Tackling Procrastination in an Online Semester

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely on top of my readings during first year, and I may be known to procrastinate on an essay or two. I’m sure we all have. But this year is by far the worst. We’re only going into our third week of the semester, and I’m just barely managing to stay on top of my classes. Part of the problem with working from home is that we have way too much freedom over our schedule. It’s so easy to just lie in bed all day when you don’t have to walk to class, and some courses don’t even require you to go to a live lecture.

Recently, I found myself thinking, hey, maybe it’s time to get on top of this whole online learning thing. But how do you start practicing good study habits when your semester’s been turned upside down? After a few days of deliberation, I came up with a plan to get myself back to work, and today, I’m here to share it with you all!

Step 1: Rearranging your workspace

One of the problems with an online semester is that a lot of people will be staying in their hometown this year. While this isn’t the end of the world, it does mean that a lot of us won’t have the same learning environment that comes from a university campus (especially quiet places like the library or study rooms). I, personally, am one of those people at home, and my first step towards success was creating a place dedicated to studying.

For me, this started with moving my desk. Previously, my desk had been against the wall, with lots of distracting space to the right and left. One day while I was cleaning, I decided to move the entire table to the corner. Now, my wall is beside me and my back is to a pair of bookshelves. A little change, but it has made a huge difference!

Once I had the placement right, I focused on making this corner one I would like to work in. It started by cleaning the unnecessary clutter around my shelves to make it less distracting. Then, I made sure my desk was clean and I always had room for my computer, notebooks and textbooks. It’s hard to get to work when there’s a bunch of interesting junk surrounding you! What I’m working on now is incorporating some houseplants near my desk area. These add a nice pop of colour and life which can be especially necessary when you’re reading textbooks all day. After this, I’ll have created a perfect little study nook. Just give me a cup of tea and a comfy sweater, and I’m all good to go!

Step 2: Getting Organized!

The next thing on my to-do list was to find a way to hold myself accountable. Last year, my response to this was bullet journaling, where I had a page dedicated to all my classes and responsibilities. This worked well for a while, except, since my checklist was tucked away in a book, it was hard to remember everything I needed to do!

This year, my friend recommended an online planner called Trello. Trello is one of those websites designed for businesses to manage their projects. You can create task cards with specific due dates, checklists and colours, and sort these into categories. My friend helped me set up mine with categories for readings, tests, assignments, miscellaneous work and finished work. Breaking up the work makes it much more palatable, and you feel like you’re progressing faster!

Setting this up was a bit tedious, (I recommend Syllabuddy to help pick out the assignments) but it’s a great tool to visualize what needs to be done. You can colour code the cards by classes, and Trello will notify you of upcoming due dates. If you sort each category by the due date, you get a great view of all your upcoming deadlines. That way you can easily tell what to prioritize. Plus, it’s super satisfying to move things to the “Done” category.

Step 3: Finding Motivation

Finding motivation is usually my biggest obstacle, especially when it comes to readings. Why would I do my work when I could binge-watch YouTube instead?

To combat this challenge, I started by giving myself a goal: Get into the habit of doing your readings in your free time. Then, a reward: Once you are able to regularly get work done, you can slot time in for fun stuff!

Luckily, my reward was fairly easy to come up with because I had already been trying to find more time to practice my hobbies throughout the year. There were always lots of things that I wanted to do, but it never felt right when I had so many obligations for class. 

As a short term reward, I was surprised by how nice it was to check things off on Trello! By breaking down my readings into smaller checklists, I’d get a little bit of satisfaction from completing each chapter, and was motivated to finally move the whole task into the done pile! 

Step 4: Holding myself accountable

In the meantime, I needed to make sure I was actually doing the work. My computer has two monitors, so my first move was to always keep Trello open on one screen. I found that seeing my organizer as much as possible motivated me to do more work!

Next, I logged out of all my social media apps. Yes, gross, I know. However, it’s proved a pretty effective way to eliminate my countless hours spent scrolling through Instagram. Of course, this isn’t a permanent solution (props to you if it is), but it’s a great way to focus on a week when you’re particularly behind.

My last step, and a very simple one, was to stack all of my semester’s textbooks on the corner of my desk. There, they are always visible, and I find myself always thinking about how much work I could be getting done.

Step 5: Don’t bully yourself - take a break

My last step is less of a step and more of a mindset. Going into this plan, I knew there would be times when I would slip up and procrastinate. My promise to myself was to not punish myself when this happened because, like all habits, dropping everything and trying to go hard 100% of the time just isn’t realistic. There are going to be times when you just can’t focus, and sometimes that’s okay. 

One of my professors brought up a great point the other day: if you can’t focus on your readings for more than five minutes, don’t read for more than five minutes! That’s not to say you shouldn’t do the readings but suggesting instead that you do them in shorter increments while you can hold focus. If you can give your full attention for five minutes, several times a day, you’ll be able to understand your work better without wasting time being distracted. As the semester goes on, those five minutes of focus will start to grow longer and longer, until one day you’ll be able to get through the whole assignment, the whole chapter, the whole lesson in one go. Focus is a skill we all learn over time, and rather than forcing ourselves to try and get through it, it’ll be much easier to take a short break and return in a few minutes.

With my 5-Step Plan in progress, I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of my school work already! I’m starting to get pretty productive in between my classes, and hopefully, by sharing my steps, I’ll be able to help some of you stay on track, too! Good luck! We got this.