The rise in popularity of online study courses has seen many learners turn their backs on the university library to work at their own kitchen table, or perhaps comfortable sofa or even comfier bed.
The truth is that some of us are more able to work independently and solidly at home than others, with distractions – the TV, the PlayStation, the fridge, the pet dog – testing the resolve of even the most studious.
And then there’s that evil beast that threatens to derail all home workers: procrastination.
Even the most hard-working and focused of us can be befallen by procrastination from time to time, and when you are trying to balance home study with a job or juggling family responsibilities, putting off what you could do today until tomorrow is a dangerous habit to fall into, especially with deadlines looming.
So, are there tools and techniques we can use to banish procrastination and stay ‘in the moment’? The science community believes that there is.
Set daily goals
Some online study courses are ‘accelerated’, which means that the actual time it takes to earn a qualification is shorter than you would expect from a more traditional mode of learning.
For example, online accelerated BSN programs for non-nurses at Baylor University are designed to fast track those with an interest in working in the healthcare industry. As you can imagine, that means that students simply do not have the time to procrastinate as they prepare for practical work, clinical sessions and other forms of learning.
It means that trainee nurses and learners on many other remote study courses have to make the most of every day – particularly if they are studying part-time in and around other responsibilities.
As a result, procrastination is much less likely to happen during an accelerated program. But for students undertaking online courses with a less-intense schedule, clearly the thought-process of leaving things until tomorrow becomes much more tempting.
One of the ideas that can help combat this mindset is to set a goal for yourself every time you sit down for a study session. It’s funny how our brains and bodies rise to the occasion when we have set ourselves a target – it’s likely to do with the dopamine rush we get when we meet our express objectives, be it in work, exercise or life in general.
Research studies have concluded that goal setting is linked to higher achievement, and so we can fight off the demons of procrastination by remaining target-orientated and having a daily goal to work towards.
If you need to, you can physically write down your goals on a piece of paper or on a note in your phone. There is a feeling of immense satisfaction that comes from ticking them off.
Some parents will cook Thanksgiving Day dinner on the fly, taking meats, potatoes and vegetables in and out of the oven when their instinct tells them.
Others, on the other hand, run dinner preparations like a military option, giving each task a timecode upon a color-coordinated Excel spreadsheet.
The point is that we all, as individuals, have different ways of working, and what might help you succeed when studying online could be completely distinct from your fellow students.
However, if there’s one trait that all remote learners need to share, it’s organization – if for no other reason than to keep procrastination at bay.
Whether you opt for to-do lists written on scrap paper or a full blown, annotated spreadsheet, the truth is that understanding what it is you need to accomplish from your study session – allied to the goal setting detailed above – will remove the inclination to procrastinate, for the simple reason that you won’t want to ruin tomorrow’s schedule.
Organization and prioritization will also help settle any anxieties you have about a heavy workload, because negative thinking can be an arbiter of procrastination when times get tough.
Get in the zone
Just because you are physically present at your desk or have your laptop poised on your thighs, it does not mean you are ready to get down to work.
You could be checking emails, scanning through the latest news or your social feeds or even simply completing low-priority tasks to convince yourself that you are in ‘work mode.’
It’s also amazing how many procrastinators fancy a cup of coffee or feel the need to stretch their legs or suddenly decide it’s time to vacuum clean the house when faced with a difficult or time-consuming work task.
To get the very best out of your study sessions, you need to be focused and concentrated for as much of the time as possible. Scientists believe that the average human can only focus for around four to five hours per day, so some procrastination is unavoidable when you find concentration levels waning – you’ll always have those 4-5 hours tomorrow, right?
One of the techniques you can deploy to get the most from your focused time is to set time windows in which you will work, and then a shorter ‘rest’ period after will help you concentrate better once you return to your studies.
The golden timeframe, according to those in the know, is between 30-45 minutes, with 10-15 minutes of downtime. But during your rest period, make sure you do anything but work – a burst of physical exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk, can help stimulate creativity and improve cognitive function.
This would be the perfect time for that otherwise work-avoiding cup of coffee, too.
Winning the battle
At times, studying can be fun as you soak up new learning like a sponge.
At other times, it can be a real chore – and you shouldn’t chastise yourself for feeling that way. It’s just the way it is and has always been.
But procrastination never solves anything – literally. It’s important to set up your study sessions so that they are organized, have explicit goals to be achieved and are timed in a way that you can make the very best of your time.
You can thank us later….maybe tomorrow, if you have time.