Getting organised for online study

18 November 2020

You’ve been taking more responsibility for your own learning since starting your degree, but how have you tackled the challenge of learning online? You may need to think about how you plan and organise your time. Don’t worry, we can help.

flat lay of desk items

Here’s our advice on getting organised and taking control of your time.  

Plan, plan, plan 

While some of your online classes will be timetabled, other tasks will need to be completed at your own pace. Why not write a weekly schedule to ensure you can keep on top of everything? 

A weekly schedule you’ve designed for yourself is key to staying productive and motivated. It’s one way to get the kind of structure you would normally get from needing to be in a certain place at a certain time.  

Your schedule should consider each task and how long you estimate it will take you to complete it.  

Consider any assignment deadlines and exam dates. We’ve included a template schedule in the Resources section below. 

Your tutors may give you an estimate for how long it takes to complete certain tasks like core readings; these should be used as a guide for how long you spend on each activity. If you are regularly exceeding this time for tasks, consider contacting your tutor to discuss it further.  

Try including these activities in your schedule: 

  • participating in timetabled classes or online discussions, 
  • preparatory reading, 
  • completing exercises or problems, 
  • extracurricular and social events, 
  • paid employment or volunteer work. 

Develop a routine  

It's easy to slip into bad habits so make sure you get the basics right – get dressed every day, set start and end times to study, and take regular breaks.  

This routine is mostly up to you: we all have periods of high and low throughout the day, and while some of us are most energetic at night, others like to work early in the day. Figure out when you are most productive and set your routine around it. 

Set goals 

Creating a study plan for the term helps you to get into the habit of setting clear and achievable goals for yourself – useful for your university, personal and working life.  

You should try to break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks and create an action plan that includes what you need to do to achieve each goal. Ask yourself simple questions in relation to specific goals: 

  • What do I need to achieve my goal? 
  • How will I achieve it? 
  • What resources will I need? 
  • When can I begin work? 

Combining your longer-term goals with a weekly schedule is important to staying focused. Remember, your deadlines and priorities will likely shift throughout the term. Personal organisation and schedules are rarely set-in stone and you may find that you need to adjust how you use your time to both meet deadlines and achieve your goals. 

Stay focused  

Your online learning environment is full of distractions, and you’ve probably found yourself in a constant battle between a Moodle message board and YouTube. Add to this, you’ve had to swap the purpose-built study spaces in the Student Centre for a place that might lack privacy, comfort and come with additional distractions. You’re up against it, but you can fight back. 

You can try to deal with distractions and the temptation to procrastinate by organising your time well and sticking to your personal goals and deadlines. There are also some creative ways to help yourself: consider using apps like ‘Hold’, which rewards you for not using your phone and awards points for the amount of time you’ve not left the app. Accumulate enough points and you can unlock rewards such as discounted cinema tickets, free popcorn, and other prizes. Other apps, such as ‘FLIP’, help you to track your goals by setting daily quotas of work. 

Organise your work  

You’ve got your goals, schedule and routine, now think about how you organise your work. Do you have a clear file and folder structure on your device? Are these files clearly named? 

You should also bookmark and store any academic resources you think you might use later and consider using a reference manager tool such as Zotero or Mendeley. These help you collect, organise, and correctly reference your work – you will thank yourself later! 

Further resources 

Weekly schedule and termly study plan templates can be found below:



Time management skills: The Open University’s guide to organising your time and motivating yourself to use that time wisely.  

LibrarySkills@UCL: guides, training and support enable you to develop your library and information literacy skills and make the best use of UCL’s libraries and resources.