I E - Academic Advising Service
I E - Academic Advising Service

Creating a daily routine

The talk on the German version of this site discusses typical challenges that come with studying or working with a high degree of autonomy, specifically in online mode. Many aspects discussed remain relevant after returning to campus again. The following provides a summary in English of the most helpful insights and tools mentioned. The content is relevant for both new students and experienced students as well as members of staff and combines tools and experiences from TU Berlin’s Academic Advising Service and Psychological Counseling.

Studying during the pandemic brought new challenges

When our university first shifted into online mode in March 2020, practical questions dominated: Do I have a suitable environment for working or learning? Do I have the technical equipment to participate in classes? If I share my home, will others use the same internet connection while I try to download my lectures and how can we handle this?

At TU Berlin’s Psychological Counseling, we witness how everybody experiences crises and challenging situations during the pandemic. Maintaining motivation and structure and sticking to goals gained importance as staying focused and disciplineed and remaining on track have become more difficult.

Learning to organize yourself: a task for all students

Students who enter the university system have to adapt to a completely new environment. While school or other prior studies may have provided a framework and taken care of many organizational matters, university studies offer you a lot of freedom and the unwritten task of learning how to organize yourself: How do I plan my courses, my semester and week? How do I stay informed and what deadlines do I need to keep in mind? Who can I ask? How many hours of studying can I fit in a day?
It’s absolutely fine not to master this right away. Give yourself time to practice.
StudienberatungAtHome provides you with some helpful resources to get started, online events, and links to your course guidance, the experts for your study program. If you cannot find the information you are looking for, attend our online advising sessions or send us an email.

Daily routines and planning can help

Online studies have changed our daily routines: We could wake up, skip showering, may not have to commute, and can attend lectures from bed. As a result, everything starts to feel the same. Creating new rituals and keeping a similar rhythm as before can be a way to gain distance from the pandemic and its current restrictions: You might not need to cycle to work anymore, but you can still head out for a morning ride. Having breakfast first and then sitting down at your desk and opening your laptop signals to your body that it’s time to get started. The same applies in the evening: Maybe you can go for a walk to simulate your commute home. Whenever possible, keep going outside throughout the day and see other people: Go for a walk during your lunch break, run errands, stop by and say hi to people.

Creating structure is a way to handle the chaos, it helps you to focus on the things that are most important. This allows you to be more efficient. Spare time can be filled with activities that re-charge your batteries, like time spent with family, friends and hobbies, which is something we especially need during the pandemic.

Not everyone needs this to the same extent, but it may be helpful for many.

Clearly separate studying and free time

Separate your daily activities (hobbies, housework, contact with friends and family, browsing the web, watching shows) from your studies. If you want to continue to be able to perform, you also require periods of rest and quiet to replenish your energy. You will be unable to do this if you are still finishing work for your classes late into the evening because of a guilty conscience. Use the evening hours to relax, meet friends, and allow the day to come to an end.

From "planning" to an actual plan

If you find yourself making plans and not sticking to them, it may be worth changing your approach and setting more concrete goals and plans. Instead of “I’ll do this next week,” make an appointment with yourself like you would with a friend and fix a time and date.

How you can use a weekly schedule

A weekly schedule is one possible tool for self-organization. It can help you to organize your most important tasks.

Step 1: Make a plan!

Our team came up with a simple template you can download. In the beginning, it shows an example, giving you an idea of what a schedule could look like. Each color represents a different category: uni and part-time job / studying / everyday chores / breaks and free time. When filling in the template, assign each category the time you require, make sure to allocate sufficient time to all categories. At the end of the document we explain the categories and there is space for you to note down your own list of tasks.

We developed two versions of the plan. One assumes you are studying full time (and maybe have a job on the side). The other one is adapted for students with health conditions who may take fewer classes due to symptoms or treatments, for students caring for family members or studying part-time for other reasons. Both are just examples which you will need to adapt to your personal situation.

  • Make an outline of the things you need to do
  • Prioritize
  • Break down big tasks into smaller steps that are easier to handle. This makes it a lot easier to get started with things.
  • Define time frames for each activity
  • Usually it’s helpful to first fill in the fixed dates
  • Then you can add things which are more flexible

Please keep in mind that you want to make a plan that works well in the long run, not just for maximum performance for one or two weeks. So don’t be too ambitious and pack it too full.
This means:

  • Strive for balance between the categories
  • Don’t forget to include breaks
  • Establish set working hours
  • Establish routines to create a clear beginning and end
  • Add rewards for yourself
  • Plan recreation, as well

If you struggle while setting up your plan: Contact Academic Advising Service or Psychological Counseling to go through it together.

