How to balance work and study – 6 tips from AAT’s distance learner of the year 2017

If you’ve ever needed proof that study success is within your reach despite major setbacks, Pete Freeman’s story will surely convince you that it’s possible.

Pete started his AAT studies in 2016 when he was still recovering from a terrifying accident having fallen from a balcony in Greece. This left him with fractured bones and internal injuries. He was unconscious for three weeks and spent five more weeks in hospital after returning to the UK.

Despite his difficult recovery, Pete studied for his Foundation Certificate in Accounting between hospital appointments. Now he works part-time for a training provider, has recently completed his Professional Diploma in Accounting, and in 2017 has been awarded AAT Distance Learner of the Year.

Pete shares the six techniques that helped him to balance work, study and recovery.

Plan your work

“I planned my work a few weeks in advance and decided how many chapters I wanted to get through. I always tried to put in some hours, whether it was in the evening or during the weekend. If you find little blank bits of your life where you’re just twiddling your thumbs and not doing much, use those little bits of time to study. It doesn’t take as much time out of your life as you might think.”

Writer Mark Twain once said that you should start each day by “eating a frog.” Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you need to eat an actual frog. Just make sure to do the most difficult task first. Once that’s out of the way, you’ll find it easier to focus on the rest of your to-do list.

Know your own learning style

“Once you get to a certain level, you get to know your own way of learning. I discovered I do well when I write brief notes while studying and work best with revision cards and mock exams during the revision stage. Throughout your time as a student, it’s good to find out what works for you, because you’ll probably be using those techniques every step of the way in your career.”

What study technique is best for you depends on your learning style. Test what type of learner you are and find out whether you’re a visual learner who likes to see information, an audial learner who needs to hear information explained, or a tactile learner who learns by doing.

Set realistic targets

“Be ambitious, but don’t be too ambitious. Set realistic targets for yourself. If your targets are too strict and you can’t make your own deadlines you’ll end up demotivating yourself.”

A good way to set attainable goals is using the SMART technique, making sure that your goals are specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related. Take five minutes before starting a new task to define your goal according to these criteria. This will give you the clarity and focus you need to complete the task successfully within your time limit.

Practice self-discipline

“You really need to discipline yourself, so you can study whenever you like. It’s important to create a personal structure. Because you need to plan all your own work, you really have to be determined.”

To make sure you stick to them, create an overview of your study goals and deadlines using an app such as Wunderlist, and tick off tasks once you’ve completed them. It may help to set a timer for each task so you’re not tempted to daydream. Reward yourself once you’ve met an important deadline and give yourself some time off to recharge.

Know your motivation

“My own motivation is career progression. I like to get good results and good feedback. I also enjoyed the course itself and found a lot of the material very interesting, especially learning how our financial world operates.”

What Colour Is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles is a career guide but also a great toolkit to help discover your values and motivations. Having a clear picture of what matters most to you will help you to keep going when the going gets tough.

Ask for help

Speak to your training provider as soon as possible and find a way to fit the course around your requirements. There’s always a way and AAT are very flexible. As long as you remain determined you will get the qualification. Believe in yourself. You can do it!”

Speak to your tutor about any challenges you’re having with managing your workload, whether that’s due to work, family or personal reasons. Trust us, they’ve seen it all and are the best people to speak to about how to manage what you’re going through.

5 apps to balance life and work

1. Remove distractions. Don’t check your emails or social media while you’re studying. Use apps like SelfControl or Freedom to block distracting websites if you find this difficult.

2. Prioritise. Apps such as iStudiezPro help you to stay on top of your to-do list. You can set up reminders and schedule your upcoming assessments, so exam dates don’t creep up on you unexpectedly.

3. Use tried-and-tested time management techniques. Don’t study for hours on end without taking a break. Strategies such as the Pomodoro technique, where you study in blocks of 25 minutes followed by a five-minute break, keep you going for longer because your mind stays fresh for longer.

4. Make your knowledge stick. Have you ever used flashcards to memorize knowledge? Flashcard apps like Tinycards and Brainscape allow you take them with you on your phone, so you can practice on the go. If you’re a fan of mind mapping, XMind and Mindmeister are free tools that help you to organise your thinking.

5. Get inspired. Don’t forget to give yourself time off to recharge. Watch an inspirational TED talk on YouTube, meditate with the Headspace app, or try a Fitnessblender workout. You’ll return to your studies with a clear head, ready to take on the next challenge.


Distance learning can feel isolating at times and you might miss the social atmosphere of a classroom. Want a place to ask for tips on how to pass that assessment or share the challenges of balancing work and study with other people who really get it?

The AAT Students Independent Group, created by students for students, is a place for AAT distance learners to come together for technical advice, motivation and general banter.

With over 12,000 members, you can learn from and support one another. The main rule in the group is ‘if you ask for help, return the favour when you are in a position to do so’. That way the group regulates itself as each new round of newbies can get support from those that have progressed. A problem shared is a problem halved.

Why not join the Accounting Student Network Facebook Group. With over 25,000 members this group supports accounting students from all qualifications, not just AAT. It’s a chance for you to grow your network as well as get career advice and talk to others.

Browse the full range of AAT study support resources here

Coco d'Hont is a staff writer at Flibl and reports on technology, finance and workplace wellbeing. Follow her on Twitter @cococatani.

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