Switching Modes: How to keep study and life separate whilst learning remotely
by Johanna Dutton Student Wellbeing Officer
In the midst of these crazy circumstances, you may have found that your unexpected transition to independent, online learning has been far from seamless. In addition to learning the content of the course, students are having to adapt to a whole new way of learning – one that, in most cases, is not what they signed up for. Technical mishaps, noisy flatmates, feelings of isolation, attention-hungry pets and the lure of Netflix are added challenges which contribute to the daily battle to stay engaged and on-track.
Many students have let us know that studying online has meant that the boundaries between ‘work’, ‘study’ and ‘life’ have become blurred. Without the structure of our normal day-to-day routine and with the absence of the things that normally help us separate our work and recreational times (travel time, classes, sport, gym, social events) – we can sometimes feel that these different aspect of our lives blend into one. The effect? Trouble switching off, increased and ever-present stress, anxiety-induced perfectionism and the inclination to work way more hours than normal. Equally, without our regular daily structure (and with the lure of all the distractions to be found at home) we can become de-motivated, procrastinate, lose track of assessment requirements and lose sight of our goals.
Whilst none of us can change the situation we’re in (except for doing our part to keep ourselves and other safe – refer to our post about masks) we can incorporate some simple lifestyle hacks to help us to live better, feel more in control and achieve the best outcomes whilst learning remotely. Have a read through the following tips to help you to stay focused and kicking goals during this challenging time.
· Talk to the people you live with – set your boundaries
If you live with others – family, partner or flatmates – it’s really important that they are aware of your remote-learning needs so that they can support you. This conversation might involve discussions around your requirements in terms of noise levels, distractions and physical space in the home. Similarly, if they are working or studying from home, they will have their own needs which you will need to be aware of. Having this conversation early might save you from having to deal with conflict later on, so don’t hesitate to raise the topic.
· Create your workspace
If you’re fortunate enough to have your own desk, clear away any clutter and set it up with everything you need. Ideally, your workstation should be well-lit, well-ventilated and not in the same room as the TV. You’re going to be spending a lot of time at your workstation over the coming weeks, so make a point of tidying it each day, and surround your work area with words and images that inspire you.
· Set your work hours
In these current times when the days seem to merge together into one, hazy, amorphous bubble of sameness – injecting a bit of structure into your work day is super important. Whilst your work hours will most likely be built around your compulsory online classes, studying online can sometimes offer greater flexibility and the opportunity to schedule your study sessions for times when you usually feel at your most alert. Draw up a personal timetable (you can find an example of a template here) and post it somewhere that you will see it every day (alternatively, you can use an app like Remember The Milk). Make sure that your schedule includes allocated time for your classes, study and assignment prep and other important things like social time, rest, exercise, meal breaks and SLEEP.
· Get out of your PJs!
As tempting as it can be to stay in pyjamas all day just because you can (especially in the depths of a Melbourne winter), doing so is not going to help you to mentally separate study from relaxation time! Putting on clothes (even if it is a comfy ensemble of active wear or trackies) will help you to adopt the mindset that you are in ‘work mode’ and you will feel fresher and more productive as a result.
· Do your commute…in the virtual sense
Learning from home does have its benefits, and one of these is the time (and money) saved from not having to do your regular commute to and from campus. Using your usual travel time to enjoy an extra hour of sleep might seem an obvious choice (and no-one’s judging if you do) but rolling out of bed at 8:25am ready for your 8:30am online class isn’t going to leave you feeling at your most alert. You might also feel a bit cheated that you don’t get to enjoy a bit of recreation or ‘me-time’ before settling into the working day. Use the time you’d normally spend commuting and ‘do your commute’ in the virtual sense. Go for a walk or bike ride, listen to a podcast, read the news, grab a takeaway coffee…so that when you sit down at your desk you feel as though you have “arrived” – mentally and physically – at your place of study. Similarly, at the end of the day, mark the conclusion in a symbolic sense by switching off the PC and doing something completely different.
· Don’t eat lunch at your desk!
Your lunch break is your chance to take a mental break, and moving away from the physical space of your workstation is essential in using this time to recharge. Switch off your PC, take your lunch to a different room, do something different or better still – get outside. Eating lunch at your desk will confuse your brain – making it feel as though you haven’t really had a break at all, which will make it harder to stay focused throughout the afternoon. It will also make you more inclined to keep snacking throughout the rest of the day, as your desk will become a place you associate with food!
· Don’t turn your bed into a second office
Studying in bed, tempting though it may be, is something that is strongly discouraged. Not only will your brain start to associate your bed with work – making it harder to fall asleep – but the lack of distinction between your ‘work’ and ‘rest’ zones will make you less productive when you need to be, and less likely to be able to switch off during your downtime. Declare your bed a work-free zone and enjoy better quality sleep.
· Accept that you aren’t going to do it perfectly
The reality is, almost all of us are having to adapt to a new way of studying – and it’s one that most of us didn’t anticipate or sign up for. Whilst putting these strategies into action will help you to stay focused and maximise your productivity, it’s most likely that you will occasionally have ‘off days’ where you find yourself struggling to self-motivate or slipping out of routine. Don’t beat yourself up if this happens. Ask yourself what it is that you need – maybe it’s a short break, a walk, a chat with a classmate or teacher, or a modification to your schedule.
If you are struggling and need some help staying on track – the Student Life team are available to support you. Call Student Life Reception on 9286 9891, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or SMS to 0429 680 448 and a member of our team will be in contact with you.