For some people, studying from home and remaining productive and on-task comes easily. For others, it can be a challenge.
Undertaking an online degree, or one where there’s plenty of remote work involved, requires a number of skills beyond simply the knowledge to pass exams or write a quality thesis. In some respects, this makes the challenge that little bit harder.
You’ll need to stay motivated to meet deadlines in an environment where you might not have the ‘community’ feel of a typical classroom-based degree, where students often develop a sense of being in the trenches together when workloads get heavy.
You’ll need to be able to stay focused and disciplined, committing to your work when there are likely to be temptations at every turn. Just one more hour of Netflix? That’s rarely a good idea when you are knee-deep in assignments or studying for an exam.
You’ll need to be able to manage your time effectively, ensuring you give yourself plenty of leeway to meet deadlines while satisfying the other demands in your life – whether that is a job, a family or other commitments.
You’ll also need to maintain your physical and mental health. This includes getting plenty of fresh air, eating well and taking regular breaks to ensure you are operating at your optimum throughout your course of study.
Whether you are studying an operations management masters degree or a more hands-on, practical degree, the trick to successful remote working is to get the best out of yourself while ensuring your everyday life is not compromised. It’s a balancing act, and one that some people struggle with.
In this article, we’re going to look at some handy hints and tips that will enable you to achieve the best grades for your online degree, while maintaining a healthy life/work balance.
By the end, hopefully you will feel more confident in your abilities to take the next step in your education online.
How to stay focused when studying online
In the 1990s, scientists undertook a number of research studies that found that even the most diligent of individuals cannot concentrate on a single task for more than 90 minutes at a time. After 90 minutes, the brain needs a 15-minute ‘rest’ in order to re-energize.
Even though it can seem counterintuitive when deadlines are looming or your workload is piling up, it is essential that you take breaks in order to improve your focus during your study time – maximizing your productivity while taking care of your psychological wellbeing.
Below we have outlined a number of ways which may help you to retain your focus even at the busiest of times. Consider these to be building blocks of a ‘holistic’ approach towards making the most of your online study time.
Remove the distractions
There are times when watching just one more episode of your favorite Netflix series or having a quick browse of your social media accounts can actually aid your productivity.
However, for the most part, it’s imperative that you minimize the distractions that can undermine your concentration and eat into your study time.
Noise is the enemy of effective studying, so asking loud housemates or family members to kindly keep it down for a while is not something you should shy away from. Turn your devices to silent too, and even consider hiding them away in a drawer. The visual distraction of seeing a new message pop up on your phone is often just as distracting as the electronic beep that signals it.
Remote studying requires self-discipline and inner strength. You can’t put a padlock on the refrigerator or hide your TV/games console under a sheet – your brain knows they are still there after all!
However, removing the distractions that have a concentration-breaking impact, such as your phone or tablet, will go a long way towards ensuring you make the very best use of your available study time.
Be in the right state of mind
To be at your most productive and creative, you must be in the right headspace.
This can mean different things to different people. Some people work best when they are sprawled in their bed with music playing in the background, others require absolute silence and an almost militaristic approach.
All of us can benefit from taking a professional attitude towards our work, and especially so when studying an online degree course. That typically means a structured routine, with a timetable of work and downtime scheduled in a way that you can get plenty done without frying your brain.
Wake up early, take a shower, have your breakfast – the repetition of these processes on a daily basis will help to get your mind prepared for work, as will creating a dedicated study space… so be prepared to clear your desk of clutter and get down to it.
Of course, it’s imperative that you enjoy periods of relaxation too – hitting that metaphorical ‘off’ switch. Commit yourself to specific working hours, and (if appropriate) treat yourself to individual days or even the whole weekend off.
Scientists have found that zoning out, either through daydreaming or mindless scrolling of your Twitter feed, can actually improve your productivity. Some psychologists believe that our minds wander partly as a defense mechanism, preventing our brains from effectively over-heating.
This is thought to be caused by the frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain which controls our concentration and our ability to resist distractions. The frontal cortex uses up energy in helping us to focus and, from time to time, it can prove very beneficial to let this part of your mind take a break.
Be kind to yourself
It’s funny that our brain releases dopamine when we achieve something we consider to be a success, such as a physical workout or solving a puzzle.
