Keyboard, planner and headphones

Tips for a successful semester at home

LIVE smarter | 6 MIN READ | 2020-10-01

Fall means school is back in full swing… sort of. Whether you’re a university or college student, more likely than not you’ll be spending at least part of this semester taking classes from the comfort of your own home. Just like being in a classroom, learning at home can have its challenges. Set yourself up for success this semester with these four tips.

Establish a routine

Alarm clock on table next to plant

Let’s face it, we’re creatures of habit and thrive on structure and routine. In order for you to learn to your fullest potential you need to be 100% focused on the tasks at hand during school hours. It may take a bit of time to find your perfect routine, but the following tips can help get you there

Wake up at the same time every day: A good start to your day is key. If you’re not forced to get up to go to school, at least try to set a time for yourself to start your day before the day gets away from you.

Fuel your body at normal times: Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day and helps you concentrate, gives you energy and can even contribute to a healthier body weight. Try to have something small to kick start your metabolism in the morning. It’s important to also give yourself mental breaks during the day, too – and meal time is a perfect way to schedule this. Meal prep on the weekends so you’re all ready for your week and you’re not scrambling for something to eat when you’re starving (which can lead to skipping meals or eating unhealthily).

o Tip: completely shut off work/school mode while you’re eating. Your brain is a muscle that gets tired as well. You’ll come back to your work refreshed and ready to take on the rest of your day.

Speaking of muscle exercise: Ensure you dedicate a portion of your day to exercise, no matter how long or short. When you’re home all day long, you can easily lose track of time – so take a a stroll around your neighbourhood, stream a live workout or just do a “7th inning stretch” to refresh your mind and give yourself a little break.

Structure your school schedule like a work schedule: You wouldn’t be late to work every day, so don’t be late to your studies. Choose specific times during the day that are dedicated only to your school work, with little to no interruptions. 

o Focusing can be difficult with roommates: Consider purchasing a pair of noise cancelling headphones in order to keep you from being too easily distracted. 

Don’t stay up all night: It’s tempting to let all schedules and sense of time go to the wayside when you’re at home all the time. Try your best to go to bed at a reasonable time every night to keep you on track.

o Most phones have sleep apps built into them that remind you it’s time to go to bed and already have your alarm set for the morning. Take advantage of these to help structure your day properly.  

Remember your relationships

Two girls laying down on a truck

Schooling from home also means missing out on the connections and relationships classmates and instructors provide – and that can feel pretty lonely sometimes. More likely than not your classmates are feeling the same way, so reach out with a text just to say “hi”, send a DM or plan an post-class Zoom. You can also:

Talk to your professor: Have a question about your homework? Don’t hesitate to communicate with your professor (that’s what they’re there for). It’s not as easy as stopping by their office anymore, but they’re still reachable in other ways.

o Class Teaching Assistants are life savers: Nervous to speak directly with your professor? Teaching Assistants are students like you that assist your professor in grading and teaching, and they understand where you’re coming from. 

Classmates love helping each other out: If you’re struggling with an assignment, it’s likely some of your classmates are as well. Reach out to them and create a virtual study group on Zoom. You might be amazed at the friendships that develop, even though you can’t be together in person. 

Roommates are there to support you: When you’re not trying to give each other space, schedule a time to hang out with your roomies. It’s easy to get consumed by the current state of the world, so take a break and sit back and relax with your favourite people. 

Get organized

Pink planner beside pen and iPhone

Getting organized is good for you in more ways than one. When you’re not actually leaving your home to go into your school, it’s easy to mix up which classes you have on which day, when things are due and when your exams are. 

Buy an agenda: Write everything from your syllabus into a good old fashioned planner at the beginning of your semester. Having a physical book where things are written down has proven to be helpful to commit things to memory – plus, you can have it right in front of you at all times. 

o You can definitely use your phone for this but you’re much more likely to press ignore on a reminder and make it disappear. Do yourself a favour and buy that cute planner from Indigo. In a world where everything is digital, sometimes it’s nice to actually write something down!

Buy notebooks: We know most people would prefer to take notes on a computer, however, notebooks are handy for quick to-do lists, grocery lists and drawing diagrams (and doodles, of course!).

o Plus, it might be easier to write notes on paper instead of typing while your professor is speaking to you through your laptop.

Set up a desk area: This can be done in many different ways. If you’re living in a small space, our recent post suggests lots of ways to carve out a home office.

o Leave this space when you’re not using it for work: For instance, don’t watch Netflix on your computer at your desk. This is your workspace and it’s important to separate your workspace from your living space, if it’s possible in the space you live in.

o Tip: ensure you're happy with the space you're living in; this will help ease your day to day student stress. Looking for the best apartment for you and your roomies? Check out these options in various cities across Canada for that perfect space you can call home. 

Keep your mental health in mind

Man sitting on couch watching Netflix

School is a marathon, not a sprint. You have a whole semester to get your work done, so schedule yourself appropriately and ensure that you focus on yourself during these uncertain times. 

Reward yourself: Getting ahead is definitely nice, but if you’ve spent all day working and you’ve finally finished that huge project, don’t dive right into more work. Reward yourself with a couple hours off, whether baking a batch of cookies, scrolling through Instagram or going for a socially-distanced walk with a friend. There’s always tomorrow!

Don’t be too hard on yourself: Everyone is feeling pretty uncertain right now, and it’s totally normal. Pause, breathe and ask for help if you need it. Bottling things up creates unnecessary stress, and we know you’re already stressed enough. 

Hydrate, hydrate and then hydrate: Keep your water bottle close by and keep filling it up. Your brain needs water to function properly and when you’re learning from home, it’s easy to just sit at your desk all day and not get up. Take that proverbial “water cooler break” and text your friends to see what they’re up to (and how they’re doing). 

In case you haven’t heard this lately, you’re doing great. Going to school while not being physically present in a classroom is challenging and definitely not something you’re used to. Our best advice? Try your best to stay focused and organized, ask for help when you need it, stay in contact with family and friends and most importantly, cut yourself some slack. It’ll all work out in the end.