Ken Nguyen

Programming Blog

View project on GitHub

Carving out Study Time with Full Time Job

04 Jul 2019
rants

It’s been a while since I last updated my blog. The main reason is that I found it increasingly difficult to find the time to sit down and write a blog post. I started a new job a few months ago working ten hours a day, six days a week. I go to work at 10am and go home around 8pm with one hour commute time each way. By the time I get back home from work, my brain is tired from the daily activities and I have to make the conscious decision on how to budget the time I have left. Some days I’m able to push myself and study a couple hours before going to sleep. Some days I have absolutely no energy and cannot drag myself to even look at the study material. Since time became a precious resource, it’s a constant tug of war for me everyday to use it more efficiently.

Identifying My Goals

I read many articles praising the importance of setting goals. I used to think to myself that I didn’t need to set goals since my schedule during school had built-in deadlines. I either have to complete the objectives by the deadline or receive a bad grade. But things are not as clear-cut with being self-taught. There are no external deadlines to adhere to so it can become extremely easy to cut some corners when learning new things. On top of that, having a full time job made me feel like I never have enough time to do a serious amount of studying each day. There are many times I caught myself going down the YouTube rabbit hole and wasted hours watching videos that I’d probably forget the next day.

Worse, when I feel guilty about spending so much time doing something unproductive, my mind rationalizes it away. The reasoning is always the same, “You’ve already worked ten hours today, you deserve some free time for yourself.” It’s not a bad reason to take some unstructured time to unwind myself. However, this line of reasoning can balloon out of control if left unchecked. I’ve experience long periods of time where I prioritized being comfortable over pushing myself. I let days and weeks go by without much thought about it since that pushing myself to go past my comfort zone is painful.

This is where consciously setting goals is so big for me. Just like with New Year’s Resolution in the past, I put down massive goals to be achieved in one year. While this gave me satisfaction writing down those big goals in the beginning. I often fell way short of expectation and beat myself up for not pushing myself hard enough. The perfect analogy I can think of is a person who have not had any mountain climbing training set a goal to conquer Mount Everest in one year. It is possible in a perfect world but given how messy life often is, these goals collect dust at the back of my mind.

Holding Myself Accountable

When I can find the time to look at my goals, it’s a willpower exercise. I need to convince myself that I’m capable and willing to achieve the goals daily. When I have abundant time and energy, this process is straightforward and relatively easy to do. The challenge comes when my time and energy are depleted. My mind wants to take the easy way out by watching YouTube or browsing Reddit. I can demand my mind to work overtime but it’s only a temporary band-aid for a deeper issue. What I realized was that I needed to separate myself into two entities, the self and the ego, and treat them differently.

This process may seem counterintuitive at first glance, why would I go through the trouble of doing all that and creates more work for myself? The idea lies in the fact that by separating them, I hold the self accountable for what the ego does. If my ego wants to go crazy and set impossible goals without any plan to back them up, the self needs to hold the ego back by establishing realistic expectations. When I meditate, I can observe my thought and let them go without being caught up in them. But the act of observing suggests that there are two entities, the observer and the observed. In Buddhism, this concept is called the Thinking Mind and the Observing Mind.

I accepted the fact that the ego cannot be completely controlled. It will always complains incessantly and does what it wants to do. What important for me is observing it and understands that I am not my ego. I have to choice to act despite it. It’s painful to say no to the easy path but seeing the chasm between where I am and where I want to be pushes me forward.

Eliminate Unnecessary Activities

The second idea I have for using my time efficiently is to ruthlessly remove any activity that does not contribute to my goals. I used to play League of Legends every night with my friend when I get home from work. The satisfaction of playing a game is immediate and floods my brain with dopamine. In turn, I crave to play more for the dopamine rush. I never cared about how much time I put into the game because it was an enjoyable activity for me. Then I found a site called Wasted on LoL and it showed me how much time I spent on the game. My current total is 1,058 hours for the past six months. I crunched the numbers and that averages out to be about 44 hours per week.

At this point alarms are ringing in my head. I always thought to myself that it seems like I never have enough time to do anything I want to do. It’s so easy to forget the time spent on entertainment since they seem to fly by so quickly. But the numbers don’t lie and it turned out I had another full time job of playing video games. Facing the cold hard fact, I uninstalled the game. Of course that doesn’t mean I can dedicate a solid forty hours per week to learning. But it sure helps to have the extra time and freedom to do what I want to.

For me time management is a concept that I constantly need to optimize. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wasting a couple hours a day on unproductive activities thinking there’s always more time tomorrow. I’m at the point in my life where if I want to achieve more, I need to make sacrifices and work on difficult things. It’s a daily struggle but I’m grateful that I can see the path and have the choice to move forward.

Back to top