Education, University

Online School – How to Stay Motivated & Avoid Distractions

Online school and virtual learning can be a tough mental challenge at times. Whether you’re in high school or post-secondary studies, online learning is a huge adjustment to working in a traditional lecture hall or classroom.

Online school definitely has its pros and cons. Virtual learning meant being able to study from wherever I wanted. The convenience and efficiency were unmatched! However, I found myself becoming easily distracted because there were more people around me. I also found myself getting in “ruts” of not wanting to study due to feeling unmotivated.

As a university student who has undergone 1.5 years of online school, I wanted to share my tips on how to stay productive while in the distracting at-home environment. I’m excited to share with everyone on Big Sister Blog how I managed to maintain my GPA while studying from home.

The Challenges of Online School

Online school has been an adjustment for people all around the world. Not only students, but parents, family/friends, and teachers are all affected by this virtual shift.

Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some positive things about virtual learning. However, I will be discussing what I struggled with to show you how I was able to overcome these obstacles.

Some of the main things I struggled with were:

  • Staying Focused
    • Studying from home meant being surrounded by family members, and oftentimes I would end up being distracted by having other people around
  • Minimizing Distractions
    • At home, there were way more distractions than in the classroom
    • It’s easy to mentally log out of your zoom class and think about other things
  • Creating a workspace
    • At home, I worked wherever there was open space, which was great to have variety, but difficult to find one place to focus only on school
    • Working in my room made me want to nap, and working in the living room made me want to watch TV/ relax because these spaces weren’t areas I was usually being productive
  • Missing out on a social life
    • Without being on campus, sometimes I felt disconnected from my classmates and friends
    • Oftentimes study groups are established with people in your class that you meet, and I found this more difficult while being isolated at home
  • Prioritizing school
    • Sometimes, when I was at home, I would put other things before my school, but it’s important to treat these virtual sessions as you would an in-person session
  • Not multi-tasking
    • When I tried to multitask, I would zone out of my class and end up focusing on other things I wanted to do
    • I would end up having to re-watch lectures sometimes because I would later realize I had no idea what happened

How to Stay Productive Amidst Online School’s Challenges

Despite the many challenges I faced with online school, it was important to find remedies. I will walk through a few of the things that kept me motivated!

Focus on the Positive & Appreciate the Benefits

An important part about staying motivated at home is to remember the benefits of your online learning. Remind yourself there are positive things about being at home.

For me, here’s a few things I learned to appreciate about online school:

  • Getting an Education!
    • As someone in a postsecondary program, I had to remind myself how lucky I was to have the opportunity to learn from my professors and classmates, even in the midst of a global pandemic
  • Being close to and living with my family
    • Without at-home learning, I would have lived on my own in Toronto and only seen my family for long weekends and holidays
  • Not having to get ready in the mornings
    • I saved lots of time from not having to choose the perfect outfit and get ready for a day on campus
    • Most days, my camera would be off and I would go make-up free and wear comfortable clothes
  • More efficient lecture viewing
    • Watching lectures on 1.5x or 2x speed saved me tons of time when I already had the foundations of the topic under my belt
  • Save time and money on commuting
    • Typically I would have walked to campus, so I saved lots of time in the day from not making those large 10-30 minute trips between classes
    • Lots of people save money on commuting because there is no need to attend classes on campus
  • Increased comfort & flexibility
    • Working at home meant I could watch lectures in bed, at my desk, in the kitchen, at coffee shops, or anywhere I wanted to be (that was safe and/or open) because of the online nature
  • Ability to build your own schedule
    • 3-4 out of 5 of my classes each semester offered an asynchronous course viewing option, meaning that I could view lectures as recordings
    • Watching recordings meant I could plan my day more flexibly and how I wanted to – I would get my work done in the mornings to have some time off in the afternoon and enjoy the weather!
  • Saving money on eating out
    • Instead of rushing to pack a lunch, or having to pay to buy lunch, I could cook from home
    • I ended up eating more nutritious meals and saving money

Remind Yourself How Much Online School Costs

Online school is expensive!

The next thing was calculating my per-class cost.

To do this, I took my full-year cost of tuition and divided it by the number of courses I was enrolled in. That gave me my per course cost. Then, I divided that value by the number of lectures in each class, which was 12 (1 per week for 12 weeks). This gave me my per lecture cost.

