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Studying at home? How you can avoid procrastination

In any other circumstances, switching to the non-traditional study route of online study might be exhilarating. It’s a fantastic experience – one that helps you develop many crucial soft skills – but it also comes with its unique challenges. And at a time when we’re bombarded with so many other hardships, the prospect of being in charge of your own learning becomes more intimidating than exciting.

This is something Dr Robin Bellingham, a lecturer in pedagogy and curriculum in Deakin’s School of Education, says is completely understandable. ‘Your peers and teachers are feeling the same nervousness and intimidation. Compassion for ourselves is crucial at this time,’ she urges.

If you’re finding it difficult to focus or stick to your study schedule, it’s important not to beat yourself up about it. ‘It’s not hard because you aren’t good enough to do it,’ Dr Bellingham says. ‘It’s just hard. For everyone – including lecturers.

‘The weird new circumstances we’re facing might mean your usual at-home study schedule is not working anymore,’ she says, explaining you should allow yourself time to adjust to your new online learning environment. ‘Not everyone will be able to produce their best work at the moment – that’s okay!

‘Be flexible about your own expectations of yourself at this time and on a day-to-day basis too,’ Dr Bellingham advises.

 Acknowledging the challenges of at-home study

At-home study comes with a myriad of distractions, and the procrastination hole often isn’t far away. ‘At the moment, study conditions at home are really testing a lot of people,’ Dr Bellingham says.

You may not have a quiet, comfortable space at home to delve into study, and you might have kids or other family members to look after. On top of that, technology can and does get in the way Dr Bellingham says.

‘Downloads can be slow, and synchronous classes or meetings may be unreliable,’ she says.

‘Aside from these things, I think as we self-isolate mental and emotional concerns are distractions that are more prominent than usual.’

If you’re finding yourself procrastinating due to your worries and concerns, she says she was passed a ‘useful piece of advice from the Dalai Lama’: “if there is something to be done – do it, without any need to worry; if there’s nothing to be done, worrying about it further will not help”.

So, what can we learn from this? ‘We can’t control everything that is happening, but we can aim to manage the ways we respond to what is happening,’ Dr Bellingham says, advising students to:

  1. identify the tasks you can manage yourself
  2. seek help for the tasks you can’t solve by yourself, and
  3. for now, let go of what is out of yours or anyone’s control.

Dr Bellingham’s second point is perhaps her most important piece of advice. ‘Lecturers [and teachers] understand in general terms the significant stress many students are under and are ready to respond, but they don’t know how individuals in their classes are doing unless they hear from them online,’ she says. ‘Feed back to them about how you are going.’

‘If you are confused or you don’t know how to do something – whether it is technology –related or something else, let them know. They are learning too and are relying on your engagement to help them to make it work for you.’

'Be flexible about your own expectations of yourself at this time and on a day-to-day basis too.'

Dr Robin Bellingham,
School of Education, Deakin University

Dr Bellingham’s tips for productivity

Chunk it: don’t plan to attack whole assignments at once, break them up into parts and just focus on one at a time.

Checklist: before you log off for the day, write a checklist of priorities for tomorrow. Put small easy tasks on it too, like emailing people to set up an online meeting. Let yourself have that sense of achievement as you tick things off.

Make it visual and material: if you are used to working on campus and with other people face-to-face, you’ll need to find other ways to keep study ‘in sight’. Block out chunks of time for tasks in your calendar, and put in timelines and reminders for working towards assignments. If possible use visuals in your study space – post it notes, timelines, diagrams, mind-maps.

Commit to synchronous online seminars where they are offered: maintaining this routine is important. Contact with people is important and the opportunity to engage your brain in this way is important. Learning is not an individual activity.

Make the most of online seminars by preparing for them: put a reminder in your calendar to do the readings or to write down any questions you have the day before the seminar.

Take time away from the screen: mediums such as drawing and mind-mapping will engage you in other ways of thinking.  Active ‘switch off’ activities such as walking, running, cooking and art are also well-known aids to creative thought. These should be an integral part of your self-isolation schedule.

Stay in touch with others

A clear theme in Dr Bellingham’s advice to avoiding procrastination is maintaining human connection. ‘Your connections with staff and other students are crucial for motivation,’ she says.

If opportunities to connect with others aren’t provided to you, there’s no reason you can’t create these opportunities for yourself. In fact, taking the initiative to set up or join study communities with your peers is something Dr Bellingham encourages.

‘Microsoft Teams and Zoom are good products for collaboration,’ she says. ‘Give back – share stuff like links, resources, photos, ideas and encouragement. Be one of the givers in the learning community,’ she implores, reiterating that learning isn’t – and shouldn’t be – an individual activity.

Try to keep things in perspective

Often, we procrastinate because the short-term ‘wins’ like Netflix binges are more appealing than the long-term ‘gains’ of dedicating yourself to your studies. It happens to everyone, but if you’re finding it hard to keep the bigger picture in mind at the moment, Dr Bellingham asks a gentle question: ‘What’s more meaningful to you?’

You may have taken off your rose-coloured glasses when looking at your future, but try to ‘remind yourself of or identify the ideas, knowledge skills and aims of your studies that your find personally meaningful,’ she says.

Reflect on how your personal interests could decide which university course will help you pursue these passions, or how they could be part of your professional identity once you’ve graduated. Dr Bellingham suggests researching some careers you mightn’t have thought of yet that would suit you.

‘Maybe it is a good time to get some career advice to help you progress your picture of your future-self.’

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Dr Robin Bellingham
Dr Robin Bellingham

Lecturer in Education (Pedagogy and Curriculum), School of Education, Deakin University

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