As an online student, you have the benefit of completing classwork based on your schedule.  This can be a huge benefit, however, it can easily become overwhelming to incorporate quality time for reading and assignments into your already hectic life.  Many online students juggle one or more jobs, families, and a series of other commitments while taking classes. It is critical to establish some ground rules for yourself early on so you can be productive, efficient, and enjoy your classes without sacrificing all of the other important parts of your life.

Tip #1: Plan ahead

Taking the time to plan your upcoming week on a Sunday afternoon will set you up for a successful week.  We see so many fitness influencers talk about meal-prepping being the key to staying on track with nutrition goals, well the same can be said for class work.  This starts with carefully reading and getting familiar with your course syllabus!

Get yourself a visual planning tool (a planner, a whiteboard, or a planner app) and write out every commitment you have for that week.  Next, take a look at your upcoming reading and assignments, and divide it up throughout the week. An hour here, fifteen minutes there, thirty-minutes during a lunch break.  It all adds up! You may be someone who is able to focus better early in the morning, or maybe you’re a night owl once the rest of the house is asleep. Take advantage of that time and use it to get ahead on your assignments.  Have a long commute? Consider listening to your professor’s lecture on the way to work, or a podcast about the subject you’re studying!

Tip #2: Have a dedicated workspace

Having a space at home where you can keep all of your computer, books, notebooks, and other school supplies will make it much easier and quicker for you to jump right in and start working when the time comes.  When you have to scramble to find everything and set-up a space when it’s time for you to work, not only are you wasting time, but you lose momentum before you even get started.

A dedicated workspace is also a visual reminder to you and the others in your house that your school work is a priority.  While you may not have an entire room you can turn into an office, get creative about where you could put a small desk just for you, or take-over part of the dining room table your family hardly eats dinner at anyway.  Avoid doing homework on the couch or in bed, it’s too easy to get comfortable and becomes difficult to stay focused. If you can set this up in a room with a door, even better!

Tip #3: Avoid distractions while doing school work

In the fast-paced world of social media and having endless opportunities to get off-track by opening an app or checking the score of a game, it is important that you stay focused.  This is easier said than done!

First thing’s first, either turn off your phone completely or shut off notifications from email and social media while doing school work.  When your phone is constantly sending you notifications and updates it becomes difficult to stay focused on an assignment or reading.

Set a timer for 25min, and say focused on your work for that period of time.  When the timer goes off, allow yourself a 5min break to check your phone, get up and stretch, and maybe get a drink or snack.  Then set the timer for another 25min and continue. This will allow you to stay focused on your work and keep you on-task knowing you’ll have a short break coming right up.

Tip #4: Take care of yourself, and ask for help!

This may seem obvious, but self-care is critical!  You have to be well-rested and well-nourished if you’re going to be your best self each day.  This may seem like an impossible task, especially if you have other people depending on your every day.

Think about who in your life is your support system; a partner, parents, neighbors, co-workers.  Talk with them about your schedule and don’t be afraid to ask them for help! Maybe you have a neighbor that would be willing to send dinner over one night, or a parent who can help drive kids to and from activities to help save you some time.

So many of us feel as though we should not reach out to others for help if we can manage on our own, but when you have people in your life who support and care about you, they want to help.  Someone providing a meal to your family for one night can save you a couple of hours in the kitchen that you can spend getting ahead on assignments.

Not every spare moment should be filled with school work.  If you find you have an unplanned thirty-minutes in your day, go for a walk outside or read something for fun.  Keeping yourself mentally healthy is a huge part of being successful!

Tip #5: Set goals and treat yourself!

Hopefully, you’re studying something you enjoy, but even when the work is interesting it can be tough to get stay focused.  It might help to set-up mini-goals and reward yourself when you hit those benchmarks as a way to stay motivated. For example, you might tell yourself “I’m going to read three chapters of my textbook between Sunday and Tuesday night, and when I do I’ll reward myself with a coffee shop latte on Wednesday morning.”  When you set a small goal and reward for yourself, you’ll have the extra push you need to stay on task and focused.