A Guide to Self-Studying in an Environment That Wasn’t Meant for School

Ever since all classes have been moved online, many students have expressed their struggles with focusing on their studies, building a steady and effective work routine, and/or having trouble catching up on lectures or material they’ve been putting off.

It is crazy to think about the extent of how much the world has changed people’s lives in just a month.

I’ve talked to friends who are currently struggling to perform in the classes they have been doing so well in the first 12 weeks.

This is because, in such little time, we were forced to switch into an environment where we might not feel the most productive.

While there are fortunate students who were able to settle back home better than most, there are still many who don’t.

If you find yourself here because you find that you are one of these students, then no need to look any further for help.

Here are several ways students can study without distraction, how to focus on their studies better, and how to avoid temptations to procrastinate in such an environment.

1. Find your personal space    

Firstly, find your personal space where you can isolate yourself and work on your homework or study in peace.

This might be your bedroom, but other places could include an unused office or an unused guest bedroom.

Any room can work as long as you can keep any intrusive relatives or rowdy siblings out of the room while you work.

It may be difficult to find a place for yourself, especially if you have a large family.

If you stick to your bedroom, make sure you do not work on your bed.

Your brain is wired to know that your bed is meant for sleeping; once you sit in and make yourself comfortable, you’d be surprised how often you might accidentally fall asleep while working.

Therefore, you would need a desk that is strictly reserved for working so that such incidences do not occur.

2. Create a day-to-day planner or to-do list for the week

It can be difficult to keep track of everything you have to do when everything from lectures to exams is suddenly pushed online.

Keep track of the lectures you have to watch and the assignments you have to do by having a planner or to-do list.

One of the things I do to spread my workload out into small, manageable tasks is by making a sticky note on my laptop (MacBook), listing out each day of the week, and then writing down my tasks in bullet points under each day I want to do them.

I try to do my assignments ahead of time so that I get them done at least the day before they’re due.

However, this is plausible because I also do not try to overload my day with too many tasks or else, I may end up discouraged and procrastinate. 

3. Create productive habits and set a routine

The most important step out of almost everything listed in this guide would be this one.

When the world is awry and we get forced into a setting that is usually not optimal for work, our life and work routines will also become awry.

That is why you should take the time to create a new routine that will allow you to get the necessary amount of sleep and exercise as well as the proper amount of time allotted just for work.

The reason why most traditional college students who were initially doing well on campus are now failing to maintain their classes online is because they were so used to having a routine set while they were at university.

Now that they’re at home and they are now forced to do all their work online, this throws off their routine and they end up putting off their work more so than usual, even if they don’t want to.

What needs to be done soon is to establish a proper routine that allows you to get your work done in a timely manner while leaving enough time to do everything else you want to do.

This is done by forcing yourself to perform the same task every day at a certain time for the next week or so.

This will then create a habit that will become easier to do as each day passes because your body and brain are already used to doing it. 

4. Eliminate any sources of distraction from your work area

This includes your phone, TV, tablets, and gaming devices.

You do not want these to be a source of temptation to get away from your work.

Turn off the TV and tuck away your tablet or gaming device somewhere where it’s not easily accessible while you work.

Close and lock your door to block out any noise coming from other parts of the house as well as any potential interrupters.

If you want to force yourself to not use your phone while you work, there is a productivity app called Forest ($1.99) where you set a certain amount of time to focus.

You can set your time anywhere from ten minutes to two hours, depending on however much time you need to work.

What the app does is that for the next however much time you set it to, you are not allowed to leave the app and access any other part of your phone during that duration.

You must leave the app open and running while your phone is shut off.

At this time a tree will grow while you are working on your studies.

If you succeed in focusing on your work during the duration you set, you will earn a tree and some coins.

If you try to leave the app while the timer is still counting down, your tree will then wither and die, and you earn no coins.

Typically, the longer amount of time you set to focus on your work, the more trees you can earn for your forest.

Your goal is to try to create a lush forest without having a lot of dead trees here and there.

You may eliminate any dead trees you might have in your forest, but this also requires coins.

You may also choose to use your coins on buying different trees, bushes, and flowers to keep your forest interesting.

The best and final part about this app is that once you earn enough coins (2500, to be exact), you may even be able to grow an actual tree in a real forest.

This charitable act is run by “Trees for the Future,” who is Forest’s current tree-planting partner whose goal is to improve the livelihood of impoverished farmers by revitalizing their damaged lands.

5. Have snacks and drinks nearby to keep you nourished

We can all agree that the last thing we want to think about during a Zoom lecture is how hungry you are when you’re supposed to be following the lecture.

Place a bottle of water nearby to help you remain hydrated as well as a few snacks such as fruit to keep your hunger at bay.

Food and drink will keep you happy and nourished while you are studying or doing homework.

6. Take breaks when you need to

After you’ve been working for a while, taking a break is highly recommended.

Get some lunch or dinner during this time and you’re free to use your phone or your gaming device for a few minutes.

Because you will most likely have been indoors most of the time during quarantine, take a few minutes to step outside in your front yard or backyard to get some fresh air and sunlight.

Maybe you can even take a short walk around the neighborhood to stretch your legs.

Plan on setting a limit on how much free time you can have before you need to go back to studying.

Make sure your break is long enough for you to reset your mind and de-stress before you jump back into work. 

7. Forgive yourself when you find yourself unable to stick to your routine

There may be moments or days when you find yourself unable to make yourself work or study, and whatever routine you had in mind for the day goes out the window when you’re hit with a bout of unproductivity, and that’s totally okay.

Do not punish yourself for not feeling as productive as you think you should be when this feeling is sometimes out of your control.

As long as it doesn’t become a frequent thing, then allow yourself to have this moment to wind down and practice self-care — this can happen as long as you don’t have anything due that day or you have an exam coming up very soon.

Just remember that we are living in unprecedented times and have been forced to take on measures, including moving back home to finish the rest of your studies online, that ask us to do more than we’re normally used to.

Our home is usually not the most optimal setting for education but since we have been enforced to do self-quarantine, we don’t have much choice in the matter so it’s okay if we aren’t always able to perform as well as we want to.

I hope this guide helps you find some kind of stability during these worrying, unprecedented times.

Your education greatly matters, but so does your life and the lives of others.

Do not forget to wash your hands well and practice social distancing by staying home as much as you can. Stay healthy and safe, everyone!

Please also note that this article is mainly geared towards students who have the privilege of having a home to go back to and need a little help in focusing on school better. If you find yourself in an unstable home environment or do not have a place to go to, please seek guidance from your university, who may be able to help you locate the proper resources and accommodations.