As a result of recent events, many students across the globe are learning how to adjust to online classes. As if studying isn’t already a delicate process, now everything has been made more complicated by the fact that many students don’t have a solid schedule in place anymore, and developing routine is difficult. Add in the fact that many are struggling with unemployment, added mental stress, and may have sick loved ones or are sick themselves, and most people are not at their best while trying to keep up with course work. These tips are things that have worked for me when I am down and help make doing course work less overwhelming.
The first tip has been brought up a lot on social media, but I cannot stress it enough: Schedule study time into your calendar and commit to it. Not only does this ensure that you make enough time to get everything done, but making a habit to study at the same time can help increase motivation. Much like muscle memory, your brain becomes adjusted to working when it is time to work. The smoother the transition, the better. Also, take into account what time of day you’re most productive. For me, studying directly after my morning classes is good, because I’m already in a working state of mind. Studying directly after my evening class is bad because I’m tired and need to rest. Scheduling specific times to study means you can also guarantee you’ll have time to relax or do other things, and that alone can relieve some of the pressure.
If you’re feeling unmotivated to start working, a good tip is what people call the Five-Minute Rule. This is where you vow to work on what you need to do for five minutes, and only five minutes. Pretty painless, right? The reason this works is that, often, the worst part of doing something is getting started. So after those five minutes, chances are it’s not as bad as you were making it out to be and you are motivated to continue working. If you’re not, then simply honor your five-minute rule. Maybe get up and do something else, and then come back to the task and try the five-minute rule again. If nothing else, you just got ten minutes of work done, which is better than not starting at all. Another productivity “hack” that works for me is using a Pomodoro timer, which I’ve written about in another article. It’s a similar system, but you work for 25 minutes at a time with small breaks in between each session. Breaking study periods into smaller, task-based sessions generally helps me work more quickly and thus, finish sooner.
In order to make the most of your study time, make sure that you’re studying effectively. For me, the biggest time suck is usually doing class readings. Be honest with yourself, do you really need to do all that reading? If you’re an English major, the answer is probably “uh, duh.” But if you’re reading a textbook, then reading everything is usually a waste of time, since the actual information you need is surrounded by a bunch of fluff and additional explanations. Don’t tell my professors, but I reserve textbook reading for when I don’t understand a topic from class, or the professor’s lectures need some filling in the blanks. Even then, I think every major can benefit from not reading any classwork front to back. Think of it not as reading, which is passive and does not lead to a lot of memory retention, but rather as a search for the information you need. The rest of it is just fluff.
Another tip to help you study is paradoxically, focus on something that isn’t school. At least, a little bit each day. Try and restore any bits of normalcy where you can–get dressed in the morning, even if it’s just changing from pajamas into day lounge clothes. Set up a video chat with your friends who you usually study with when you’re on campus, and make it a recurring event. Move your body in any way that feels good to you, whether it’s taking a walk, doing at-home exercises, or just dancing to music while you disinfect your house (again). Give yourself things to look forward to in order to finish your work or things to lift your mood so you can focus better. A good diet, exercise, and quality time with loved ones will improve every aspect of your life, and that includes your academic life.
The last piece of advice is probably the most important: please forgive yourself. This is a big adjustment for a lot of people, and nobody signed up for this way of living. Frankly, school is not the most important thing right now, especially if you or someone you know is infected with the virus or has had to make huge life changes due to social distancing. You shouldn’t feel bad about not wanting to do your work. But, if you do your best to make it easy on yourself, then school can be one less thing you’re stressed out about. I’m rooting for all of us as we try and keep up with the world and our classes. I believe in you, and I hope these tips spark ideas on how you can make your new study schedule and make it work for you.