On Track While Online: Seven Tips for a Productive Remote Routine

The unpredictable reality of a pandemic still means many are experiencing college from a remote setting—even just for a brief period of quarantine or isolation. While a favorite pair of sweatpants and those fuzzy socks from mom are a welcome perk of the at-home classroom, any student going fully remote or just Zooming into class for a few days knows the dinging notifications and restlessness of cabin fever can become distracting factors.

For any student—or professional—needing to revamp their work-from-home routine, Dean of Student Success Chris Carlson ’87 and staff at the Academic Success Center (ASC) has a few tips for productivity in a virtual setting. “This time is all about being creative in what you can do,” says Carlson, “not focusing on what you can’t.”

Here are their top seven pieces of advice (don’t worry, you can keep the sweatpants!):

1. Participate, don’t just attend. As tempting as it may be to turn your camera off during class and scroll through TikTok, Carlson encourages students to hold themselves accountable and—beyond simply keeping that camera on to comply with remote academic policies—lean into learning. “There’s a difference between coming to class and engaging with it,” he says.

ASC Administrative and Academic Accommodation Assistant Jordan (Yaworski) Nilan ’17 says the virtual learning experience is much stronger when students participate in discussions, come to class with questions in mind and leave their cameras on.

2. Get creative to boost your energy. Whether it’s taking notes, standing during class, going on a walk between sessions or rearranging the tiles in a Zoom call, Carlson says activity can boost engagement by stimulating the mind. “We’re humans geared for movement,” he says.

3. Organize your email and Canvas. In the era of constant emails, an organized inbox works wonders. Nilan recommends checking email regularly and keeping up with daily agendas to prevent notifications from becoming overwhelming. Color-coordinating class assignments and customizing Canvas to your liking helps with organization, too.

4. Protect your productive time. “We have a three-hour block of the day when our brains work best, and another three-hour block when they’re the worst,” says Carlson. Recognizing those time periods and accommodating them is crucial—even if your peak is at 2 a.m. with a bowl of ramen at your side. By scheduling academic assignments in peak productivity hours and social plans in your “off” period, you’ll maximize focus.

5. Separate work and school. Let’s face it: It’s hard to write a paper on the same couch where you binged Criminal Minds. Nilan and Carlson suggest creating a distinction between work and play: set a space to conduct Gordon business and another to relax. It may also help to switch rooms between classes to create the feeling of entering a new “classroom.”

6. Reward yourself. After starting at a screen for hours, staying focused can be difficult, especially if you’re not feeling well. But setting little goals helps, says Carlson. He recommends a point system: For example, one point for speaking up in class, one for going a whole meeting without checking your email and, to stay on track, a mini reward after earning five points.

7. Reach out. Professors are here to help, and the Academic Success Center and Counseling Center are great resources to help with the transition to virtual learning. Be resourceful and remember to refer to your syllabus, but Carlson encourages students, “Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need.”

By Ellian Chalfant ’22, communication arts