One of the best and worst things about the CFA program is that it is a self-study, and often study-as-you-work qualification. Unlike an MBA, you can take it as quickly or as slowly as you like, but there are significant challenges, such as figuring out how to effectively schedule your studies around your work week.
If you are currently in a full-time role, you will find it pretty challenging to maintain a solid study schedule in the week days. I found it next to impossible to maintain a high performance at work and get in a few hours of solid study after work. A full day’s work would leave me too exhausted at the end of the day and simply did not have enough willpower to open the books and study.
Here’s a few techniques that I found useful and started to open up some time for me during weekdays.
The main mistake I was making when trying to study on weekdays was to attempt to study after a full day’s work. Studying is 100% dependent on your own willpower – if you don’t want to study, it’s easy to just take the day off studying.
On the other hand, work is work – you will need to show up in the office and do your best because your manager will be on your ass if you slack off. Therefore it makes sense to kick-off your studying early in the morning when you are freshest.
Strange as it may sound, it may be a heck of a lot easier to convince yourself to hit the books at 5am in the morning than 9pm at night, no matter whether you’re a morning person or not. Use your personal discipline and willpower to blast through your books in the morning. Your manager and general work environment will ensure that you maintain your daily drive to excel for the rest of the day at work.
Learn to squeeze on a bit of time to study here and there. Your daily commute to work is a great opportunity to revise recently studied notes, review flashcards, or go through some practice questions. Recognize that these bite-sized time slots are not suitable for full, heavy-duty studying, so structure your study content and format to reflect this.
Keep your study content to topics that you’ve already covered in your study notes (i.e. reviewing what you’ve already learnt), or a format that can be easily picked up and left again (such as practice questions).
When you put together your weekly study plan, know that there is a limitation to what you will reasonably do in the weekdays and ensure that your weekends are solid study sessions. In general you’d get no more than 15% of weekend-level studies done in a typical weekday, so don’t misallocate targets!
The weekends is where you really can catch up on studies. Plan to get in a solid 8-10 hours – one day in the weekend is more valuable than all 5 weekdays put together.
Recognize when you’re starting to burn out. With a busy schedule 7 days a week, it will be natural to run out of steam after a few weeks or months. Recognize the signs of burnout – significant lack of drive to study, especially on weekends, increased irritability and mild depression. Take steps to remedy this immediately.
For best cost/benefit, if you’re studying weekdays, take one or two weekdays off. Remember, weekends are much more impactful to your study plans so it’s likely to be more sensible to take an entire 5-day workweek off to recover from burnout than a single weekday. Go out and have fun on these days off – go for a movie, hit the gym, drinks with friends, whatever you’ve been wanting to do.
Ensure you have enough sleep – this has enormous effects on your ability to memorise, recall and comprehend CFA topics. If you’re sleep deprived, make sure you allocate enough hours in the day to catching up, especially before the big exam day.
What you put in your body also matters a lot. Ensure you eat well and get the right foods for your preparation, and try and cut the booze (at least until after the exams).