After two and a half years living independently in different cities and countries from my family, I now find myself having to adjust to studying at home. These are my top five tips for tricking your brain into being just as productive – or more so – at home as you would be at uni.
1. Zone your living space
I’m one of those people who needs to set aside specific areas for certain task. I cannot study in the same space that I relax in, but when space is at a premium, this can mean being creative.
Mine is a family of adults working in a cramped London flat – and I can’t use my bedroom to study in because it’s been my “relax zone” for ten years. Trying to break the mentality that this is my space to retreat from the world is hard, so I didn’t bother.
Instead, my family sat down and “booked” different spaces during the day. I knew I needed a space with a large desk to spread out my notes that also had a door so I could ignore the rest of my (sometimes) noisy family. We haggled over spaces and times and ended up with an arrangement that suited all our needs. There have been no arguments over it, and we’re all managing to be very productive because we took the time to decide who got what space when.
2. Set manageable goals
With exams coming up, it can be all too tempting to look at your work and say “I need to revise all of chemistry”. However, a goal that large and unquantifiable will never be achieved. Instead, break the job down into lots of smaller, measurable ones.
I’ve found the best way is to set myself two task lists – the “to do today” list, and the “ideally but not necessarily today” list. It’s fine if I don’t get onto the second list; I’ll do it the next day. It’s also a good idea to have a few easy jobs on the list to balance it out.
For example, my “to do today” list is to write this blog post, submit a PPQ, and do my electrochemistry pre-workshop assignment. My “ideally but not necessarily today” task is to complete the biochemistry assignment.
Make sure your jobs are necessary ones. If you set yourself lots of unnecessary work, you’re going to pile the pressure on. Because I’m studying at home, my exams are open book, I don’t need to memorise all the mathematical formulae or reaction conditions.
3. Be kind to yourself
We are living in a weird situation, and it’s going to impact your studying, so be understanding of that. I’m only working in the mornings at the moment, because I can’t do a whole day of work without paralysing myself with stress. Understanding what you can manage is the first step towards to being able to look after yourself.
It’s important not to get frustrated if you don’t make your goals. Some days you just can’t do it all, and that’s OK. Tomorrow is always a new day.
4. Take breaks
Even when working at uni, regular breaks are important. It helps reset your brain to avoid fatigue. Get up and move for at least five minutes in each hour, particularly once you’ve finished one task and are about to start another. The physical action and short break will help you shift you switch project too.
I find it easiest to achieve all of this by leaving the room I’m studying in for five minutes. As I work in zoned spaces, this forces me to focus on something else and move. I might use this time to do a quick chore – like dealing with any post that’s arrived or hanging out the laundry. This makes me feel like I’m being efficient with my time, while still taking a break from working.
5. Celebrate what you achieve
It’s important to celebrate the small victories at the moment. I have a group of friends who tell each other our goals for the day, and then celebrate each one we complete. Not only is it interaction with other people, but it also creates a positive space. Yes, I watched all my lectures today. Yes, my friend graded all her class’ assignments.
If I finish both my “to do today” and “ideally but not necessarily today” lists but still have time left in my allotted studying time, I don’t do any more. I’ve earnt the break.
What tips are you finding makes it easier studying at home?
Read more about coping with lockdown as a student