7 ways to maximize a suddenly remote work experience while you're earning an MBA

By Jenny Clare

COVID-19 is changing how the world works, plays, studies, and communicates—at least for the time being. If you’ve recently shifted into a remote work experience, you’re not alone. While sharing your workspace with a partner or your children is certainly an adjustment, there are plenty of ways to make the most of working from home.

Studies show that working from home increases productivity—and there’s no reason that can’t go for your MBA studies too. Since many part-time MBA-seekers work full-time jobs, we've seen many of our students use their newly remote work schedule to their advantage.

Taking on a full-time, part-time, or executive MBA in addition to your job may seem daunting, but these tips will help you maximize the experience.

1. Up-level your virtual collaboration with creative tools

We’ve all heard of Zoom and Slack for remote workplace collaboration. Why not go beyond the basics and incorporate tools to make virtual collaboration with colleagues even more valuable? They might be helpful for use with your MBA classmates too.

  • Direct poll lets you create, conduct, and share results of polls in real-time
  • If you love sticky notes and whiteboards, you’ll love Miro, a free virtual platform for real-time and asynchronous brainstorming
  • Breakout rooms allow you to split off from the main group in a virtual meeting so you can discuss or work in smaller groups

2. Take advantage of your extra free time 

Remote employees save an average of 8.5 hours per week by not having to commute. Add to that the time gained by avoiding distractions from your boss or coworkers, and you’ve suddenly freed up a significant amount of time. You can leverage that newly freed-up time to pursue a Full-time, Part-time, or Executive MBA

For example, since you're working from home, you can listen to a recorded case study or lecture during the time you'd usually be commuting. Or, inspire fresh ideas for the next class by listening to a business podcast while running or doing chores.

3. Establish boundaries 

If you're suddenly working at home more due to COVID-19, it pays to establish clear boundaries for your work and study time. 

It can be easy to let work and study bleed into each other when it's all happening in the same place, which is not always ideal for productivity and concentration. If possible, create a designated workspace and a separate, designated study area. If you don’t have that much space, optimize the area to create a distinction:

  • Keep MBA-related notebooks, textbooks, and index cards off your desk when you’re working
  • Close all work tabs on your laptop while you’re studying and turn off work email notifications (and vice versa)
  • Have a pad of paper handy or use a digital notepad to write down any distracting thoughts so you can come back to them later

Ask family members or housemates to respect your space and time during work or study hours. Shut the door, use headphones to drown out background noise, and put your phone on airplane mode or in another room altogether.

4. Discover where (and when) you’re most productive

While establishing a workspace is important for avoiding distractions, you may find that you need to mix things up every once in a while. Experimenting with your study and work environment can help you get the most out of yourself:

  • Discover your most productive time of day and focus your most strategic tasks around it
  • Try reading a paper or reviewing class materials outdoors for a set period of time, as the change in scenery can boost your productivity

5. Create a schedule

Time management is critical for productivity on the job, especially if you’re simultaneously earning a degree such as an executive MBA

One of the best ways to stay productive at home is to create set working hours. The same goes for working on your MBA studies. This will help you feel more structured, and the more structured you are, the more efficient you can be. 

  • Try keeping the same work hours as you did when you were in the office
  • Schedule time for exercise
  • Taking breaks is one of the best ways to stay productive, so don’t forget to schedule those too
  • If you feel it might deter you from doing your work, schedule short breaks for social media—that way you can still “get your fix”, but with boundaries 

6. Focus on one task at a time

Mounting evidence shows multitasking is ineffective. To make sure you stay focused on one task at a time, use the Pomodoro Technique (or a version of it).

Many people find success using the structure of the Pomodoro Technique

  1. Choose a single task.
  2. Set a timer and work on the task for 25 minutes.
  3. When the Pomodoro rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  4. Set the timer for 5 minutes and take a break during this time. (You’ve just completed one "Pomodoro" sprint.)
  5. After every four Pomodoro sprints, take a longer break of around 20 minutes.
  6. Continue this throughout the day until your workday is over. 

If you suddenly realize you have something else you need to do during the 25 minutes, write the task down on a sheet of paper.

7. Set daily and weekly goals

If you feel overwhelmed between the demands of work, home life, and your MBA coursework, setting goals will help you prioritize and make the best use of your time. Before you go to bed, write down what you wish to accomplish the next day so that you can jump right into work or study in the morning. You can also set weekly goals and adjust your daily list as you go through the week.

  • Note important deadlines related to your job and your MBA in either a traditional day timer or a digital calendar
  • A 1-3-5 list is a creative way to prioritize and set goals for both your job and part-time or full-time MBA 
  • Color-coding your lists will help keep job-related and MBA-related tasks separate and organized
  • Consider an online project management board like Trello to track your progress on work and study projects

Not only do lists help you stay organized and on top of it as you balance work and your MBA program, they also let you see and celebrate your accomplishments.

Remember that change is the only constant in life, and while we can’t control events like COVID-19 and the “new normal” that goes along with it, we can control how we handle them. Your new work-from-home life may be the perfect opportunity to pursue the MBA program you’ve been considering. 

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Topics: Work Experience  |   Career  |   COVID-19  |   executive mba
Jenny Clare
Jenny is Associate Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals. She hopes these blog posts provide you with useful insights into the Berkeley MBA experience and answer questions you may have about the MBA in general.