Hi everyone! It’s now the start of 2021 and although we can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel, there is still a little way to go. This has been especially concerning for students heading back to university soon whilst more and more parts of the UK facing tougher lockdown restrictions.
Upon reflection in this festive period, I have come out of the first semester of my DPLP intact. This has meant consistent A grades in my modules, handling changes in personal & health circumstances and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, I am all too aware that this pandemic has affected everyone is so many different ways, and not everyone has been able to benefit from the same level of family support as I have.
Therefore, the purpose of this blog is to only provide suggestions as to how to improve motivation for those heading back to university in due course (whether that be in person or virtually) but it comes with the caveat and recognition that everyone’s circumstances are different. What worked for me does not necessarily mean that it will work for you, but I hope to share some tips with you so that you can try/pick and choose if any of these tips help you. Everyone has different personal circumstances and situations to deal with this is by no means going to solve everything, but I do hope that it can help you in some way.
My course as so far consisted of small group face-to-face teaching, live online lectures, live group seminars and pre-recorded lectures/audio clips. Here are the tips I used and will be taking forward with me to second semester:
1 – Routine
It may be to let those pre-recorded lectures slip away from you, so, my tip is to have a routine every single day for conquering your uni work. Here are some practical tips on how to get into a routine:
- Wake up at the same time each day
- Plan your meals in advance – meal prep is your friend!
- Allocate hours per module
- For example, one of my modules released the pre-recorded lecture at the same time each week. I would always allocate the next few hours after they are released to watch them.
- Eat your meals at the same time each day – this really helps to split up the day into even “chunks”
- Allocating time for exercise/sports/hobbies
It can be difficult when you are spending all the hours of the day at home when there is a blurring of home life and work life. This is why it is even more important to settle into a routine and separate the hours of the day for work and the hours for LIFE!
2 – Workspace set-up
Having a conducive workspace is crucial to being productive. Where possible, try and have a large desk so you don’t feel cluttered and restricted. I, admittedly, have a bit of an “extreme” work set-up, and it has also been significantly been ramped up during the course of the pandemic and the working from home. I typically use 2 to 3 screens (my laptop, a second monitor and an iPad). Think about what things you’ll need (books, electronics, papers, tools etc) to get on with your studies and try different arrangements to see what works for you. Try and mimic an office set-up as this does increase your productivity!
My favourite items to use for working from home are:
- A computer stand. This raises your laptop to eye level to improve your seating position. It also increases your desk space as you can fit things under the stand (see the right side of the pic above). Here is a link to the Urmust one I bought from Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Urmust-Ergonomic-Adjustable-Ultrabook-Compatible-Silver/dp/B081Z263H8/ref=sr_1_5?crid=5RWUJL2H1BJG&dchild=1&keywords=urmust+laptop+stand&qid=1609949401&sprefix=urmust+%2Caps%2C172&sr=8-5
- A keyboard. Since I was now raising my laptop, I required a keyboard to type on.
- A mouse. Again, raising the laptop requires the use of a mouse rather than the laptop trackpad.
- A tablet/phone holder. I use this to raise my iPad up so I don’t have to lean over to look at the screen.
- A book stand. This is an incredible product for textbooks and it keeps them in place and holds the book up so you don’t have to crouch over to read. You can see this on the furthest left side of the picture above. Here is a link to the one I bought from Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Recipe-Cookbook-Kitchen-Bookrest-Reading/dp/B016LHY28G/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=books+stand&qid=1609949571&sr=8-5
You can also see that I have my documents organised in piles and my notebook open for taking any notes. I also had the benefit of another table (just a portable one) which I was able to fit in an “L” shape next to my original desk. This greatly improved my workspace.
