How to Maintain a Social Life While Studying for the CFA?

Among the most common assumptions candidates have while studying for the CFA is that you will inevitably have to put your social life on the back burner and most likely sacrifice sleep as well.

Some have advanced the triangle theory where you have to choose two of three activities: sleeping ,studying or your social life.

Triangle

If you work in addition to studying for the CFA, it is generally assumed that your social life must be completely discarded if you have any hope of succeeding. After all, why spend your time on frivolous activities while you could spend those precious hours memorizing the nuances of CFO under IFRS and US GAAP…

Well, I am here to tell you this is crap!

You do not have to “sacrifice” an activity just because you are studying. I would even say that it is crucial that you do maintain a social life while studying…unless you are a hermit…

lonely monkey

But before I explain how to balance studying excruciating hours with a blooming social life let me address the following legitimate question: What makes me such an expert on the topic?

Experience.

As I was studying for level 1 and level 2, i was working 40 hrs per week, finishing my college degree (with a full course load), working out 4 times a week, sleeping adequately while having an amazingly rich social life. As I was living on my own at the time, i had to manage those activities while hunting for my own food and performing house chores…

We really want you to succeed at managing your time and nail the CFA and I will give you some of the tips that helped me achieve that without becoming a recluse savage.

First, let me explain why not only you can maintain a social life while studying like a mad man/woman, but you must maintain one!

  1. A healthy lifestyle is a balanced lifestyle. Just like you need sleep to let your body rejuvenate, social life allows you to relax and get your mind off other spheres of your life.
  2. Networking is a crucial part of advancing your career (I would say more important than studies). Going to social event allows you to network in your field and make potentially important contacts.
  3. It is true that your friends will remain your friends even if you shun them for your studying. This is why they will appreciate it even more if you spend some time with them once in a while despite your heavy study load. Keeping your friends happy is a huge asset in life!

The reason social life is sacrificed first when it comes time to study is that it is seen as a distraction, a counter-productive activity. Granted, playing beer-pong all night with your buddies is not the most grandiose way to spend your time but if you choose your social activities intelligently, it can actually be beneficial to you. I will give you three tips on how to maintain a smart social life while studying for the CFA. The secrets (its not really secret, most of it is rooted in common sense) are summarized in three concepts: balance, efficiency and relevance.

Balance

We can never over-emphasize the importance of a balanced lifestyle. One way to maintain a social life even when you are busy with studying is by recognizing the activities you want to pursue, strike the correct balance between them and organize your schedule accordingly. The important concept here is organization. In my case, I wanted to both have a social life and continue working out as I was studying and working. I therefore integrated these activities in my regular schedule. I left a free time slot on Friday or Saturday night to go out with my friends. It did not mean I had to go out on Friday or Saturday night; if there was an activity on Tuesday, I just moved my studying session to Friday night to compensate. Be flexible with your schedule otherwise you may miss out!

Let me stress something here: I am extremely bad at sticking to a schedule (some would say it’s because I’m from the West Indies…). I think I am being generous in saying I rarely stick to a schedule or a plan of any kind (it would probably be most appropriate to use never). However, it is important to have a schedule. Let’s say you allow yourself to go out twice every week, Friday and Saturday. If it is Wednesday and you already went out and chilled with your friends twice, chances are that you will feel guilty and you will shame yourself into staying in and studying for the rest of the week. Here you did not stick to the schedule, but the fact that you had a schedule created enough psychological pressure that you got both your social life and studying targets fulfilled. Without a predetermined balanced schedule, the situation can easily get out of hand, especially if you have party-oriented friends… which I did at the time I was studying for CFA…

Efficiency

As we mentioned before we Financial analyst Warriors believe in quality rather than quantity. It is not about staying in front of your Schweser Notes, CFA Institute books or Financial Analyst Warrior Study Guide for hours; its about learning the stuff! Just like you can develop your concentration to be more effective in studying, you can also improve the efficiency of our social life.

An efficient social life involves doing activities that are worth it with people who counts. This obviously depends on your personal tastes but try to maximize the enjoyability of your non-studying time. Since you will likely have less occasions to perform non-studying activities, make it count! Examples of this abound:

  • Instead of grabbing a beer with your buddies at the neighbourhood bar, organize (or ask a friend to organize) a massive party.
  • Spend the week-end in the countryside.
  • Instead of watching the game on T.V., buy tickets to go see it live.
  • Go see a concert.
  • Subscribe to a team sport in your neighborhood.
  • Try an activity outside of your comfort zone such as rock-climbing, kayaking, kick-boxing or dancing (I did all of those and trust me, it gets your mind off LIFO and FIFO…)

Relevance

Last but not least, you should incorporate activities that can potentially further your career such as networking events in your field. It does not have to be formal events, you can just call up your college friends and grab a coffee with them to see what they are up to. The important thing here is to maintain relationships that are relevant to your career. The CFA Institute’s local society routinely organizes events as well as business schools. You can also network online by join a local finance-related Linked-in or meet-up group.

Dont miss out on your social life!

Dont miss out on your social life!

I hope you found these tips helpful! These actually helped me keep a balanced lifestyle and (almost) prevented me from going insane while studying for the CFA. Obviously, these can be applied regardless of what you are studying or even if you are working. Do not underestimate the importance of a healthy social life (but do not overdo it!). Too much of anything is never good and too much studying can be counter-productive.

Here is one last tip I read somewhere (cant remember where) and I recently started to implement:

Every week, reach out to one friend on your list (Facebook, cell, bbm, whatsapp, outlook or whatever) whom you have not spoken to in a while. It could be a high-school friend or an ex co-worker or maybe even someone you do not know but feel that maybe you could connect with (like me!).

Just send them a message asking for some news and see what happens… You will be surprised at the positive reaction! It takes just a few minutes and trust me, 0% of the people said: “Oh Miguel just sent me a message saying hi and asking how I am doing! What a jerk! Who does he think he is?” Your value will automatically go up in their book, just like a put when the underlying dividend increases…

If you have any techniques on how to maintain a social life while studying long hours, write us a comment!

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CFA Level 1 Study Guide