Studying at Home: How to remain motivated and disciplined

by Maria Clark

Although most university students will have experience with working from home in the past (e.g. study leave during A-Levels), returning home and maintaining the motivation to crack on with those essays and finish that coursework is extremely difficult. Whether this is over the holidays, or in the current situation (I’m writing this during lockdown), here are some tips to ensure that you can still get all your work done on time - and relax.

1. Establish a routine

It is very easy to return home and just binge all the new Netflix series whilst your mum or dad cooks and cleans around you. However, to remain in the working mindset, it is really important to establish a routine in your day. The easiest way to do is to replicate a routine that you may already be familiar with - a routine based around school and lecture times - and work around an established schedule, getting up and going to be at similar times each day.

It is also worth considering when you are going to be your most productive - do you work better in the morning or the evening? Do you like to exercise before you sit down and write? I like to go out for a walk or a run in the morning, and then do my work afterwards. With much less independence at home than at university, you need to also consider the rest of your household and any duties that you have there. For example, helping to entertain younger brothers and sisters!

A diary with highlighted sections

2) Make a timetable

Once you have established what you have to do, and when you will be the most motivated and awake, I would recommend making a weekly timetable. This can be anything from a very basic skeleton, writing down what you aim to achieve each day, to a colour-coded masterpiece broken down into hours. Having everything written down and allocated to a specific day or time will make it much more likely that you’ll do it - if just for the satisfaction of crossing it off afterwards.

It’s really important that this timetable or to-do list doesn’t just include the work you have to do, but any other activities or events that you’ve got planned, as you’ll be much more motivated to do the work if there is a reward at the end. For example, I like to do my work and then spend my evenings watching films with the family, or on FaceTime to my friends.

3) Remove any distractions

It sounds obvious, but it is by far the hardest thing to do: put your phone out of the room. Putting it on silent works for some people, but even just having it in the same room can cause a distraction. You can download certain apps like Forest which can remove any distractions on your phone for specified periods of time. However, phones are not the only distractions - even just mindlessly browsing websites and shopping online when you’re working on your computer can distract you.

A black dog lying on the grass
Relaxing with the dog

4) Take regular breaks and relax

The best way to deal with these distractions is to use them as a form of reward. Once you have done the work, you can watch Netflix, or go back on your phone - or do another activity that you enjoy. Taking regular breaks whilst working on long projects and essays is equally as important, and that means actually moving from your desk chair, and going to do something else.

A break doesn’t have to be anything more than going to stand in the garden for fifteen minutes or taking the dog out, but it needs to be something that helps you to relax. Jenny, my dog, always wants to play football in the garden, so that’s how I relax!

Again, apps like Calm are very effective for short bursts of relaxation.

5) Be flexible

As we have all swiftly come to realise in the current situation, sometimes things don’t go to plan - and this is a message to take to heart when trying to study and work at home. It may be that you have organised your time and are working productively, but it is important that you are also flexible. There might be problems, issues or emergencies that require immediate attention, and it is fine to go and deal with them - as long as it isn’t just a form of procrastination. Additionally, you need to be flexible in terms of problems that you might face. For example, with university teaching now taking place online, it is important that you can adapt to the new situation: emailing your professors where you would have gone in their office hour; using the university’s online resources list to further your research and work.

Finally, it may be that you are still struggling with completing work and studying at home. In this instance, remember that the university and your department are there to help you and many assignments will offer extensions if necessary. Balancing your workload and relaxing will help to improve your mental and physical health, which is essential if you want to remain motivated and productive.