cheung, who works for BBC World and travels to China every month, said that intensive modules allowed him to complete a subject much faster than traditional scheduling would. As a result he was able to complete four to five subjects a year without feeling overloaded. Many people also appreciate programmes that allow them the flexibility of doing differing amounts of coursework at different times. Ms Jensen said: 'Many students like being allowed to do as few as one or two subjects a year or as many as nine. If students have a work project that is going to last a couple of months and take up a lot of time, they can delay enrolment in a subject and enrol in it later in the year.' William Liang, who received his MBA from AGSM, said the flexibility offered by the programme was one of its key attractions. 'If you have important work or other commitments you have to attend to you can defer your studies and continue later,' he said. Some people opt for online courses assuming that they offer the most flexibility. But it is important to keep in mind that the attribution rate at online programmes tends to be higher than at face-to-face programmes. Motivation, good time management and strong support from course providers are key if considering the online route. 'It is important to remember that online delivery does not suit everyone, nor is flexibility guaranteed. Online programmes are well suited for people whose jobs require them to travel constantly. If your travel commitments are manageable then most people prefer programmes that provide networks and contact with faculty,' Ms Jensen said According to Kathleen Slaughter, associate dean for Asia at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, getting your priorities right is an important part of time management. 'The reality is that you often have to give up something when taking up additional studies, but good time management ensures that you give up the right things,' she said. 'For the short 18-month period that it takes to complete our executive MBA [EMBA] programme, most participants find that if they manage their time well they actually accomplish more than they did when they did not have the programme to think about. 'According to an old saying, if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person,' Professor Slaughter said. 'It's an old expression, but it has a great deal of validity. I constantly marvel at what our students are able to accomplish during and after they have completed our EMBA programme.' Roy Green, dean of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM), said further studies were not for everyone. 'Candidates short on time or motivation should consider deferring their enrolment until they find themselves in a position to fully invest in their programme of study,' he said.