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An 8-step distance learning productivity schedule that will help you get the most out of your day

We all want to make the best use of our days. But as a remote learner, that goal can be tricky. It takes a lot of self-motivation and self-discipline to be successful. The great news is that there are a few tips and tricks you can implement to make the journey easier.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, that’s the topic of this blog post. Based on my own experience as a remote learner through college—plus the experience and wisdom of others—I’ve compiled eight steps to help you become a more productive learner. 

Let’s get started!

1. Block out specific hours of the day for learning

As a remote learner, it’s entirely possible to match the productivity of a traditional learner sitting in a classroom. In fact, it’s entirely possible to exceed that level. All it takes is having the right structure in place and the discipline to stick to it.

“Time blocking” is one building block for successful distance learning. Since you’re learning remotely, you’ll have a lot of distractions around you each and every day. That is why you need core study hours during the day.

Begin by thinking through what your typical week looks like as a distance learner: When you need to be in Zoom classroom meetings, what time and day assignments are due, when you need to participate in discussion chats or boards, etc. Then build your core hours around that.

The process could be as simple as blocking out 10am to 3pm as core study time where you will not be interrupted or take care of other tasks. Then divide those chunks up by your various classes.

Many people find this “blocking” approach easier to maintain than keeping a lengthy to-do list. Try it out and see how it works for you!

2. Eat a healthy breakfast

I’m not trying to sound like your mom, but this one really is important. Even if you’re not a morning or breakfast person, getting in a healthy first meal of the day will set you up for success. “Research shows skipping breakfast negatively affects short term memory and foregoes a boost in cognitive performance, precursors to productivity,” writes Scott Mautz at Inc.

If you’re anything like me, you also need a jolt of caffeine to get started. It’s never a good idea to down that cup of coffee or tea on an empty stomach, though. Be sure to get protein, starch, and add in some healthy fruits for good measure—all to maintain level energy throughout your morning.

3. Try intermittent fasting

I just told you not to skip breakfast, now I’m suggesting you skip meals. What gives? Bear with me.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, intermittent fasting is when you go a set number of hours—say, 16—without food during a 24-hour period. Then you repeat that fast on several days during the week. People use intermittent fasting mainly for weight loss or weight maintenance, or for general health. But it also has productivity benefits.

“When practicing intermittent fasting, many people report feeling more focused, energized, and at higher levels of concentration,” writes Kelsey Michal at Ladders.

If you’re medically able to try this approach, give it shot to see how it impacts your focus and output.

4. Take breaks

Taking a break is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s essential for long-term success. Yes, it might mean disrupting your flow, but you’ll likely find your mind sharper when you return to your schoolwork.

What does a good break look like? That’s an individual question. You need to figure out what works best for you. It might be just a matter of switching mental gears from studying to a lighter mental activity. Other good options:

  • Try a few minutes of prayer or meditation
  • Take a nap
  • Go for a walk (physical activity is always a plus!)
  • Chat with a friend
  • Listen to some music
  • Catch up on some non-school reading

5. Tap into the power of momentum

Harnessing the potential of momentum in your school day is a huge leap forward. The first step in doing that is just getting started. I call this the “kickstart.” In my own life, I find that if I can get five minutes into a challenging task or project, half the battle has been won. It’s the equivalent of putting on your sneakers and just walking out the door to go exercise—that first step is often all it takes for you to end up finishing your walk or run.

“Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort,” said Charles J. Givens.

Start small and take things one step at a time, and momentum will carry you along.

6. Designate an area in your home for study

Remote learners face the same challenges as remote workers: When home is your workspace, it can be hard to find the “off” switch when transitioning between work and play. A big step toward a solution is to designate a specific part of your home for study.

Depending on how much space you have to work with, this could be a corner of your apartment, a spare bedroom, or an entire floor of your house (a finished attic, for example). It’s important that this area be customized to what helps you study most effectively.

Some possible aids here include:

  • Ambient background noise
  • Natural sunlight (or at least adequate lighting)
  • A comfortable desk and chair (skip studying in a big easy chair or in bed, as you might fall asleep)

7. Reduce distractions

Notice I didn’t say “eliminate distractions.” Depending on your stage of life, entirely doing away with distractions is a pipe dream. There will always be some, and many of us face significant distractions in our remote school or work environments at home. The key here is to reduce those distractions as much as possible and work around them.

Some tips:

  • Use a pair of noise cancelling headphones
  • Have a white noise machine running
  • Find a space for study with a door that locks
  • Turn off your phone and tune our social media

8. Track your time

Tracking your time spent studying is the equivalent of setting a budget in your finances. Regardless of how you spend your time or your money, admitting it “on paper” is a huge step forward. It enables you to look back and evaluate how effectively you’re using your time during the day (or how you’re spending your money, to keep the analogy going!).

The good news is that so many great time-tracking apps exist to help you. One app that combines some fun with helping you stay on track is Forest. When you commit time to a task, you plant a tree and watch it gradually grow. If you get off task, the tree dies. RescueTime is another option. This one is perfect to not only track your time, but to block out distractions (like social media).

Now it’s your turn!

So that’s my list. What about you? What approaches do you find most powerful for staying productive as a remote learner? Leave a comment below and let us know.