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.
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.
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.
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.
A weekly schedule is one possible tool for self-organization. It can help you to organize your most important tasks.
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.
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.
If you struggle while setting up your plan: Contact Academic Advising Service or Psychological Counseling to go through it together.
Even the best plans are useless if not followed. A few tricks can help you put it into action:
Life doesn’t stick to the plans we make. Here are some helpful thoughts for handling such situations:
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.