Sunday Longread: Learning under lockdown

Heather Bruton discusses how to stay motivated to study despite the pandemic

It’s 8am and you wake up to the loud blaring of your alarm, knowing you have to face another day of studying at home during a national lockdown. This thought alone can be enough to cause anyone to hit snooze and shirk all responsibilities for the day. Knowing that we are going to be under restrictions for the rest of this academic year, and, in my case, until the end of my undergraduate degree, keeping good study habits is more important than ever. 

In the past, if I was feeling particularly unproductive, a change of scenery was all I needed to shake up my routine and get focused on work again. Now, with a location change like a trip to your local coffee shop out of the question, most of us are stuck studying and taking classes from our bedroom. Sleeping and working in the same space is naturally going to affect your productivity. If you have the option, try incorporating a switch of study spot every now and then into your work schedule. For example, try working in another room in the house if it’s possible, or if you live in Dublin, book a slot in the library or one of the other spaces on campus. Working in the Exam Hall is a real vibe. 

If you’re living at home, finding a new space to work isn’t always possible, so make sure to take plenty of breaks. If the weather permits, do some reading or light work outside. Go on a short walk. Make a coffee or tea. Get a snack. Even small breaks will help with productivity. As the weather warms, leave a window open when you study — the fresh air and natural light will help keep you focused. 

“Whatever time works best for you, try to make sure you work your sleep and work schedule around it.”

Identify what time of the day you work best. For me, it’s the morning. So if I really want to get a good day of work in, it makes sense for me to wake up at 7am or 8am in order to maximise that time. Once I’ve had lunch, I slip into an afternoon slump where I’m completely unproductive. For others, it takes a good few hours of mindfulness in the morning to properly wake up, and the afternoon or even the evening might be your time to shine. Whatever time works best for you, try to make sure you work your sleep and work schedule around it. There is no point trying to force yourself to work when you are half asleep — unless you are approaching a deadline, then it might be necessary. 

Making a schedule for the week, and for the day, is really important. To-do lists are your friend. Give yourself small, achievable goals every day. Write anything and everything down on your list. I have gotten to the point where “book library slot” and “read emails” will nearly always be on my to-do list for the day; anything for the satisfaction of ticking something off the list. Even seeing that I have completed one or two tasks for the day gives me the motivation to do more. Similarly, waking up and immediately making your bed, even if the rest of your room is shockingly messy, is a great way to start your day. Though it may seem pointless, making your bed right after you wake up is a great way to accomplish a minor task to inspire greatness for the day ahead.

“At home in my room, on the other hand, who will know if I binge watch an entire season of a TV show instead of working?”

A to-do list is a great way to keep yourself accountable when it comes to academic work as is telling someone what your aim is for the day. If you are anything like me, accountability is everything when it comes to studying. If I am in the library, I know I will likely get more work done because I’m hardly going to open up Netflix in the library where everyone can see me. At home in my room, on the other hand, who will know if I binge watch an entire season of a TV show instead of working? My new strategy is to tell someone — a family member, a friend, a flatmate, anyone who will listen really — what my goals are for the day, however small. Just knowing that someone other than myself expects me to get a certain amount of work done often motivates me to achieve that goal, mostly so I don’t feel guilty if they ask me about it later.

That being said, if you have a bad day and achieve practically nothing all day, don’t let it get you down. One significant issue at the moment is students and lecturers assuming that just because you have more free time to study, it means you are physically capable of working more. This can cause us to set overambitious and unrealistic goals for ourselves, when in fact it is likely that the impact of the pandemic on your mental health will actually have a detrimental effect on your study habits. If you find yourself being less productive than ever, you’re not the only one. Ask for an extension or talk to your class rep about potentially getting a blanket extension for your course if you are struggling to keep up with your academic work. Lecturers, for the most part, are very understanding about how the lockdown is impacting students’ ability to study, so if you need more time, don’t be afraid to ask for it – it doesn’t hurt to try. 

“Consciously taking that break from technology can give you the space you need to relax and de-stress.”

Make time to take care of your physical and mental health. Aim for those eight hours of sleep, go for regular walks, don’t check the coronavirus cases too often and make time for the things you enjoy, whether it be reading, painting, exercising or cooking. Schedule calls with friends and family even if you are feeling sick of Zoom. A quick ten-minute catch up with a friend is a good distraction from everything going on. However, also make time to get away from your screen. Putting the laptop and phone away for a period of every day is a great way to wind down. Sometimes the pressure to stay constantly connected via social media and video calls can be draining. Consciously taking that break from technology can give you the space you need to relax and de-stress. 

Keeping up with lectures and readings for seminars is one of the most difficult aspects of attending college remotely. The accountability that comes with having to physically attend a lecture or seminar is no longer there, so it becomes really easy to fall behind with your work. I am a big fan of changing the speed of lectures to x1.75 — watching it at twice the speed is just a little too fast for me. Granted, I will have to pause at times to take some notes. I still find that listening at this speed gets me through any pre-recorded lectures much faster. Use your judgement on this, though, because lecturers talk at different speeds; you might be only able to go up to x1.5 for fast talkers. 

We are all struggling with studying right now. Sometimes it feels like there’s no point to it, with so much going on in the world. Talking with a friend about how you’re struggling to keep up will make a huge difference because they are more than likely in exactly the same boat. Have a rant. Get all of those frustrations out. You won’t be able to study if you’re feeling fed up and unmotivated. Use the summer and the potential for an ease in restrictions to fuel your study. Exams will be over soon; there’s not much more of this left. Fingers crossed this is the last lockdown-studying we ever have to do.

Heather Bruton

Heather Bruton is the Life Editor for Trinity News, and is completing a master's degree in Modern and Contemporary Literary Studies.