3 – Organisation tips
Okay, I for one, appreciate how simple it is to say to people “the key to success is to be organised”. BUT, being organised is sometimes easier said than done. Here are my practical tips to get organised and stay organised:
- Set calendar reminders for EVERYTHING
- I use my calendar every second of the day. It works wonders for allocating time for certain tasks and reminding me when it’s time to start something or move onto something new
- I sync the calendars on my phone, iPad and laptop so I never miss a notification
- Use lists
- To-do lists are so satisfying to cross off or tick off after you’ve completed the task
- This can also help you prioritise the tasks in your day
- Track your day
- I use a little notebook to jot down what I’ve done during the day. For example, “10am-12noon: civil court assignment writing”, “12noon-1pm: lunch” or “2pm-3pm: private client seminar reading”
- This micro-managing works well for me because it keeps me accountable but it is also encouraging when I sometimes feel like the hours of the day have passed and I haven’t achieved anything. Then, I can look back at my notebook to see how I spent the hours in my day and remind myself that I was productive and to look at the work I achieved during the day.
- This also works well to make sure you take breaks (see next section)
- Laptop/computer/document organisation
- I spend a lot of time ensuring that documents are filed correctly and stored in a place where I can easily find them
- Folders, tabs and numbered documents!
4 – Mental health and breaks
Equally as important as being productive is taking care of your health – both physical and mental. The latter of which is very easily neglected. We are often told to take breaks, and the importance of this cannot be emphasised. Here are some things you can do to ensure you take breaks to avoid burn-out and improve your efficiency in the long term:
- During your break, take a little walk – even if that’s just around your house/flat to the kitchen or downstairs
- Schedule in breaks in your daily routine (for example, when micromanaging, ensure you allocate time for a break)
- Find something to do during your break – knitting, online shopping, watching a short episode of a show or working out etc
- Take the full length of your break! If you allocate yourself a 30min break, don’t start feeling guilty after 15mins that you’re not studying and get back to work. You need the recovery time!
5 – Motivational tips
So far, I’ve discussed how having a routine, being organised and taking breaks helps to keep me motivated and “going” during the semester. However, there are also some smaller things that help to keep me motivated which I’d like to share with you:
- Something that makes you happy on your desk
- This could be a mini plant, a photograph, a note, or some cute stationery
- Something small that does not clutter up your desk, but makes you smile when you look at it
- I’m not suggesting binging snacks here (think about the sugar crash) but it’s nice to have a little snack between studying topics or once you’ve finished a section of the day
- I like fresh/dried fruit, nuts or biscuits!
- Dressing the part
- It can be tempting to just wear pyjamas during your online seminars when you don’t need to have your camera on or just staying in pyjamas to study all day
- However, I tend to feel more productive when I’m dressed (not necessarily in office wear, but something comfortable, smart and practical)
- This helps to mimic the office environment and PLUS, in lockdown times when there are less and less opportunities to get “dressed up”, it can be fun to wear something nice during your day
6 – Reaching out and seeking help
It is incredibly normal and easy to be overwhelmed by everything going on. Many of us are facing academic struggles coupled with personal struggles too. So, you may come to a point where you need to reach out and speak to someone. I’ve compiled a small list of resources that may help you:
- Breathing Space: 0800 838587 (Mon-Thurs 6.00 pm – 2.00 am, Fri 6.00 pm – Mon 6.00 am), https://breathingspace.scot/
- Samaritans: 116 123 (24/7), www.samaritans.org.uk
- Anxiety UK: phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm), www.anxietyuk.org.uk
- PAPYRUS: phone: HOPElineUK 0800 068 4141 (9am to midnight, every day of the year), www.papyrus-uk.org
- Men’s Health Forum: 24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email, www.menshealthforum.org.uk
- Suicide Prevention (Choose Life), http://www.suicide-prevention.org.uk/
I hope this blog has given you some insight into how I organise the time during my day and how I stay on top of my university work, working, teaching piano and having time to spend with my family and on my hobbies. Of course, what works for me may not necessarily work for you so please do not use this blog as a checklist. Rather, there may be a little useful nugget of a tip that might just help you!
I do hope all of you lovely readers are keeping safe and well during this difficult time. If I can help at all, in your legal journey or just some pointers in your studies, please do feel free to reach out to me. Take care, everyone!