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If you’re anything like me, working in a classroom is more productive than working from home. The classroom atmosphere keeps me in the zone to learn and stay engaged. While there is a certain appeal to the flexible, on-your-own education approach, it can be stressful to manage your time and responsibilities without the internal structure of the lecture hall we've all come to know and love. Here are some tips on getting through this new approach to learning!

Set Up a Separate Workspace

I don't know about you, but the second I sit in bed, I start to doze off instantly. When online classes first started in March, I was pretty excited at the prospect of school from bed since I'm a literal sloth. Although I had a great nap, it was the worst lecture of my life. While I’m lucky my professor understood and didn’t crucify me, you may not have the same luck, and it’s a huge setback in doing well academically.

Our environment plays a huge role in our attention spans. Separating our work from our rest area gets us in the best position to be alert, and when we need rest, our beds won’t be associated with our workload. You can use a lap desk on the couch, an actual desk in your room, or even a little DIY office space (thank you, Target!) catered to your personal style and preferred layout. Try removing distractions like the television or little desk toys from your area for maximum productivity. I also recommend making a playlist to keep you hyped and in the zone (check out my personal favorites on Spotify). 

Get Ready For the Day

After I mastered the not-doing-class-from-bed thing, I faced yet another challenge with my inherent laziness: my pajamas. Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I prioritize comfort above all, and being at home meant achieving the peak of comfort. Heck, I even jumped on the no-pants Zoom meeting trend multiple times. This, unsurprisingly, led to another nap and getting next to nothing accomplished.

There’s something about putting on a simple t-shirt and leggings, or even jeans (if we really want to seem put together) that really gets the day going! Adding more of our original routine solidifies a structure, which is really helpful when there isn’t a set schedule at home. Putting in little efforts to our well-being and lives translates to other aspects, like our school. Throw on your favorite shirt (bras are still 100% optional here, let’s be honest), tie up your hair in your lucky scrunchie, even spritz on some perfume or body mist! Let’s get all dressed up, even if we have nowhere to go (except the computer).

Embrace the Change and Challenge

I’m going to be blunt with you here: this sucks. This whole situation is unprecedented, and no one knows what to do. But, there is something we can do, and that’s our best! I’ve made it my new mantra to lean into the changes and embrace the challenges that come with them. We can’t control much right now, so let’s make the best of what we can, no matter how small those things may be.

Feel like it’s time for a change? Always wanted to try something new? Now is your chance! With so much changing around us, let’s use this  opportunity to take a leap into the unknown and expand ourselves. With an open mind and accepting a new challenge, we can get into a positive mindset that doesn’t hold us back, especially with our classes. It’s not easy since we’re not going to feel happy about it all the time, and that’s completely normal and healthy! But when we say we’re going to fail, we’re already halfway there, so let’s do our best and put ourselves in the best headspace for success!

Take Up a Hobby

Balancing school online is a priority, but you need to have a healthy relationship with those priorities. And being fully immersed in classwork is not healthy. I used to be that person, and it took most of my high school years to actually recognize it and do something about it. School isn’t just about academics but what you do with yourself outside of the classroom. In quarantine, I found myself in that unhealthy relationship again, so I jumped not only on the sourdough train, but the banana bread one as well.

If baking/cooking isn’t your style, I got you! I’m currently doing a DIY basement renovation project and got back into knitting. So while we’re stuck at Zoom University, here are some ideas to keep you engaged outside of the work:

- Learn (or improve upon) another language

- Get a little sketchbook and doodle or sketch a few minutes every day

- Take up a new instrument, or hone your skills 

- Keep a journal and write poetry or stories

- Practice makeup or get into skincare (I have my roommate to thank for this one)

- Make a reading list and get to those books you’ve been meaning to pick up

- Experiment with an exercise regimen

Group Chats!

Akin to the previous point, school isn’t all about the work. There’s a huge social aspect that lends itself to our success! When we get to know the people we learn with, the class becomes exciting and more engaging. But now that we’re stuck at home, those introductions and relationships are going to be harder to start.

Luckily, we live in the 21st century, where staying connected is incredibly easy. Group chats are a great way to connect with your peers! We tend to use GroupMe at Rutgers, but there’s other platforms like iMessage and Snapchat! Have a question about something in class? Heard something interesting from a classmate that you want to know more about? Discovered you and a peer share something cool? Text it, snap it, messenger pigeon it, whatever means of communication you all decide! My Greek and Roman mythology classmate made one for us the day after the term began, and it’s already been so awesome getting to know the people I share interests with! I’m even more excited to be taking the class now because I’ve finally forged some connections. So, take the plunge! Be bold and suggest it so that you’ll get to know everyone, all from the comfort of your own home!

The Master Calendar

This idea came from my high school AP Lang teacher’s desk calendar (Hi Ms. Burke!!). At the time, it seemed absolutely over the top and kind of counterproductive because of how meticulous it was. Little did I know, this is the most productive thing I could ever do for myself since there was a method to the madness.

As classes began, not only was it hard for me to schedule my independent reading and homework together, but I had to factor in my lectures (asynchronous or synchronous) on top of that! Without a separate classroom, structured schedule, and environment, I realized I had to do something to make my own. Enter THE MASTER CALENDAR.

I have a huge laminated calendar on the wall, and for each day I have a post-it note for each of my classes (color-coded, of course). It contains what I need to get done, with the most important tasks on top and the lesser ones on the bottom. I have all my big assignments (like deadlines for submissions) planned out at the beginning of the month, and the little ones (like day-to-day progress on papers or readings) I take care of at the beginning of each week. Now, you don’t have to do it this way. You could have a desk calendar and write in each square or a little datebook, or plan your work out a little more loosely, whatever works best for you! It’s your personal classroom, tailored to your needs!

Go Easy on Yourself

Like I said before, this is completely new to all of us, and it isn’t easy! But you’re a human being, and it’s okay to not handle it the best way possible 24/7. Your frustrations and anxieties and sadness are valid! Denying yourself will only make you feel more frustrated. So let it out! Talk to friends, family, or even a trusted professor. Your well-being is paramount to all your successes, including crushing this online school thing. Mistakes will be made, and it will be hard to get the most out of your classes, but that’s perfectly okay right now. You’re doing your best, and that’s all that matters!

Jenna Unger

Rutgers '23

Jenna Unger is a junior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. She is majoring in History and on the pre-masters track for education. She's an avid reader, artist, animal lover, and musician. Insta: @j.unger16
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