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Illustration by Maya Vargas on a laptop, calendar and planner on desk in article about taking class from home

Classes are going remote nationwide. Who knew staying home for school would be harder than going to campus?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities across the world, and most recently in the United States, have closed their doors and banished their students, telling us to go home and stay home while attending classes online. Some universities have decreed that this policy will last until the end of the semester, while others are instating more temporary measures with the intention to monitor the situation.

With talk of flattening the curve and health officials urging all of us to practice social distancing, this switch to remote learning seems incredibly wise — but that doesn’t make it any easier for us. It can be easy to fall into the association of being home with being on break, but the semester isn’t quite over yet.

Most of us will have to continue attending class from home, and despite all the Zoom memes, online classes aren’t necessarily going to be a breeze. To help my fellow students focus during these weird and wild times, here are tips for attending class from home, aggregated from my experience with remote internships and self-studying languages.

1. Structure, structure, structure

Now that you’re taking your class from home, your professors will likely not hold real-time classes every day, which means that you’re going to have a lot more discretion when it comes to the timing of your work. While this may be somewhat freeing at first, you will soon find that lack of structure often equals a lack of motivation. It’s down to you to lend structure to your days — study your professor’s new syllabi like it’s your job, and develop a schedule, on both the macro and micro scale.

Your macro schedule should include time frames for big projects, or an approximation of how long you’d like to study before an intimidating exam. Somewhere nearby, you should write down your long-term goals, whether that’s improving your understanding of African history, becoming fluent in a language or simply passing a certain class. Keeping your long-term goals in mind will provide you with motivation — or, at least, that’s the idea.

Your micro schedule should include the smaller tasks you hope to achieve every day of this semester. You don’t have to develop this all at once — usually I go day by day — but you should note the dates when you’d like to start working on a long-term project or studying for an important exam. This schedule can also include non-academic tasks, such as exercising, doing laundry or washing dishes.

If you feel that you need to add even more structure to complete your assigned tasks, you can draw up a full daily schedule, with hours blocked out for certain things. For my micro schedule, I usually use a simple assignment book, but if you’d like a little more creative freedom, you can take inspiration from the many beautifully laid out bullet journals kept by the most meticulous planners. Or, if you’re not too into planning, you can just scribble down some thoughts on a plain notepad — whatever works best for your studying style.

2. Sort your tasks

I generally sort my tasks two ways, each of which have two categories: creative versus non-creative, and unpleasant versus not as unpleasant. Of course, each of these categories are highly subjective and extremely broad, but I find that by sorting my tasks in this way, I’m able to determine the order in which I should complete them.

I tend to try to complete the most unpleasant tasks first, just so I can clear them out of my brain, and for creative tasks, I know that I have to be in a certain mood to be completely happy with my work. Of course, a deadline is a deadline, and writer’s block is writer’s block, so I might not be able to wait for that perfect moment.

Even when that’s the case, I still try to sort my tasks so that my creative tasks are buffered by two non-creative tasks, to give my brain a bit of a rest.

Perhaps your brain doesn’t work in the same way as mine, or perhaps your classwork is often less than creative, that’s okay — you can come up with categories that work for you. Maybe you’d like to get long-term work out of the way first, or perhaps you’d like to complete the task that’s due soonest.

However, you decide to sort your tasks, setting them into a particular order is going to allow you to think less about what you’re going to do next and more about the task at hand. That should make studying and attending class from home a little bit easier.

3. Banish your phone and turn off your Wi-Fi

This one should be a no-brainer. Your phone is a huge distraction, always. Even if it’s sitting silently by your side, screen black, it’s still calling to you – so banish it from your study space. Fling it from your desk. Oust it from your room. Or just set it gently down somewhere out of sight, preferably far away.

Your computer can be similarly distracting, but it’s also much more necessary for schoolwork. When you’re not completing a task involving Wi-Fi, turn off your connection so that you’ll be less tempted to surf the web. For both phone and computer, you can also make a rule for yourself that if you want to switch to entertainment, you have to physically move your body elsewhere. For instance, if you’re sitting at your desk, you have to go to your bed to use your phone.

4. Act like you’re actually attending class

If you stay in bed for very long, all that cushy comfiness will swallow you whole, and you won’t be able to achieve anything for the rest of the day. Instead, drag yourself out of bed, just as if you had to go to class. When attending class from home, try to keep your morning routine the same as when you attended class in person — yes, that means actually getting dressed.

It’s good to be slightly uncomfortable, so don’t be afraid to wear that pair of jeans that might be a little too tight around the waist. Any bit of discomfort will help you resist the siren song of your bed and the endless hours of mindless entertainment on Netflix. You and I both know that binging “Love Is Blind” is not a good use of your time.

5. Take breaks — but not too many

Any resource about working from home is going to tell you to take breaks, and yes, of course you should. The best break activities are those that will get you away from screens: take a walk, if you live in an area isolated enough to do so safely, maybe pick up a book, listen to a podcast or just sit quietly and allow your mind to wander.

But you have to be careful with your breaks. Even though productivity methods like the Pomodoro Technique have a set work-time-to-break-time ratio, if you think that taking a break is going to interrupt your workflow, just don’t. At least for me, keeping a consistent workflow is much more important than even completing my work as efficiently as possible because I know that if I fall out of the rhythm, it’s much more difficult to dive back in.

6. Stick with whatever works best for you

In your journey to make the best of attending class from home, some of these tips might resonate with you, and others might not. That’s totally cool — you know how to make yourself productive. In the midst of so much uncertainty, it can be nice to stick to the familiar, methods that you know work for you. Though education and attending class is super important, more important than that is the health and wellness of you and your loved ones.

So even though these tips are here to help you continue your education smoothly in these trying times, spending time with those you love, even virtually, and keeping yourself healthy are the top priorities in this particular moment. Don’t let your studies get in the way of that.

I wish the best to all my fellow students, and all my fellow humans. Even though this is a time of immense suffering, I know we can pull together and overcome.

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