Motivation in the time of remote learning

26 January 2021

As we approach almost a year of remote learning, it's normal to feel like you've hit a wall when you're balancing academic work, mental health and staying in touch with your loved ones. We've put together some tips to motivate you with your studies.

Woman sitting at laptop with post it notes

First of all, let’s acknowledge what a difficult and stressful year it has been, and how hard it is to be a student at this time. You’re not able to do some of the things that you expected from your time at UCL, you’re coping with a global pandemic and those deadlines are just not going away. So, let’s think about how to keep yourself motivated and push through this term.

Create boundaries

Everyone reading this has surely done some form of academic work from their bed at one point or another. That’s okay - sometimes it’s just too tempting! Creating space and time to study is super important here. Since we’ve literally never spent so much time in the same four walls, things can easily get repetitive.

It will be particularly helpful if you can create a space that is only for study. A desk is ideal but this could even be the kitchen table - wherever you have a space big enough. If you’re using a space that you use at other points in the day, try to enforce a boundary by clearing away your uni stuff at the end of the day to compartmentalise and switch off.

Break it down

It can be overwhelming to have an assignment or three in the back of your mind. So why not try and break each down into chunks? Not only will this make it feel more manageable, but it’ll also be less daunting in your mind as you focus on each segment individually rather than the project as a whole. For example, for an essay, you might break it down into crafting your initial ideas, then reading around the topic, creating a plan, writing it, then editing. If you can make daily (or even weekly) goals, this could help you to make progress without it feeling like too much of a chore.

Create rewards to push you – and things to look forward to

Try to create structure in your days to reward you for making progress on your work. This could be having a break for a tea/coffee/snack and a catch up with your housemate, or even a stroll outside if the weather isn’t terrible. You could incentivise this further by ensuring you have some nice snacks in, or even cook up a storm to make your own - and get a healthy dose of instant gratification.

As a rule of thumb, try to take breaks away from your desk or wherever you’re working to enforce separation. If you’re struggling with time and focus, you could try the Pomodoro technique.

Wrapping up at the end of the day is important to create structure and enforce a time when you will down tools. When time stretches out endlessly as it tends to do during a lockdown, it can definitely get easier to procrastinate and delay sorting out that project that isn’t really writing itself. However, try to set a time at which you'll finish for the day. Writing that report will be easier when you know you can squeeze in an episode of Bridgerton at 7 and speak to your best mate at 8. This might help you to focus on your tedious assignment, and also limit the time you can spend on it.

One thing at a time

It’s tempting to put on Schitt’s Creek while you’re doing your reading or planning a report – but stick to one thing at a time! This will not only mean that you can focus better and get your uni work finished sooner – but you'll also have more time to relax afterwards. Working on creating the boundaries between study and everything else will definitely pay off once you've made a habit of it.

Make time to rest

Taking time out to relax and rest can feel counterproductive, but is essential. You might start out feeling guilty - but work through this, and focus on the importance of rest for building up your energy for the next week’s study. And crucially – remember, we’re (still!) in a pandemic, so cut yourself some slack, feel proud of what you’ve achieved and get out there and smash another week. You got this!

If you're struggling, please get in contact with Student Support and Wellbeing. We're here to support you, whether it's mental health and wellbeing support, disability support, counselling or something else. Get in touch. 

Read our tips on how to create a routine for yourself.

Read UCL Counsellor Zoi’s tips on getting motivated.