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Tips for studying from home

By Sarinah O'Donoghue // BBC The Social contributor // 22 February 2021

It’s been almost a year since most students, myself included, began studying from home. It’s been challenging in just about every way: extra-curricular activities cancelled, increasing cabin fever, and even missing your dreaded 9AM in that dusky lecture hall with the rock-hard chairs and teeny desks...

Understandably, this has caused a drop in motivation levels for many students, and lots of us are in need of some extra guidance and understanding.

Tips For Studying From Home | Sarinah O'Donoghue

If you're struggling with motivation at the moment these tips could help.

I finished my last degree during the first lockdown, and I’m still working from home five months into my PhD, so I’ve had to learn to adapt accordingly. It took lots of trial and error, but I’ve finally found what works for me, so I’d like to share it. By doing so, I hope that it’ll help others with their study regimes, or at least let others know that they’re not alone in this situation.

Here are some of my top tips...

You do you...

During the first lockdown, I was convinced that if I didn’t follow other people’s idea of a routine, I’d somehow fall behind. I’d get up early and sit at my desk all day, which caused me to be exhausted by lunchtime, and my motivation and energy levels plummeted as a result.

Nowadays, I spend my mornings in bed, drinking coffee and catching up on my reading. By the time I get out of bed, I’ve already done a few hours of work, and I actually look forward to my morning routine now!

If, like me, you have to use your energy sparingly, find out what you need to do, and don’t pressure yourself with things you don’t.

Take regular breaks...

This is repeated in study guides to the point of cliché – but that’s because it’s so important. Dividing your day into manageable chunks helps train your mind to focus when you’re working and to relax when you’re not.

If you struggle with procrastination, or if you’re the opposite and need to remind yourself to take breaks, it can be helpful to try out different study methods. For example, there’s the Pomodoro Technique, which requires you to take a short break every twenty-five minutes and a longer one after every four sessions.

I tend to study in three two-hour chunks with short intervals throughout. How long you’re able to concentrate will depend on your subject, the sort of task you’re doing, and on how you personally work, so try not to compare yourself to others.

Increase your rewards...

It’s a good idea to check what extra measures your institution has in place to help with students’ mental health during lockdown

Tougher times call for more frequent rewards: it’s that simple! When it’s difficult to plan for the long term, rewarding yourself often and generously is even more crucial.

Your favourite foods, a hot bath or shower, a trashy TV show, a good book, or a phone call with a friend are all ideal options.

You should only work out of hours if you genuinely feel like doing so, otherwise you’re preventing your brain from processing the information it’s taken in that day, and you’re going to increase your chances of burnout.

Putting pressure on other areas of your life can have the same effect, so don’t force yourself to follow a strict diet, to study at weekends, or to do more coursework than necessary. Remind yourself that what you’re doing is enough.

Quantity over quality...

If you’re anything like me, you’ll agonise over writing the perfect sentence, only to delete it upon further revision. When I find myself doing this, I remind myself that it’s a form of procrastination.

Recently, I’ve started measuring productivity not by how long I’ve stared at a screen, but by how many words I’ve written. I aim for around five hundred a day, and when I hit my goal, I take the rest of the day off. I now find I’m writing more in less time!

Reach out...

One of the worst things about this pandemic is that there’s no one it hasn’t affected. But this also means that people are likely to have empathy for your situation, including tutors, lecturers, supervisors, and admin staff. Contact them whenever you feel you need a particular adjustment that might help with either your wellbeing or your productivity.

It’s a good idea to check what extra measures your institution has in place to help with students’ mental health during lockdown. As far as I know, most universities and colleges have a more relaxed approach to deadlines, some have acquired extra funding for mental health services, and others have implemented ‘safety nets’ such as the ‘no detriment policy’, which basically means that any grades earned by students while in lockdown can’t negatively impact their overall degree classification.

Reaching out is a positive thing to do not only for yourself, but also for fellow students and even staff, as it normalises common study-related mental health issues such as burnout, stress, and anxiety.

Stay connected...

During the first lockdown, I was convinced that if I didn’t follow other people’s idea of a routine, I’d somehow fall behind.

If anyone can empathise with your current situation, it’s your fellow students. Staying connected to them is really useful for combatting feelings of loneliness and isolation. A lot of people, myself included, haven’t had the chance to meet people enrolled on their degree programme, class, or course, so it can get pretty tough going it alone.

This is where the internet can help! A lot of subjects have dedicated Facebook pages, WhatsApp groups, or similar. These are used by students to share resources, updates, reading lists, local news, and virtual events, and if nothing else, they help you to feel like you’re part of a community.

Another thing to check out is whether there are any writing or study sessions happening over Zoom or Teams. I recently signed up for a virtual session with some friends where the goal is to motivate each other to write. I hear that some are also doing virtual ‘library sessions.’ If that isn’t for you, why not come up with your own creative approach to group study?

So, there you have it, my top tips for studying while working from home. It isn’t an exhaustive list, so I hope it inspires you to think about your own study methods. Some days may be harder than others, but we’ve come so far, and it won’t be like this forever. But for now, it’s important to go easy on yourself, make time for rest and relaxation, and to remember that success isn’t success if you have to sacrifice your health to achieve it.