Back to school is always a difficult time of year. The switch to weekly assignments, 9:00 ams, and hours of readings can be tough even for the strongest of students. Unfortunately, this year will probably be even more challenging for students taking all their classes online. However, with a few adjustments, you can still do really well and might even be able to make this semester your strongest so far!
Get organized early in the semester
Because everything is online, it’s easy to forget about deadlines until the night before (or to miss them altogether). Putting your schedule and due dates into an app like MyHomework will let you see all your assignments at a glance, ultimately letting you plan much more efficiently. It’ll also help you avoid the last-minute realization that three of your classes have major essays due tomorrow.
If you have a bit more time to get organized, you might want to look into Notion. While it does take some time to set up, Notion is a very versatile app that can function as a planner, calendar, note-taking app, bullet journal, habit tracker, and so much more. Also, everything in the app is completely customizable, so you can design each element to fit your own needs.
Personally, I have Notion pages for my classes, clubs, and other commitments, as well as an overview page that acts as a weekly bullet journal spread and tells me when I have deadlines coming up. The school section also contains a list of all of my assignments and each class page has a section for me to write my notes throughout the semester.
Of course, the drawback to Notion being so customizable is that it can take a long time to set up. However, there are lots of templates (both in the app and on the internet), so you can jump right into using Notion and adjust your setup over time. Personally, I recommend this Youtube video if you’re interested in using Notion as a planner – it comes with a template and walks you through how to use it. If you do decide to use Notion, make sure you sign up with your university email, as students get the pro version of the app for free.
Put your to-do list where you can see it
On top of using an organization app like Notion or MyHomework, I’ve found that keeping my daily to-do list somewhere hard to miss helps keep me on track. For example, the Momentum background on Google Chrome allows you to add a list of things you’d like to do for the day. Your list then pops up every time you open a new tab. You can also use the Stickies app on Mac or the Sticky Notes app on Windows to add a to-do list directly to your desktop.
By keeping your to-do list in sight, you’ll constantly be reminded of the things you need to finish (and guilted into knocking things off the list). Also, because your to-do list is easy to see, it becomes much harder to genuinely forget about a smaller assignment.
Designate a location for work
If you used to find yourself more productive at the library, you know that location really does make a huge difference in productivity levels. While libraries or cafes may no longer be safe study spots, having an area in your home that’s dedicated to school (and work) can help put you in a productive frame of mind.
At the very least, don’t do your schoolwork in bed. While it can be really tempting to stay under the covers, you won’t be nearly as productive. Sitting at a desk or table (preferably not in your bedroom) may not be the coziest choice, but it’ll help you focus and get your work done.
If you find yourself frequently getting distracted by notifications when you’re supposed to be working, you aren’t alone. However, it’s important to limit how much your devices can distract you – if you don’t, it’ll be a lot harder to get any work done. Device modes like Do Not Disturb are your friend here – they’ll silence all your notifications so that you can focus on the task at hand. Apps like Forest can also be really helpful – they provide virtual rewards if you don’t use your phone for a certain amount of time, giving you an incentive to focus.
Promise yourself breaks – and stick to them
No matter how strong of a student you are, everyone needs to take breaks. Not only will they help you unwind, you’ll be more productive when you know that you get to relax right after. After all, few things are more motivating than telling yourself “as soon as I finish editing this essay, I can relax for the night”. Promise yourself at least one night off per week – your mental health (and productivity) will thank you.
If you’re struggling to take breaks (or get back on task once they’re done), you may want to consider using the Pomodoro technique. After working for 25 minutes, you take a 5 minute break. While you don’t need to stick to these exact times, taking short frequent breaks while working can make you more productive and relaxed, leading to better grades and less stress throughout the year.