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What Online Learning Has Really Taught Me

By: Shannon Chessman

When I was a teenager, I thought that moving away from home and going to university was the one “big thing” I would have to face – a big decision impacting my life in a major way, and a big adjustment from what I was used to. Looking back now, there have been a lot of big decisions since then – what to major in, whether to switch majors, whether to do an internship, where to do an internship, where to look for a job for after graduation, what kind of job I want to do – and a lot of adjustment periods outside of just school – adjusting to life in residence, adjusting to moving into my own place, adjusting to a 9-5 internship, adjusting to that internship becoming work-from-home, adjusting to online school after internship – and a lot of the skills I've had to learn have been accelerated by those last few points.

For some people, there can be a lot of overlap in the adjustments that I listed; having to move away from home, adjust to residence, and adjust to online school during COVID hit some students all at once, and though I think everyone is very much ready for restrictions to lift and life to go back to “normal,” I think we’re going to see that “normal” has shifted. A lot of companies are moving towards more employees having the freedom to work from home when necessary, online classes are becoming more common, and there are a lot of things I learned during online school/work-from-home that I want to share because I’ve found them so helpful during these weird times.

Here are the three most important and impactful things I’ve learned over the past year:

How to set your own schedule: troubleshoot it and be nice to yourself

I wish I could say “here is how you schedule your life” and that it would work for every single person, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Over the past year, I’ve had to try a lot of different things so that I could get work done and still feel okay mentally, and sometimes the things that used to work don’t anymore and I have to switch it up. Right now, the minimum I try to do in a day so that I don’t just slump into a ball and feel bad about myself is to finish one school or work task in the morning and go for a walk outside. The task can be as small as one assignment question and the walk can be just to the park and back, but I’ve found that being able to say “I did something today” has helped me feel a lot better even on days where I do almost nothing. I learned not to beat myself up for not being “peak productive” every single day.

Another part of what has helped me most in scheduling my life is being able to say “Okay, it's 7 pm, no more work for today." Having a 9-5 job really helped with that because I could leave the work at work, but in switching to work-from-home for the last five months of my internship, the lines got a lot blurrier and I found myself working late because there weren’t clear boundaries. But that was not good for me mentally, and I had to learn to say “Okay, that’s enough” and stop. With online school, it’s even harder to have those boundaries, but I try to do my work during the day and not do anything after dinner and that has helped me stay sane. Timing is different for everyone – maybe you’re most productive from 9 pm-2 am – but being able to say “I’m done for today” is a skill that I’m so glad I learned.

Switch up your study space as much as you can

I’ve never been good at doing all of my work from my bedroom desk; I've always been the type of person to walk to a café or a library and do work there, but with COVID, that isn't exactly an option. So I've learned to trick myself and work at the kitchen table, work at my housemate's desk, work on the couch, work on the porch when it’s nice out – anything to switch it up because sometimes working in a space that’s “different” is what I need to feel motivated enough to do anything. Even cleaning off my desk or rearranging my furniture has helped when I really needed to be in my room to work.

Having nothing in your schedule doesn’t mean you're available

This one took a while to settle in, and it can sometimes be difficult to enforce. There have been a few times that I’ve gotten all my work done for school, caught up on all my lectures and assignments, finished a difficult test and planned a weekend off afterwards only for a groupmate on a project to message and say, “Can we meet on Saturday?” It took a long time for me to learn to say no because a day off doesn’t always feel like something “scheduled” or something I’m entitled to. But it is! In normal times, a day off might mean going somewhere and doing something away from my computer. But because I’m home all the time and technically available, it feels like I have to give up my break time if someone else wants it. Moving away from that mentality has worked wonders for my well-being. Everyone deserves time off and plans to take a break are plans worth keeping.

So be nice to yourself – accept that you're allowed time for yourself, find a good space where you can thrive, and find the scheduling techniques that work best with your life and habits. Hopefully, we are in the homestretch of fully online school and work-from-home now, but I hope my experiences can help you get the most out of lockdown life and beyond!

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