Working from home may not be great, but your productivity doesn’t have to suffer!

Working from home can be challenging. With distractions left and right, and Netflix’s ever-broadening catalog at your disposal, it can definitely be difficult to stay on task. Now that COVID-19 and social distancing have pushed courses into an online format, this is the perfect opportunity to hone your at-home productivity skills. Here are some tips to make sure you stay productive and get that schoolwork done!

1. Start your day off right

When the only place you have to be is home, it can be tempting to stay in bed as long as possible, but a crucial part of working productively from home is to maintain a routine. Just like any other school day, wake up early, shower, get dressed, make coffee, and have a great breakfast. Being consistent with your morning routine can help reduce sleepiness throughout the day and keep you accountable.

A great addition to your morning routine when working from home is to plan your day. Before you start working, try to plan out your priorities for the day: Do you have any online lectures to schedule in? Do you have any upcoming assignments? Are you planning to exercise today? Make sure that before your day begins, you’re aware of your priorities and how much time you think you’ll need to complete each task. Make sure you also simulate a school day by setting a time to end your workday. Don’t ignore the importance of a good evening of relaxation and unwinding!

TIP: When scheduling your tasks for the day, consider when in the day you feel most productive. Plan to tackle your hardest tasks when you know you’ll have the most energy!

2. Pick your spot – and stick to it

Try to find a spot where you feel comfortable and where distractions, such as those caused by roommates, are minimal. While working from your sofa or your bed can be tempting, this can take a toll on your productivity. In fact, studying from bed not only hurts your productivity and focus (you’ll be tempted to stop working and start sleeping), but it can also hinder your sleep quality! Your brain will associate your bed with studying, so it may be harder for you to fall asleep. For more information on this, check out this article by the American College of Healthcare Services.

So, ditch the bed and find yourself a workspace. It should have enough room for you to lay out all your study materials and everything you’ll need to study, so that you minimize the need to get up throughout your study session. Do your best to consistently study at the same spot so that your brain begins to associate it with work, not relaxation.

TIP: If you need silence to study and can’t find a quiet spot, try using foam earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, or a white noise playlist. If you need noise in the background to focus, try keeping the TV or a podcast on in another room (find a channel you don’t like), or a playlist with coffee shop sounds or instrumental music (may I suggest these playlists: music and sounds).

3. Perfect your study technique

Just like when you’re studying for in-person exams, the most important part of studying productively is to have a solid study technique. Whether you use an online platform for memorization, like Anki or Quizlet, good old-fashioned paper flashcards, physically writing in a notebook, or using word-processing software, it’s important to pick the study method that works best for you. For more tips on study techniques, check out this article on preparing for final exams, written by Ash. To discuss study techniques and tips for improvement, visit the Faculty of Science Mentoring Centre and speak to a mentor (or make an appointment for an online mentoring session during the University’s closure due to COVID-19).

4. Take breaks

Working for hours on end can hinder your productivity. After an hour or two, you may lose focus and motivation, or get distracted. Taking breaks every hour or so can improve your focus and attention, and can even act as a reward for productive studying! For more information on this, and for an outline of the Pomodoro technique, one of my favourite ways to integrate breaks into my study schedule, check out Antony’s article on maintaining focus and concentration when studying.

TIP: Check out some online yoga or at-home workouts you can do between tasks or study blocks! Getting some exercise, even when you’re stuck at home, can help you refocus and get energized for the next thing on your list. Or better yet, go outside!

5. Eat properly

Just like with your morning routine, it’s crucial to maintain a routine when it comes to nutrition. Ensure you’re getting the right amount of necessary vitamins and minerals, and that you’re maintaining a balanced diet, with fresh produce as much as possible. Having healthy snacks to tide you over between meals is also important to ensure good brain function during heavy study days!

FUN FACT: Deficiencies in zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E have been linked to altered immune responses. To ensure a tip-top immune system (be it to avoid being hit hard by COVID-19 or the usual exam season flu), make sure your diet is providing you with all your micronutrient needs.

6. Get some sleep

As you may have guessed by now, being productive while working from home truly depends on maintaining good routines. Sleep is no exception! While it may be tempting to stay up late to study and get up late the next day, good quality sleep is not only important to ensuring you’re getting a good night’s sleep and staying awake and focused the next day, but also it is critical for the consolidation of knowledge. So, don’t let your studying go to waste: get that sleep! 

7. Stay connected

Last, but not least, to be productive, make sure to take care of your mental health. Stay connected with your friends and family. Remember, social distancing DOES NOT MEAN self-isolation. You cannot be productive if staying at home takes a toll on your mental health. So, try to speak to friends and family via Messenger, Snapchat, Zoom, Skype, email, carrier pigeon… and if you feel the need, seek out mental health services and other support services that are available to you, such as the Faculty of Science Mentoring Centre. Remember, you are not alone.

And there you have it! Take advantage of the flexibility that staying at home can offer and seize the opportunity to hone your study skills and become the best, most productive student you can be. Stay healthy and safe this spring!