But from doing a piece of work? Sadly, our brain is less willing to give us a metaphorical pat on the back for something it considers to be a chore for the most part.
For a happy, healthy mind, we need to try and trigger the reward center of our brain as often as possible. This means different things to different people but rewarding yourself for your hard work by watching a favorite movie, ordering some tasty takeout or spending time with friends can actually ‘trick’ your brain into working harder during study time.
Wake up and smell the coffee
In moderation, caffeine offers a number of perks that are vital to those engrossed in their studies.
A cup of coffee or an energy drink can lead to increased alertness, a greater concentration span and a jolt of energy often when you need it the most.
Too much caffeine can be bad for you though, that has to be stressed, but the odd hit here and there really can help improve your studies.
You do you
The reality is that we are all individuals, this means that some of the ideas listed above will help some people more than others.
There is no single one-size-fits-all approach to effective remote study, so you need to find what works for you. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Can you work with music, or do you need complete silence? Will exercise help to stimulate your concentration levels?
Finding what works for you, and what doesn’t, will help you to unlock your potential and make the most of your online degree course.
How to stay connected when studying online
While studying remotely for an online degree course, you will spend countless hours isolated and on your own.
Due to this, it is imperative that you maintain close connections not only with your friends and family, but also with those that can add value to your studies, such as your tutors and fellow students.
The rise of video calling technologies such as Zoom and Skype make that much easier these days, so there’s no excuse for not leaning upon those that can help you to improve your understanding of the course materials and maintain a healthy social life.
Many online degree courses allow you to arrange video lessons with a tutor – either one-to-one or within a group of your classmates. Of course, many tutors are available via email and even telephone as well.
Distance learners are encouraged to take part in live seminars and other video-based classes as well – both to enhance the quality of your studies and as a way of interacting with tutors and students.
Where video communications are not possible, be sure to utilize your school’s intranet service to stay in touch. These can direct you to the latest school news, upcoming events and even course get-togethers, which are all essential to helping you stay connected with the student community.
Remember, even as you embark on this exciting journey, to keep in touch with family and friends that have been there for you in the past. There is a temptation for some to wholly immerse themselves in their work, but for your own wellbeing, it is vital that you retain your personal connections and don’t let your studies completely overtake your life.
How to stay fit and healthy when working from home
There is plenty of evidence which suggests that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and vice versa.
This means there are plenty of reasons to maintain a fitness routine, which includes improving the quality of the work you are producing towards your degree but also to enhance your everyday life too.
There are studies which show that exercise before sitting down to study can help to focus your mind, and that the dopamine rush that being active provides can assist in your subsequent studies.
The evidence suggests that walking among nature, if that is available in your local area, also stimulates critical thinking and can boost your attention span and concentration levels afterwards.
It may not be something you have considered before, but meditation can also be a good option for online students to explore. You’ll gain an awareness of your breath, learn how to improve your focus by switching on/off your unconscious mind, and feel energized psychologically. Meditation isn’t for everyone, but who knows, it might just make a crucial difference to you in your studies.
Be good to yourself
The basic principles of living a fruitful life can be applied to your online studies too.
You will spend hours chained to your desk/computer, but you still need to eat healthily. This includes three meals a day, with healthy snacks in-between to help keep your energy levels topped up.
Get outside – you don’t need to go for a lengthy run. Simply going for a walk to clear your head while listening to music will be sufficient to trigger the endorphins.
The philosophy of traditional degree courses that take place on-site at educational facilities is to ‘work hard, play hard’. There’s no reason why you can’t abide by that mantra in your online degree course too.
If that means going out for a meal or a few drinks with friends, so be it. If it means spending an hour or day watching cat memes, no problem. Social connection is essential for the vast majority of humans, as is the need to turn off your brain from time to time.
Having a good old-fashioned laugh has been given the scientific seal of approval. One experiment found that people who had watched a funny video would go on to try harder for longer at solving a puzzle than those who were shown a relaxing video instead. The study concluded that the humor essentially ‘replenished’ the reserves of those who had enjoyed a giggle, enabling them to work harder and with more determination afterwards.
Embarking on a course of online study as a remote student can be tough, but the rewards speak for themselves. As long as you take care of yourself and utilize the tips listed in this article, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t be incredibly successful.