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How to stay organized and focused when home is your work space
Over the past few weeks, in the wake of school shutdowns due to COVID-19, schools across the country have needed to make a sudden shift from on-campus to online learning. This has been true for schools serving all ages, from K–12 through the university level. Educators are changing their teaching approach on the fly, and students are adjusting to learning from home.
Of course, schools that already had a strong online or blended learning component in place, like the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, have been able to continue many courses without interruption. Online learning is a resilient mode of study that is flexible and can easily adapt to unexpected changes, such as the COVID-19 situation.
This whole learning-from-home thing might be new territory for you. Whether this is your first experience with online learning—or whether your usual study spaces are now shut, such as libraries and cafés—it can take time to figure out how to have optimal focus and discipline at home. It’s worth the effort because learning from home is a skill that can serve you well in your education and in your career, should you choose to run a business or therapy practice from home. Here are some helpful tips on learning from home:
- Set up a workspace that’s comfortable and feels productive.
It’s good to keep your work psychologically separate from other activities—especially sleeping and eating. So instead of lying in bed or on a couch or working from the kitchen table, find a spot where you can be productive. If possible, designate a separate room or a corner of a room for studying. Natural light helps, and don’t have your back to a door. You may want to get a portable room divider or curtains to separate your workspace and/or to serve as a neutral background for video calls.
Next, set up an ergonomic workspace. If possible, get a desk that’s the proper height (a desk that is too high will make your shoulders hunch) and consider a supportive office chair you can sit in comfortably for a while. Find a keyboard and pointing device that you can use easily, without wrist or shoulder pain.
- Spend time getting up and running right.
Be sure your computer is updated to work with the online learning platform, and that the microphone and webcam are working (a phone’s screen is too small to catch the details you’ll need to see in instructional videos and slide presentations). If you live with other people, a noise-cancelling headset may be invaluable. If you need help getting up and running on an online platform, seek out technical support from your school’s IT department.
- Plan out your day the night before.
It’s good to map out the following day in advance. Break it down by lectures, studying, workouts, meals, and personal time. This way, you can start your morning focused and ready to go, rather than losing time trying to figure out what to do first. Many students find it helpful to establish a routine, doing the same things at the same times every day. But it’s also good to remain flexible within that structure, so you don’t get into a rut.
Set a consistent daily goal to spend a certain number of hours on coursework. Be sure these goals are ambitious enough to keep you on track for exams and research paper deadlines.
Plan to optimize the hours you are most productive, such as early in the morning, late at night, or whatever works best for you. Our printable student planners can help you plan your days, weeks, and months.
- Resist distractions.
If you’re like most of us right now, you may be distracted by news about COVID-19. But even on a typical day at home – there’s always something to distract us – like TV, social media, phone, or projects you want to finish. How to resist the pull of distractions?
Set boundaries that guard your study time. Turn your phone’s ringer off, and disconnect from social media and email until your next official break. Have an honest talk with the people you live with and let them know when it’s okay to interrupt you and when it’s not.
Listening to ambient music (without lyrics) may also help you stay focused. Check out this post on time management for more tips, such as timed work sessions. And try a few of these effective study techniques.
- Change locations.
Even if you’ve set up a great study space, it’s good to mix up your environment a bit, as variety can be mentally stimulating. It’s easy to do class reading outside, particularly when the text is on paper rather than a screen—and working outside can be a mood elevator.
- Dress for school.
It might be fun to stay in your PJ’s all day, but that isn’t exactly a strategy for productivity. It’s good to dress as if you were going to school, so you can get into the right mindset. Also, if you have a video call with your class, you’ll need to look professional.
- Ask for support if you need it.
Reach out to your faculty advisor, professors, or classmates if you are having trouble making your new routine work. They are familiar with your specific situation and may have helpful suggestions.
- Be patient with yourself and the process.
It takes time to develop the optimal workflow, so be patient with yourself and take an attitude of curiosity and exploration. The ability to learn using various modalities across various settings will serve you well in life.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) is a graduate institution that offers degree programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, graduate nursing, health administration, and health sciences, as well as continuing education programs.
Founded in 1979, USAHS has locations in San Marcos, California; St. Augustine, Florida; Austin, Texas; Dallas, Texas; and Miami, Florida. USAHS is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, 1001 Marina Village Parkway, Suite 402, Alameda, CA 94501, (510) 748-9001, www.wascsenior.org.
Baylor University, “Practical Tips for Working at Home,” March 2020: https://www.baylor.edu/coronavirus/index.php?id=967757
Rachel Novotny, “13 Ways to Study at Home Without Going Crazy,” Unbound, April 1, 2014: https://getunbound.com/blog/how-to-study-at-home-without-going-crazy