Independent learning is a challenging task. You don’t have the physical presence of your peers, or your tutor present to answer questions and keep you focused. The motivation for study comes entirely from you, which can be tricky when your bed is just sooo cosy at 8am and you really don’t fancy dragging yourself to your desk to start the online tutorial. Even once you’ve made it to your computer, staying on task can be tricky, especially with the temptation of everything the internet holds. So, here are some handy tips to keep you focused when working independently online.
1) Log out of Facebook
Or even better, don’t log into it in the first place. It’s highly doubtful that anything ground breaking will have happened since you logged out last night, and the priority is your education. Instead of having a tab with Facebook constantly open, limit your use to break times. This goes for all internet activity other than the assigned work. Online shopping, social networking sites and online bank accounts do not need to be checked whilst you are working, so be strict with yourself and have assigned times of the day to reconnect with the world – break times and lunchtime only!
2) Play soothing music
Studies have found that playing low level calming music whilst working can have an extremely positive effect. It keeps you focused and soothed, meaning your concentration level is higher and you can work for longer. Play some classical music quietly in the background, or music that you won’t be tempted to sing along to. The wrong kind of music can be more distracting than useful, so to really benefit make sure it’s a playlist that inspires you to knuckle down, not dance. However, refrain from opening up iTunes during your online lectures or workshops; wait until you need to do independent study.
3) Take regular short breaks
The average attention span for adults is only 20 minutes, meaning that you need to take regular breaks. Having a rest every 20 minutes won’t do much for your productivity, so try and have a 5-10 minute break every hour. Step away from the computer, get some food and drink, move around then come back to the desk refreshed and ready for the next hour’s work. The short break away from the screen will do you good and stop you getting numb from constantly sitting.
4) Stay hydrated and comfortable
You will not be able to work if you are uncomfortable – fact. You won’t concentrate and your standard of work will start to slip. If you start to seize up, walk around and stretch for a few minutes – you might feel stupid doing star jumps and lunges but you’ll feel better for it afterwards. Having small sips of water throughout the day helps your brain function, so have a glass of water by your side to rehydrate yourself regularly. Little and often is more beneficial than gulping down a whole glass in a hurry, so stay refreshed and relaxed and you’ll have your work done in no time.
5) Change location
Cabin fever exists and can be detrimental to your productivity. Staying in the same location for too long takes its toll, and having a monotonous routine can make you dread getting up in the morning to do exactly what you did yesterday. If you feel like you are in a stagnant situation, mix it up a bit. Take your laptop and move rooms. Whilst it’s good to establish a designated work zone separate from your relaxing space, a change of scenery can work wonders on the imagination, motivation and concentrate span.
* Our guest is Anna Pitts, a Marketing Assistant and Online Researcher at the UK Graduate Recruitment Bureau. Her work involves PR and outreach and writing informative, interesting advice-based articles for graduates and students.