By: Emma Butturini – Epidemiology
The switch to virtual learning in the middle of semester last spring was certainly a surprise to many students, and required big changes in work styles and work environments to be made quickly from everyone at RSPH to finish out the semester. Since then we have had a lot more time to get used to distance-learning and, through trial and error, figure out how to get the most out of doing a graduate program in this online format. I am by no means an expert but as someone who had never taken an online course before last spring, and to be honest had actively avoided taking online classes, there are a lot of different strategies you can use to make the best of your experience in online classes.
Here are the three things that have helped me stay organized and on top of my classes while working from home:
- Be careful about scheduling class and work throughout the week, and try not to overload yourself day to day!
When doing mostly online classes it can feel like you have all this empty time in your schedule that you “should” be filling with classes now, but if you wouldn’t schedule yourself for more than three classes in one day when you were on campus, then don’t do it just because they are all online. It is important to still give yourself time to decompress and prepare in between classes, even if you’re just switching from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting throughout the day. The same idea goes for adding in work study to your schedule. I have three major classes on Tuesday so I try not to schedule work study on Mondays so that I can have uninterrupted time to prepare for all of my classes the following day.
- Once you finalize your class and work study schedule, map out a regular work flow for the week and do your best to stick to it.
At the beginning of the semester I wrote out my class and work hours each day of the week, mapped out when my regular assignments were due, and then scheduled which assignments I planned to work on each day. For me scheduling out all of my commitments with all of my assignments is really helpful to keep track of everything and make sure I’m not missing any important meetings or deadlines. This has also helped me to not get overwhelmed when multiple assignments are due on the same day and keep myself accountable for working on assignments and projects throughout the week, rather than letting things accumulate.
- Make sure not to over commit yourself and be intentional about giving yourself dedicated down-time in your schedule too.
With online learning it can be very hard to set work-life boundaries for yourself and it can feel like there is always more work that you could or should be doing. Being careful not to overload your days with classes or work study, and not being overly-ambitious about the number of assignments you finish in a day from the start of the semester is necessary so you can avoid burning out. Remember, your graduate program is just part of your life, not your whole life, so whether its making time to watch your favorite show, cook yourself a nice meal, facetime friends or go hiking on the weekends make sure to make time for the things you enjoy.
Overall, with online learning staying organized and on top of deadlines is even more important than a normal semester because it can be easy to get behind and then work begins to accumulate in ways that become unmanageable quickly. But at the same time, set reasonable goals for yourself and know that no one is operating at 100% or “normal” productivity levels right now, nor should you be. Taking care of your mental health and well-being also needs to be a priority, and while I find that being really organized helps me take time for other things that are important to me, sometimes you just need to throw out the schedule and take a day off to readjust and reward yourself for all the hard work you have been putting in!