How to be Productive at Home

As a mature student, I have wandered through my education like a lost dog might wander the streets looking for his home, sniffing at things and turning his nose up when something wasn’t instantly familiar.

Like many, I commenced my post-secondary education as a teenager. I took courses that caught my attention and quickly became discouraged when I felt perplexed. My time management skills were sub-par and unless I loved the material, I struggled to finish assignments. I was overwhelmed. I procrastinated. In short, I didn’t understand how to learn.

This is my desk…it usually is not this clean!

In truth, I have met a small handful of students that have this (to me, outlandish) ability to slide through their education with minimal effort, intuitively soaking up information. But for most, myself included, school takes a tremendous amount of work. In courses that are perhaps not pervasively compelling, it can be tough to put your nose to the grindstone, so to speak.

Now, pandemic-era students are faced with navigating university life as well as the specific challenges of the virtual education experience.

My grandmother was fond of saying “a test of character is what you do when no one is around”. At present, that seems especially relevant. In the classroom, the onus is on the individual to at least pretend to be engaged. Or at least, be surreptitious about not paying attention.

Herein lies the challenge of virtual learning at home: students are only accountable to themselves. This can make it hard to stay on top of things! These are the techniques I use (and wish I knew when I first started university):

  • Narration is everything. It is easy to say something is hard or overwhelming. It is just as easy to view this same obstacle as an opportunity. Challenges can be wonderful, if you choose to see them that way.
  • Set firm boundaries with yourself. This is important for me at home, where there are plenty of possible distractions.
  • Study in different environments! People who study in varied locations learn subject matter more effectively. I rotate between a desk, the kitchen table and a coffee table at home.

    This is probably my favourite study spot, especially when it is cold and I can have a fire!

  • The “pomodoro” technique is especially effective: set a 25-minute timer, study without distractions for the duration. At the end, take a five-minute break. Repeat. I find it helpful to switch subjects so I stay interested.
  • Set a quitting time. Mine is at 7:00.
  • Eat well. Sleep well. Exercise often.
  • Find a community of like-minded individuals. Even a virtual community! It is amazing what simply talking through something out loud can do for one’s capacity to remember it.

To me, obstacle is simply another word for opportunity. It took me years to believe in this (decidedly corny) way. And, like everyone, I’m fallible in my approach. But with the right guidelines, I have found a way to alleviate some of the pressure of being a student in a chaotic time.

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