Seeing how much money it truly cost for me to watch each lecture made me appreciate the value that much more. I had to ask myself – “am I getting my $ worth?”. Make sure that answer is yes! Get as much out of your money as possible.

Devote a Space at Home to Online School

Creating a space where you can zone out and feel productive is just as important when classes are in-person or at-home. Everyone needs to find a space they can focus.

Devote a space at home to your online school work

This is why I used to study at libraries on campus. I found myself feeling very productive in that space, and not as productive at home. When I went to the library, my brain would understand that it was a space to get my work done. I could see other people around me working and it kept me motivated as well.

With that being said, it’s important to create the at-home equivalent. For lots of people, this is an at-home office space. However, many people (including myself) do not have at-home offices. I live in a small Toronto apartment, so the best I could do was a desk.

Being at home meant I would study in bed or on the couch sometimes. This was such a bad decision, at least for me, because I couldn’t focus on anything but wanting to relax. I started doing my school work ONLY at my desk. I made sure to only use this desk when I had work for school. This was as close as I could get to a separate space for school. Remember, you need to establish that work-life balance. Having an area at least somewhat devoted to your school work is very important to achieving great results!

Use Checklists and Calendars

Something that helped with my success in online school was using checklists and iCalendar because they helped me stay organized and feel productive.


I would write down my daily tasks or goals on a physical sticky note, or a virtual note on my desktop. That way, I would always have to see it. For example, one day might look like this:

Set daily goals and make to-do lists for your online school
  • Wake up at 6:00 am
  • Watch ECO209 lecture recording (1.5 hours)
  • Read ECO209 textbook chapter (1 hour)
  • Complete RSM330 assignment (1 hour)
  • Work out (lift weights) (45 minutes)
  • Play tennis (1-2 hours)
  • Finish ____ for my club (30 minutes)
  • Read 15 minutes
  • Start writing 1 new blog (1 hour)
    • Post a picture on Instagram (5 minutes)
    • Create content for my Instagram story (5-10 minutes)
  • Pick up groceries. (30 minutes)
  • Asleep before 10:30 pm

As the day went on, I would delete items (on a virtual note) or check off (on a physical note) the things I had done. By the time I went to bed, I had peace of mind, knowing I had accomplished what I needed to. Each night I would make a new list so I could think about it before bed and as soon as I woke up.

This method also helped me minimize my distractions. By writing down the times it would take me to accomplish each item, I started seeing my days as blocks of time. If I was going somewhere and had a 20-minute gap of free time, I would read my book for 15 minutes (for example). I knew it would be an easy way to get that item done and would save me time from doing it later.

If I completed all the tasks on my list, I would reward myself by watching an episode of TV, hanging out with my boyfriend, or doing something else I enjoyed. That way I had a motivator in the back of my head.

Virtual Calendars

Calendars help me stay on top of online school

Virtual calendars are my life-saver! I use iCal, which syncs across my MacBook and my phone. That way, I never miss something that is going on. I would book important events into this calendar to stay organized and on top of my life.

It sounds crazy, but sometimes I would even book time into my calendar to do things like work out – it kept me on a schedule throughout the day. That way, I could be more productive and stay on a good schedule with my schoolwork.

Stay in Touch With Your Classmates Virtually

The last thing that helped me with online school was talking to my friends and classmates. Finding someone in each class that I could connect with was super important.

Reach out to your classmates on social media

We were able to share notes, study together, and help each other out when we were stuck on a concept. It was also great to have some form of human connection. That way, school feels more fun, and you’re able to meet more people.

I would recommend connecting with people after class in the first couple of weeks. Group projects and lecture breakout rooms provide the perfect opportunity to do so. If you are chatting with someone in your zoom lecture, don’t be shy to add them on Facebook after and start a conversation. Everyone is looking for friendly faces to see in their classes.

Closing Thoughts

As I mentioned at the start, I’ve experienced my fair share of struggles with online school. However, there are lots of ways to stay on track and keep your grades and mental health in check. Remember, if you feel overwhelmed or stressed with online school, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help and take time to yourself. Mental health is a very important issue, and I don’t believe it should be taken lightly. Talk to your friends and family or someone you can trust. Take time off to focus on yourself when you need to.

Thank you for reading – hopefully, you were able to learn something from this blog and can find success in your own virtual studies! If you have any questions or would appreciate further advice, please contact me or reach out to me on Instagram (!

Thanks again,


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