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Top tips for productivity when studying online

A big challenge for many students when studying online for a business degree is productivity. How can you maintain a successful job while being productive and efficient in your studies?

Here’s six ways to focus your mind, so that you don’t burn yourself out, or waste your energy.

1. Routine is vital

Famous writers, presidents and business leaders have routines that help them to focus on what matters. Barack Obama wakes at 6.45 am to have a physical work-out, before reading several newspapers, having breakfast with his family, and starting his day at 9 am. He stops in the evening to have dinner with his family.

David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, says that he never checks emails at home before work. David Goldberg, the founder of Fab, counters this by saying he always checks emails first thing, because “our technology team is based in India, so they’re ahead of us.”

Once he has cleared his emails, he has a 30-minute run on the treadmill at a full steep incline, watching TV on his iPad and not thinking about work.

Many students studying online do so at the end of a hard day’s work. Often, they’re already tired and preoccupied. Devise an after-work routine that lets you clear your mind of the day’s tasks, so that you can focus on the course. Don’t go straight from work into the study – you will concentrate less.

You may even find that a sit-down with a cup of tea and a notepad is an ideal time to plan out what you’re going to study. Creating a small task list for the session also creates a feeling of achievement, as you complete the tasks.

2. Exercise is your friend

Perhaps an after-work run, or a visit to the gym followed by a shower and a hydrating drink will be the ideal buffer. Or perhaps meditation or yoga is your thing – whatever exercise you prefer, it can only help power your brain.

Many business leaders exercise first thing in the morning. In a study led by sport scientists at Nottingham Trent University, school pupils proved to study better after sprint-based exercises.

Exercise makes you perform better, mentally and emotionally. A healthy body invariably encourages a healthy brain, and many successful CEOs say they have a vigorous work-out at the start of their day.

3. Organise your work plan

Our online learning environment helps you to structure your study tasks, so make the most of this useful tool. De-cluttering your subconscious is a great way to improve focus and productivity.

Don’t clutter your desk and your wall with copious Post-It notes, or leave piles of paper and magazines on your desk. When you’re looking at your computer screen or your notes, surrounded by visual clutter, your subconscious mind is still having to process all of that information. It’s having to do work to process and ignore the background noise, and it’s being constantly reminded that you have all these other things to do.

Our online learning environment incorporates an events section, to ensure you can easily plan around the assignments and deadlines and stay on track.

At the end of each day, if there’s anything incomplete in your list, spend some time moving things to a later date. That way, you always end each day with nothing left undone. It may sound simple, but your unconscious brain will thank you for it.

With an uncluttered mind, you reduce stress, which can help you get a better night’s sleep. If you are studying online at evenings and weekends while also running a high-powered job during the day, you can apply these same techniques at work. The last thing you need is to have to bring a lot of work home with you when you need to switch off your work brain, and switch on your study brain.

4. Sleep well. Study well

Think about what you drink in the evenings. You may be tempted to have a beer or glass of wine. Studies show that alcohol can help you fall asleep quickly, but it disrupts your sleep.

Avoid too many stimulating things before sleep, e.g. video games and web browsing. A Nottingham Trent University study revealed that video gamers keep hearing sounds and seeing visual elements of games after they stop playing.

The problem with sleep is you can never really tell whether you are sleeping well. We can’t all go to a sleep lab for tests. Thankfully, modern technology brings the sleep lab into your home. Apps like SleepCycle track how you sleep, and they provide information for you when you wake up.

5. Use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage

The Zeigarnik Effect is a phenomenon relating to memory and task completion. It is named after psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, who developed the theory after her professor noticed how waiters in restaurants were able to remember un-closed orders.

When you are working on a task that is not yet complete, you keep it in mind. This has good and bad effects.

On the bad side, it means your mind is constantly cluttered with the memory of what you are in the middle of. Keep too many tasks open, and your mind struggles to cope.

On the good side, the Zeigarnik Effect shows how we retain things better when we don’t work to completion.

When studying, you will retain knowledge better if you study in small chunks and keep re-visiting things, rather than trying to complete a whole module in one go and then ticking it off as complete.

A good example of this in action is a TV drama series, where the beginning of each episode gives you a re-cap of what you watched before.

The trick is to find the balance between task completion and retaining things. Set yourself milestones so that you can accomplish something each day, without trying to get to the very end of your study module quickly.

6. Finally, organise your study area

We’ve mentioned the need for an uncluttered workspace. Think about lighting, heat, a comfortable place to sit. Ergonomics are important – you don’t want to be so comfortable that you fall asleep, but you don’t want to be sitting in a chair that makes your back ache.

Only keep the information around you that you need for study. If you need to just read, go out in the park and sit under a tree. Don’t study with the TV on. If you like music, choose something soothing that can sink into the background.

Read more on your study area here.