It’s a miserable rainy day, you have your last classes of the week, maybe you have lectures to catch up on, perhaps you have essays due in a few days. But just to add to the stress, we are currently in the middle of a global pandemic which means you need to do all of this online. Yip, that pretty much sums up mine and every other university students’ situation right now. This is the hardest time of year for students as they have deadlines trust apon then from all directions and they have their head crammed in books to ensure they get the best grades in their exams, which is why it has taken me until now to write this post. I ideally would have liked to share this advice at the beginning of the semester, however, it took me some time to adjust. Although online learning it is hard and confusing and very demotivating, I have found a few things that have helped me this semester to cope with online university. I want to share both the struggles and the advice to show people that they are not alone and to help them through this crazy time.
The first thing that is hugely important when working from home is sanctity of space. You need to decide what you are and aren’t allowed to do in the different areas of your home. This can be incredibly hard if you don’t have a lot of space or if you are sharing you space with flatmates, however, it is so important for your brain to compartmentalise where you work, eat, sleep, play, relax, etc. Personally, my bed is for sleeping and relaxing only and I don’t allow myself to do any kind of important work from my bed as know it will breed a unproductive attitude. Similarly, when I sit down at my desk that is my time to be productive – remember there are many ways to be ‘productive’, it’s not just about ticking off your to-do list. I think the most important aspect of sanctity of space is keeping it clean and tidy. If you have a messy space, that could lead to a messy mind. So, it just means setting aside 10 minutes before you go to sleep or right as you wake up to put away clothes, wash dishes, bin rubbish etc. so that you space is ready for whatever you are about to do.
My biggest advice for how to cope with online university is routine, routine, routine! For me, I had a lot less classes this semester than I would have had if university wasn’t online and a lot more self-learning. That meant I had very few strict class times and no need to get ready and walk to lectures, so it was super important to find a routine that worked for me. That means waking up and going to sleep roughly the same time everyday to ensure I have a good sleep schedule. A big tip is to get ready every day and put on clothes that aren’t you pijamas. This will make a big difference in you mindset and improve your productivity. I set myself ‘work hours’ where inside of those hours I do whatever I needed to get done and outside those hours I’m not allowed to do any sort of work, as that is my time to relax and spend time with myself and my flatmates. You can always have a trial period for your ‘work hours’ to see if they suite your routine. For me, at the start of the semester I wasn’t using all the time I had allowed myself for work which was great, however, once I started to get more busy with uni, I extended my hours to fit my routine. If you are struggling with finding a routine, I would suggest trying to timetable your day. This doesn’t have to be very detailed or accurate but it allows you to see how much you need get done and how long you think it will take you. Along with this, it is so important to schedule breaks for yourself. Personally, I like to have small breaks often and I have come up with a routine that really works for me. I will set an hour timer and crack on with my work without getting distracted by my phone, then once the hour is up I allow myself to play one song and I have a little dance party in my room. Then I set another timer and repeat the process. This really helps me to stay focus as I have a reward for staying productive. Also, if you get away from your desk and do some kind of movement, it will improve your focus as you are releasing natural endorphins.
That leads nicely onto my third point which is to stay active. Now I don’t mean going for a run every day if that’s not what you want to do. Even a 10 minute walk or a short yoga and stretch session releases a huge amount of stress. I personally like to follow a 20 minute morning stretch video on YouTube (there are loads to choose from!) as I get a good release of endorphins early in my day, it is relaxing and I get a huge amount of clarity from it. This in turn puts me in a positive mindset and makes sure I have a great day. If you feel like you don’t have the time to move your body, just incorporate 5 minutes of activity and chain it onto something that is already existing in your daily routine. This can be doing something in the morning before you get ready for the day, you could take a walk around you space during the adverts of your favourite tv show or doing some squats and calf raises while you do the dishes. It is really simple to include activity in your daily life yet it improves your frame of mind so much!
I know right now it is hard to stay social while some areas have strict measurements due to the pandemic but I would highly recommend you include some social interaction into your day. This can just be a phone call or facetime with a friend or family member or depending on where you are, you could do a socially distanced walk or coffee date. Also, something that could make a difference is turning you camera on when you are in online classes. I know this may seem very intimidating, especially if not many people in your class do it but if you turn your camera on, I promise more people will follow suite. This will make you feel like you are having some kind of social interaction if you can see peoples faces and hear their voices in class. Mental health is something that has become a huge issue among young people, especially over this year. If you are struggling with feeling alone and isolated due to online uni, just know that you are not alone and thousands of students feel the same. Reach out for help, whether that be to a professional or a friend, if you need it.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek academic help. This has been such an unfamiliar and weird semester for university students and most likely you feel like you are not producing your best work. And that is totally okay! Universities shouldn’t be expecting the same standards as online university and self-learning has had a negative effect on many students lives outside their academics. But know that your university wants to see you succeed and will help you along the way. Attend professors office hours, don’t be afraid to send emails and ask for help, accept the extra resources that are on offer to you and just try the best you can.
This semester has been incredibly hard to keep a positive and motivated mindset and we are doing so well to have made it this far. I hope this advice was helpful for any university, college or high school student who is struggling with online academics and just doesn’t know how to gain back control of their learning. I am always here for anyone if you need a little extra help but know that you are not alone and there is so many people routing for you to succeed!