How to Stay On Top of Your Online Lectures

Have you got online lectures this year? Here's how to stay ahead.

This year, most universities across the UK have put the majority of their teaching (like lectures, seminars and tutorials) online. While this is necessary in the long run, it can make studying MUCH more difficult for students (particularly those who are cooped up at home).

With students no longer having their regular routines (no more late night library sessions, nights out or pub trips after a long day in the library!), it’s inevitable that some students might struggle with keeping up with their studies. Luckily, if you are struggling to stay on top of your workload, there are a number of ways you can get back on track ASAP.

To give you a hand, we've put together a comprehensive guide for staying on top of your online lectures 👇

Scrap your weekly work plans: switch to daily plans

If you often find yourself making elaborate week-long uni plans, but end up wondering why you're so far behind by Tuesday, you might need to switch up how you're managing your workload.

To avoid falling behind with your work (and feeling super guilty as a result), try making plans just one day at a time. This helps to make sure that you're not committing to heaps of work at once, and it'll help you manage each day as it comes. The flexible nature of a daily plan means you can easily rearrange your schedule as needed - without facing any repercussions or feeling guilty for doing so.

An added bonus of having a daily plan is that it'll give you a sense of structure to your work day. This means it more likely for you to stick to this plan until it becomes a routine - reducing your chances of falling behind on your work in the future.

Dedicate set times of the day to complete your lectures 

The lectures and contact hours that you're expected to do from home will usually be collated in a timetable provided by your university. By utilising these timetabled slots as a guide to follow from home (where you can), you'll be much more likely to stay on top of your workload.

Bonus tip: Use the free hours before and after these timetabled lectures to complete your work for that particular module. As most timetables are weekly or bi-weekly, you'll get into a habit of sticking to this to give you a sense of a routine.

Allocate set break times each day

It's a good idea to allocate certain times of the day to have a break (even if it's just 20 minutes to catch up on Netflix). Anyone focusing for a long period of time needs regular breaks - or you'll inevitably lose concentration (making it way harder for you to retain information).

Don't tell yourself you'll 'make it til lunch'; leaving hours between breaks is usually way too long. Try the Pomodoro Technique for the best results. Pick a task, set a 25 minute timer, work all-out, and then give yourself a 5 minute break to stretch your legs and allow distractions. Every few hours, give yourself a much longer break. This trick works wonders, and is proven to help you stay distraction-free.

Go for a walk, hang out with your housemates or scroll through TikTok for half an hour - but whatever you do, set a timer and don't break for too long.

Avoid desk breaks

Try to get away from your desk or workspace while you're not working, as this is a great way to create some form of separation between work and play. Even something as simple as moving from your bedroom to your living room for a few hours may help you concentrate and keep focus.

Grab a study buddy

If you're the kind of person who tends to break study-related promises with yourself (we've all done it!) then you might need a study buddy. Having someone to keep you accountable means you're more likely to get work done.

Pick your study buddy wisely (it's probs a bad idea to pick someone who has worse concentration than you do). Ideally, your pal would be a course mate who has the same workload, but a housemate or close friend will do the job perfectly. If you can't meet up in person, arrange a productive working session over Zoom or FaceTime.

Once you've got your buddy, plan days where you work together in a communal area or over FaceTime to help you motivate each other to stay focused. Make sure to make it fun and plan a nice walk over lunch!

Set realistic goals

Whether you're on top of your work or weeks behind, make sure you set yourself realistic goals when it comes to studying. It can be tempting to tell yourself you're going to work for 10 hours straight, but this is definitely not going to happen (nor is it a good idea).

Instead, sit down and make a plan for the next few days. Write down which lectures you need to catch up on, how much free time you have and when you'd be able to realistically get work done.

Underestimate your workload and set goals which you're 100% going to be able to achieve. This might sound counterproductive, but you'll be extra motivated when you hit those goals with time to spare.

If you fall behind, don't overcompensate the next day - stick to your original plan. Otherwise it's easy to get overwhelmed and completely fall off the wagon. And, at the end of a study sesh, spend the evening relaxing and watching a film with your housemates (popcorn is a must).

Put your phone in a different room

It's a cliche, but it works. Put your phone in a different room, or really far out of reach. You might think you have the willpower to power on when your notifications pop up, but we're all EXTREMELY bad at this.

When we're constantly being battered by notifications, our focus is being pulled out of our work. Before we know it we're knee-deep in TikTok and wondering where the time went. It's a good idea to turn your notifications off, put your phone on silent, and utilise Do Not Disturb mode (do this on your computer too).

So, if you really want to get work done, leave your phone way out of sight. Whether it's in your kitchen, hallway (or even hidden in your bathroom if you don't trust your housemates), it'll massively help your focus.

Bonus tip: If you want to be ultra-focussed, set up a new user on your computer for studying. Use this login for all things work-related, and make sure you're not logged into social media or any of your most-loved distracting apps. This creates a clear distinction between work and play.

What to do if you fall behind

If you do happen to fall behind on your studies, try not to be too hard on yourself. It happens to everyone at some point, and the pandemic definitely won't be helping.

As we've mentioned above, don't go all-guns-blazing into your work in an attempt to catch up when you fall behind. This technique never works and you're likely to burn out in the process. Instead, stick to the plan, give yourself focussed time and allow plenty of short breaks (you'll catch up quicker this way).

Don’t be afraid to ask your course mates for tips on how to catch up with your work, or for advice if you don't understand anything. They'll be going through the exact same struggles as you, so they know how you feel and can support you if you're feeling unproductive or unmotivated.

You should contact your personal tutor or one of your lecturers if you feel you want to speak to someone within your department about your work. They'll be able to give you some advice about how to catch up, and help you if you don’t understand any of the content. Members of university staff are always understanding and supportive in these circumstances.

If you're looking for some tips on surviving your local lockdown, here are some tips from students in Manchester.

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