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Surviving Zoom University

How to stay on top of your classes and avoid burnout during your online semester.

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

I think we can agree that everyone has been impacted greatly by COVID-19 one way or another — some worse than others. For students, this meant a sudden transition to remote work.

Seemingly insignificant, the shift to a virtual semester was no small change and undoubtedly a challenge for many of us: no in-person classes, various technical difficulties, a lack of social interaction, no campus life. Of course, this was necessary for everyone’s safety and is certainly far from being the most pressing issue given the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we need to undermine the struggles and hardships that students had to go through.

I think I speak for many of us when I say that zoom university feels like any online course — you feel like you’re on your own teaching yourself all the material and drowning in assignment after assignment. The lack of interaction with professors and classmates and being in the college setting makes it extremely difficult to stay motivated and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

For me, the biggest struggle with online learning was being productive. When you’re on campus and surrounded by classmates and other students who are also grinding through their classes, you’re naturally more inclined to be productive. At home, however, there’s no one there to boost your motivation and it’s easy to fall behind especially when lectures are recorded and there’s no one to keep to accountable for staying on top of your work. It’s not that the course is harder or that there’s more work, it just feels that way because of the different environment.

Moreover, when I’m at home, I constantly feel like I have to be working because in college there is always an assignment that you can work on. I don’t think I ever have zero assignments to do unless I manage to finish everything ahead of time. This makes finding relaxation time very difficult because I constantly feel guilty for not doing work, which creates a very unhealthy lifestyle that leads to burnout.

I’m not going to pretend as if I was the perfect student over the past two semesters online — went to every lecture, managed my time perfectly, had a good work-life balance, etc.

Definitely not.

There were many times where I had burnt myself out to the point where I couldn’t bring myself to do work for days in a row. I’ve missed countless lectures and have spent many unhealthy hours just sitting at my desk. We don’t need to talk about my sleep schedule.

The point is, I struggled a lot. And through these struggles, I’ve also learned a lot about how to navigate this new form of learning. There were lots of ups and downs, yes, but in the end, I survived and managed to get good grades in all my classes.

In this article, I’ve laid out some do’s and don’ts that have helped me stay on track with all my courses and maintaining my grades without burning out, and actually having lots of time to myself.

Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

Don’t fall behind on lectures

If you don’t need to watch lectures then you can ignore this. It depends on the class, but I rely on lectures and slides for the majority of my classes especially since I hate self-learning from textbooks. If you’re like me, I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay on top of your lectures.

Nothing is worse than watching the list of lectures you need to catch up on pile up as the days go by, dreading having to sit in front of your screen and binge-watch your professor teach the material.

If your lectures are live, I highly recommend putting in the effort to attend them over zoom. Put it in your calendar. Pretend that they take attendance. The best way to get yourself to do it is to make it into a habit just as you would if you were on campus.

If you do happen to miss the live lecture or all your lectures are pre-recorded, make it a strict goal to watch the lectures on the day you have that class. Never let more than a day pass without watching that lecture.

This reduces a significant amount of stress since it reduces the number of things piling up on your to-do list and spreads out “work” for a single class. It also lets you get started on your assignments earlier if you choose to do so and gives you more time to focus your energy on areas that you find more difficult to understand.

Use your calendar and to-do list

Something about zoom university makes it so, so hard to keep track of all the things you need to do — from watching your lectures to all the various assignments thrown at you. The last thing you need is to forget about a homework or deadline.

My google calendar and to-do list are really what carried me these past two semesters. I put all my class schedules, any office hours I plan on attending, deadlines, etc. in my Google calendar so that I can visualize my upcoming timeline. My to-do list is where I put everything (and I mean literally everything) that I need to do. This includes:

  • any lectures that I need to watch
  • assignments that I can start on
  • emails I need to send

It keeps my mind at ease to have all my tasks in one place so I never need to worry about forgetting anything.

Moreover, this makes it easy to get work done when I decide I want to sit down and be productive since I can simply look at my to-do list and pick out what I feel like doing next.

Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

Limit procrastination

This is a hard one. It took me a long time to break out of the habit of pushing things to the last minute, but trust me when I say it feels so good to finish assignments ahead of time and being able to relax without the constant reminder in the back of your head that you have work to do.

Normally, if I feel up to doing some work, I’ll just sit down and get as much done as possible no matter how far the deadline is. Like most people, the majority of my time is spent feeling unproductive and not wanting to do work. Thus whenever I feel remotely productive, I take that opportunity to get as ahead as possible so that I can have my lazy moments without guilt.

Of course, from time to time I still leave some assignments for the day before the deadline. But I usually try to get all the little homeworks out of the way early so that I can just focus on my major deadlines when the time comes.

With this mindset, I often finish all my assignments a week in advance, which allows me to take entire weekends off with minimal work to do despite taking six classes.

Discover the little things that motivate you

Home is a place of comfort and many college students are probably not used to working from home especially for long hours.

My work station is in my room, which makes it even more difficult to stay focused and motivated during the day as I constantly have the urge to jump onto my bed and watch Tik Toks for hours. I’ve always had trouble working in my own room — even in college. I’m always most productive at a cute coffee shop or the quiet library. Obviously, given the pandemic, I really have no choice.

Over time, however, I’ve discovered some things that have helped boost my productivity and has made me feel overall less sluggish and stuck at home:

  • making myself a large coffee first thing in the morning
  • changing out of my sleeping clothes and putting on some jewelry
  • study calling my friends
  • waking up early

I’m still working on building these habits, but these are some things that I know help me feel a lot better.

Find an accountability buddy

Whether it’s for getting assignments done or keeping up with a personal goal / habit, having someone alongside you is super helpful and a lot more fun. This can be your classmate or a friend, but find someone to be productive with!

Don’t isolate yourself

Human interaction is so important and good for our mental health. Make friends in your class through online groups such as Discord or Facebok. Allocate time to call your friends at least every other day. Staying locked up in your home without talking to your friends and other people isn’t beneficial at all — not to mention community is one of the greatest things about being in college. School is important, but so is your mental health!

This work-life style isn’t for everyone. Everyone has different needs and this is just one of many methods to stay on top of your courses while maintaining time for yourself.

Some of these habits take time and effort to build and can be hard to get accustomed to at first. Trust me when I say it gets a lot easier once you break past that initial barrier of reluctance.

If you want to do well in zoom university, you’re going to need a lot of motivation. As I said before, remote work isn’t easy, and as I certainly struggled a lot (and still do).

But after 1.5 semesters of remote learning, I think I’m starting to get the hang of it and I’m sure you will too.

Stay strong and best of luck with the upcoming semester :)



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