It’s that time of the year again, the back-to-school season. After having enjoyed some time of calm since my intensive summer class, I’m finally ready to make my way back to University for the fall semester... or am I? Like you, and I imagine, many students around the world, due to the COVID-19 situation, I’ll be spending the next few months essentially studying from home. In this post, I’ll share some of the systems I plan to use to make the most of this time, while not stressing out.
Why I’m anticipating this school year
If being a student was never made to be easy, the sanitary crisis and the need for many schools and universities to work almost entirely online bring a whole new set of challenges. Being physically at school is designed to make us productive: you attend physical lectures or classes, students and an actual professor in front of you constitute a studious ambiance to at least try to understand and assimilate new concepts with reduced distractions. Now, with online learning, you’re supposed to perform just as well while still being surrounded by all of your distractions (video games, Netflix, food, wanting to pee, your bed) all the time.
But, I believe that despite the challenges, we can make it. I like to believe in new beginnings (a new school year) and in the ability to shape my own destiny. So, I’m anticipating this school year; for it I want to build an efficient system to stay disciplined when I need to.
How I am getting ready for this new semester of online learning
1. Planning my classes & study time
When the room you’re supposed to chill in and the place you’re supposed to study and be focused merge into one, it’s easy to completely loose track of what you should do, at any given moment of time: you start watching YouTube videos or do busy work during your classes and end up having to “catch up” on that during moments when you’re supposed to rest or play. As it happened to me a few months ago... for this time, I intend to do better.
— Add your classes to your agenda
First, I added my classes to my calendar so that I can be sure of what is going on and when. If I need to be on-site (at my school) or online and on which platform, depending on the day and the week. When I’ll receive the dates of my exams, I’ll be sure to add them there as well.
Here the goal is not to be rigid or to overplan everything, but rather to know what I should do, to have a direction on how to use my time so that I don't have to take decisions to keep myself in line 24/7h.
— Plan your study time
Same drill here, since most of the classes will be asynchronous (not necessarily in direct on Zoom at a given hour), I'll need to organize my own learning, studying and reviewing time. I'll try to use the gaps between my classes efficiently and let the evening/night time to study and rest.
For now, I just did a rough schedule based on my classes and my experiences, but I’ll optimize it as time will go, both to adapt it to my classes' expectations and my level of energy throughout the day.
2. Prioritizing my system
Rome wasn’t built in one day, and I won’t be perfect from the get-go either. So my main goal for this semester will be to prioritize my system and trust it: the little things I do every day rather than just the big picture.
— Focus on long-term goals and daily habits
For a year, a month or a week, I’m usually keen on giving myself goals. Goals are usually very useful as they give you a sense of direction, a target to focus on... but, it’s also a double-edged sword as they can quickly grow overwhelming. So this semester, I’m focusing on what I can control: not the distant target, but the work I do every day to improve so that one day I can get it.
— Learn from your mistakes
Did I fail my last test or do I still struggle to study when I mean to? That’s life 🤷🏾♂️, and we can’t expect to always get it right on the first try. Instead, the more you fall, the more you learn how to get back up. So, learn from your little mistakes and correct them. Stop trying to make hard work easy, accept that good and valuable things take time. I know I will make this idea a great part of my mindset for this semester.
3. Optimizing my environment
While it seems rather appealing to imagine following my classes from the comfort of my bed... we all know how it would end up 🤦🏾
— My Desk Setup
To make sure I am productive every morning and ready to work, I arranged a special space dedicated to studying and working. On it, I have everything I could need at hand: water, notebooks, reference books and additional supplies (in the drawers), headphones and of course, my computer with two additional screens practical for my Software Engineering courses.The desk space where I can do my best work.
I want to personally thank Anthrodesk who kindly agreed to send me the wobble chair in exchange for an honest review. As I suffer from back pains having this chair is very practical, it forces me to keep a good posture throughout the day. I switch between this one and my traditional desk chair depending on the work I do. I might also occasionally use the Standing Desk Converter (also by Anthrodesk), I reviewed a few months ago.
To avoid my own mistakes from the past, here are some advice I would give you if you look to optimize your workspace:
- Find a place that is comfortable and ideally isolated from noises, people coming and going, and overall distractions.
- Make sure you have everything at hand, especially resources you might need, water (which you should drink enough) and ideally healthy snacks.
- Dedicate this place to working and studying: train your brain to know that this is the only possible option when you're sitting there.
The last one is still the tricky part for me since I don't own a TV, I both work and play at my desk. But that part can be optimized with my study planning. For example, I could decide that from 8AM to 5pm, my desk is work only and afterwards, it's play only!
My digital setup
My digital setup is just as important, if not more than my physical space, especially with the COVID-19 era. I don't have many tools, but I make sure to use the ones I do efficiently.
Things 3, my Todo List app is my base of operations for everything. Whenever I receive an assignment or any piece of information, I'll add it at random to my Things inbox, until I get the time to make sense of it all. It's the first thing I check every day to make sure I have a sense of my priorities for the day.How I use Things 3 to keep track of my assignments & study sessions.
If you are looking for a good Todo list app, you should check out my post: 5 apps to stay organized as a student.
Goodnotes & Anki
To take notes during class I either rely on 100% paper or I use GoodNotes on iPad for digital notes and annotations. How do I choose which one to use? This year I'll essentially rely on paper (I believe it helps me to "better understand the concepts") except if it's more practical to use a digital platform, like to annotate documents or hand over written assignments.
Anki is the amazing spaced-repetition / active recall app I discovered and started to use actively this year. There are many prettier alternatives, like Brainscape, Quizlet or TinyCards but Anki it's definitely the most powerful one, and it's free on all platforms... except iPhone (which price helps fund the development).I use GoodNotes to take digital notes and Anki to remember what I learn.
Notion is my second-brain, and I use the app to keep track of everything that I learn, create and connect the two together. As I will take notes, find new resources and receive my progressive grades, I'll add them to my Notion database.
Notion is my second brain. I use Google Drive, Calendar (Apple Calendar or Google Agenda), and other apps I can't live without to keep track of everything and lastly, I use, Spotify.
4. Using study groups, friends, and accountability partners
Friends are a great (and actually a very important) part of University life. If it's quickly boring to study alone and to stay motivated, it's better to do it with friends. Depending on our classes in common and the type of work required, I think it will be interesting to have little study groups and sessions with a couple of friends.
If the sanitary conditions and the government requirements allow it later, I might even organize little physical study sessions in small groups, only on the condition that pizza is involved 🍕🕺🏾.
5. Making sure I still go out and have fun
Lastly, and this might be the most important part... go out! During the last semester I didn't do it as much as I planned to, but this time I will.
I will make sure to go out a bit every day, to get some vitamin D, play, read, walk, run or even just wander without a specific purpose. On a side note, Vitamin D, as much as a good sleep routine and a good diet are also the keys to success, and that's what I plan to actively work on in the next few months. Not exerting yourself today is the first step to making sure you perform awesomely tomorrow, take care of your inner goose with Golden Egg.
Either way, if you are trying to optimize your semester like I am, remember that Rome wasn't built in one day and you don't have to either. It's okay if you fail or feel like it's harder than you imagined, just get up and keep trying until it works!
What about you, whether you are out of school or still a student like me, what are your plans for this upcoming season? Do you have any tips on how to focus and learn more effectively?
Last updated: 4 weeks ago