Alumnus insight: How to achieve a work-study-life balance during your Executive MBA

Alumnus insight: How to achieve a work-study-life balance during your Executive MBA

Hearing from alumni is important when deciding if a business school and Executive MBA programme is right for you. We’ve had to cancel some face-to-face information sessions recently, meaning we can’t connect you with members of our alumni community face-to-face.

However, you can speak to our alumni ambassadors using our ‘chat to us’ feature. Members of our community are happy to take your questions about what studying at Cambridge is like, and to tell you about their experiences.

Chat to our alumni ambassadors >

David Wilson, alumnus from the 2020 Executive MBA cohort, had planned to join our alumni panel at an upcoming information session in London. He has written three blogs about his experience on the programme, covering the criteria he used for choosing a programme and business school, and his tips for striking a good work-study-life balance.

Last week, we shared David’s first two blogs, asking prospective students to consider why they want to study for an Executive MBA and his tips on how to choose the right business school for you.. Today, we’re delighted to present David’s third blog.


Once your Executive MBA experience begins, you will need to make the adjustment from managing your work-life balance to managing a work-study-life balance!

In this article, I will share some practical advice on achieving a work-study-life balance based on my own experience and research.

Accept that there will be compromises

You cannot be perfect in all aspects of your life and you will need to make compromises. For example, you might submit an assignment that is “good enough” or turn down a business trip that would have boosted your career in the short-term.

If you identify and acknowledge these trade-offs, you will be in a better position to make intelligent choices about where and when to compromise.

Communicate – and keep communicating

In your professional life, I recommend discussing with your line manager and co-workers how your commitments on the Executive MBA programme will affect them.

If you can share some of the benefits of your studies with your co-workers, this will help you to maintain their support. For example, you could introduce them to interesting people that you have met or share relevant ideas from your classes.

You will also need to manage your relationships with your classmates, especially when you are working together on group assignments.

At the start of each group assignment, I suggest that you ask the group members to share any upcoming personal or professional commitments that will affect their availability to contribute to the assignment. This will help you to manage the assignment workload around the group members’ other commitments.

Manage your time in a way that works for you

There is an abundance of advice about time management in books and online. As an Executive MBA student, it is important to find an approach that works for you.

I admired the disciplined approach of my classmates who studied on evenings and Saturdays but always took Sunday as a day off from work and study.

The nature of my work and lifestyle meant that I needed to take a more flexible approach. I knew that my professional and family commitments meant that there would be specific weeks during the year when it would be difficult for me to study.

Consequently, I planned around these periods and tried to ‘front load’ the work on some of my assignments and class preparation. I also frequently studied whilst travelling – both on my commute and on business trips.

Think about the long term and set some boundaries

A typical Executive MBA program lasts between 18 and 24 months but the benefits of the learning experience should last a lifetime.

To ensure that you are making choices that will benefit you in the long-term, I suggest setting some boundaries. Speaking personally, I decided that two of my boundaries would be:

  • I would not miss any of my classes due to pressures from work.
  • I would prioritise family events and do my best to “be present” and not distracted by work or study whilst spending time with family.

I found that these boundaries helped me to set priorities during the Executive MBA program.

Share the Executive MBA experience with your family

If you can bring your family to the business school and introduce them to your classmates, that can help to make your Executive MBA a positive experience for the whole family.

Read about an EMBA participant’s experience of motherhood while studying and working in a demanding job >

Speak with your support network

I was genuinely surprised by the support and encouragement that I received from colleagues, family and friends during my studies.

When things are not going well, it can be helpful to share the issue with a friend or family member. You may also be able to discuss issues with one of the faculty at your business school.

This isn’t necessarily about reaching a solution to a problem, it can just help to know that you are not alone and other people have experienced similar difficulties and made it through.

Cambridge Executive MBA participants during a lecture on the International Business Study Trip

The basics: eat, sleep and exercise

To thrive during the inevitable stress of combining an Executive MBA with your work and personal commitments, you need to take care of your well-being.

There might be times when you do some late nights to finish an assignment, don’t follow your usual exercise regime or eat food that is unhealthy – but remember that completing an Executive MBA program requires stamina and your health is important.

When things were hectic during my Executive MBA programme, I stepped back and concentrated on the basics:

  • eating well – I tried to ensure that I had at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day
  • trying to get enough sleep – my target was 7 hours per night
  • doing some exercise – I aimed for 10,000 steps per day and did some simple calisthenics for muscle strength and flexibility.

What is ‘life’ to you?

I think that the term ‘work-life balance’ fails to fully capture the various elements of a person’s life.

It is worth thinking about what is important to you in life other than work and how you balance those things. Some of the things that are important to you might fall within the following categories:

  • Your physical and mental well-being
  • Your personal relationships – for example, as a spouse, family member and friend
  • Your involvement with community organisations such as charities or religious organisations
  • Your personal passions and hobbies.

Recognise the links between work, study and life

As you progress through your Executive MBA programme, you can expect to take the concepts you learn in the classroom and apply them to your work situation.

However, I also found that the learning from the programme helped me in other areas of my life. For example, I found that the classes on organisational behaviour, evolutionary psychology and personality increased my self-awareness and ability to manage emotions in my personal life.

I also found that experiences from my work and personal activities provided inspiration for course assignments and brought the academic content to life.

Final thoughts

Maintaining a healthy work-study-life balance is not easy and everyone faces their own challenges in achieving a balance that works for them.

Just remember that you are not alone and that, if you ask, there will be people who will support you.

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