Step 2: Put your plan into action!

Even the best plans are useless if not followed. A few tricks can help you put it into action:

  • Write it down and hang it on the wall so you always see it. This way you don’t have to remember everything and can periodically check if you are still on track
  • Communicate your plan to the people you live with and find arrangements with them
  • Nobody can concentrate fully if they are constantly interrupted
  • Keep to the schedule. When the time is up for a certain task, move on to the next one, even if you are not yet fully finished. This approach can train you to become even more structured during the coming weeks. Completing tasks in the allotted time also helps increase your motivation tremendously.
  • Pay attention to distractions: What are your biggest sources of distraction? What happens in these situations? What can you do about this? For instance, if you notice yourself repeatedly picking up your phone, place it out of reach.
  • Re-evaluate regularly: Is my plan effective or realistic?
  • If you need to adapt your plan, think about what needs to change:
    Is studying for 8 hours after listening to lectures realistic? - Maybe once, but not for the next five months!
    If you notice your motivation dropping, think about how you can react and fix this.
  • Make realistic plans
  • Set milestones and celebrate if you reach them: Treat yourself with something that supports your wellbeing. This helps to keep up your motivation and a positive attitude.
  • Evening: Spend 10 minutes thinking about the next day and preparing – this makes it easier to start the day

Troubleshooting

Handling unforeseeable complications

Life doesn’t stick to the plans we make. Here are some helpful thoughts for handling such situations:

  • Go easy on yourself and the situation you find yourself in and accept that there are things beyond your control and power.
  • It may work for some but may not be realistic to expect yourself to keep the same level of productivity with libraries closed, no office hours, no meetings with friends on campus, etc.
  • Adapt. Sometimes it may be hard to identify your freedoms, but they are there.
  • Keep focused on your goals. And remember you don’t reach them through speed but through continuous progress.
  • Leave buffer times and flexible slots in your plan.
  • When you ask “Why didn’t it work today? How can I adapt?” you concentrate on the negative. Don’t forget to see the positive. Also ask yourself “What did work?” and keep that in mind for your next plan.
  • Blaming and bashing yourself doesn’t improve anything.
  • “If I don’t succeed today, I will do double tomorrow” is unrealistic and a sure way to kill your motivation.

Plans won’t do the trick if…

If plans are not your thing, they won’t help. Our weekly schedule template is one method for self-organization you can try. If you feel it doesn’t suit you, try a different method. You can use apps, an old fashioned calendar, to-do lists, etc. Find individual method(s) and the amount of planning that work for you.

If you live with your family and lack private space and end up distracted all the time, a plan won’t fix this. Take care of your situation and improve your conditions for studying.

If you are unproductive for a longer period of time, this may be a sign of deeper issues. Fear of failure and pressure to perform can cause avoidance, for example. Psychological Counseling can help you reflect on your fears and expectations. If you have difficulties in other areas such as a constant bad mood, drowsiness, loss of interest, not getting up, feeling overwhelmed all the time or if life feels unbearable, get in touch with experts like Psychological Counseling.

Network! “No man is an island:” If you can’t handle everything by yourself, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

You don’t need to handle everything by yourself. Talk and share with others and find support! Reach out to other students or course guidance.

As we run less into people on campus between lectures or during lunchtime, we need to actively initiate (digital) networking. It may not appear so easy at first, but on the other end you will encounter people who are grateful to hear you are dealing with similar questions.

Look around and listen to others: How do they handle things? Maybe you will learn, that they are struggling, too. You can exchange strategies you’ve tried and make dates to work together online.

  • Set up weekly group calls/lunch dates/... with your fellow students to check in and support each other.
  • Create more commitment for yourself by meeting (online) to study together with others.
  • Get in touch with course guidance or student initiatives from your degree program - they know what's up.
  • If you're new, check out whether you want to join a mentoring program.
  • Look out for central networking opportunities and ones from your institutes or faculties like study nights or digital reading rooms

If you want to find more inspiration, check out our tips on group work and remote team management.

Academic Advising Service

studienberatung@tu-berlin.de

Building Hauptgebäude
Room H 0070
Address Straße des 17. Juni 135
10623 Berlin
Advising session via Zoom:Tue 10:00-12:00, Thu 14:00-16:00
Additional advising sessions:by appointment via e-mail
Building Hauptgebäude
Room H 0059 - H 0062
Address Straße des 17. Juni 135
10623 Berlin
Counselingby appointment via e-Mail