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5 top tips for staying productive while studying at home

Students are often used to studying from home, but many will prefer dedicating their study time to the University Library or Alan Gilbert Learning Commons. Following the move to online teaching after the University of Manchester campus closed in March, postgraduate and undergraduate students alike are having to adapt to setting up their own home ‘libraries’.


We’ve put together some tips to help all those students struggling to focus or work to their full potential while studying at home.

1. Plan your day

To-do lists, time planners, and diaries will all help you make a clear plan at the start of each day and week. Without having to organise your work around going to lectures and seminars, it can feel as if you perpetually have a mountain of work to tackle, without the structure of a daily routine to help you organise yourself around it.

Natasha Godwin, MSc Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations adds that “as much as possible, during the week, try to keep to a normal routine. If on a Monday morning you start university at 10 am, make sure you get up and log on to the online lectures.”

You can also take advantage of not having to be in certain places at certain times by working out what hours work best for you. Early bird or night owl, having a time plan and to-do list to structure your day will help you feel productive and organised. Plus, there’s nothing more satisfying than checking off your to-do list.

2. Set-up your home ‘library’

Having a space in which you can work without (many) distractions is undoubtedly important. If you’re in a shared house, it will likely mean agreeing with others where each person can set-up their office space. It would be best to avoid locations with lots of traffic such as the kitchen or sitting room, but equally don’t be tempted to work from your bed! A desk in a quiet area near natural light will probably be ideal for most of us. It’s about finding the space you feel calmest and most at ease, and making the most of it.

Danielle Wei Ling, MSc Organisational Psychology, noted that “it’s crucial to set up a study space away from your bed so that you are conditioned to only rest in one area and do work in the designated study space. It might also be helpful to move to a new study space when you start to get lethargic in the same spot.“


3. Make the most of online resources

As teaching has moved online, make the most of this and what your lecturers are working hard to make available to you in this time. Use Blackboard, and our online Library facility to find online learning resources and search for academic articles online. You can even consider asking your lecturer or academic advisor for a chat over Zoom.

Qiqi Cai, MSc Accounting and Finance, said, “having access to the library at any time left me unprepared when it closed! I used library chat to ask for help, and the library staff patiently guided me to the e-journal platforms such as Emerald Insights and ResearchGate through the University Library resource search. The staff told me that they can help me to order the papers that are not included in the library search.”

Danielle added, “my course mates and I have been using Zoom and Skype to stay connected and my project group has used GoToMeeting to complete our group presentation. It is also very important to check emails regularly to be updated about possible online meetings that supervisors and lecturers may arrange.”

Qiqi was used to studying at the library, but found that studying with friends over Zoom really made the group concentrate more effectively: “This mutual supervision has helped us to concentrate on study and reduce distractions.”

4. Take short breaks and get moving!

This is an age-old piece of advice but for many, it can be helpful to take short breaks every so often and put away distractions for 25 minutes at a time, before taking a 5-minute break to replenish your energy. This is a time structure often recommended for revision.
30 minutes a day of exercise is an excellent way to blow off steam, clear your headspace and keep your mind refreshed and ready to learn.

Jacob Roberts, MSc International Business and Management, advised that “exercise is not only good for your physical health but your mental health. Make this a priority and your studies will improve. I try to get a solid 30 minutes at least, every day. Whether it’s yoga, running, or a home workout, get it done.”

5. Concentration Apps

Apps such as Forest can be really handy when it comes to helping us avoid that continuous social media scrolling when we should be doing work. There are loads out there, you can find one that works for you if you’re addicted to your phone. Also, Danielle likes to keep her phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode, “so that I will not be distracted by the notifications that pop-up.”

Read Danielle’s blog post about the online world here >>
Read Qiqi’s blog post here >>
Learn more from our student bloggers about the master’s experience >>
Read 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health Sir Cary Cooper’s top tips for working from home >>