Distance learning offers a unique opportunity to study at your own pace. Because of this, it’s ideal for those with busy lifestyles and demanding commitments who couldn’t otherwise squeeze a new qualification into their already hectic schedules.
For many distance learning students time management can be the main challenge. How do you fit your learning into your routine whilst making the most of your course?
That’s why we’ve put together seven top time management tips for distance learners designed to maximise your productivity and set you on the road to success.
1. Protect your time
It’s ok to be flexible with your study schedule – that’s what distance learning is all about! But without careful planning, your valuable time can quickly slip away from you.
That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a written timetable that accounts for every moment of your week, from your working hours to your commute, and take a look at the time you have leftover. This may be a couple of hours of an evening after the kids have gone to bed, a quiet Sunday afternoon or even an early morning. Allocate yourself a few designated study sessions during this time and don’t let anything interfere with them.
Once you’ve learned to successfully establish these sessions into your routine, assess your productivity on a regular basis. Track your study time and appraise how much you’re managing to get done during those slots. If you find that you’re still getting behind, you may want to reshuffle your schedule – for instance, adding in an extra hour in the morning if that’s the time you’re most productive.
2. Avoid multitasking
When faced with a long to-do list longer, it’s tempting to divide your attention between tasks in the hopes of getting multiple things done at once.
But in fact, multitasking is scientifically proven to have a detrimental effect on your concentration and reduce your overall productivity by up to 40%.
Although initially, multitasking can make us feel as though we’re dealing efficiently with several tasks at once, in the long run it usually leads to us feeling overwhelmed and sends our brains into overdrive.
And with our energy spread thinly over many tasks at once, the work we do produce tends to be of a lower quality.
Multitasking can also negatively impact your memory, leaving you prone to forgetting important details and maximising that last-minute stress. Think of it as a juggling act – the more you’re juggling at once, the more likely you are to drop the ball. If you can devote your attention to keeping just one thing in the air, you’ll find that single task much easier to manage.
That’s why you’re better off keeping your focus on just one task at a time. You’ll get it completed quicker and will be able to cross it off the list sooner rather than later, giving you fewer tasks to think about in the long run whilst maximising your feelings of productivity, boosting your motivation and ultimately making your workload feel far more manageable.
3. Cut out distractions
It’s easier said than done, but cutting out distractions wherever you can is the key to an interrupted focus.
For starters, don’t try and study in front of the TV. In fact, any electronic device which isn’t being used for productivity should be out of sight and out of mind whilst learning. If you’re using your phone or tablet to access course materials, try switching on the handy ‘do not disturb’ function. This will prevent errant notifications from catching your attention and costing you a valuable hour or more of your study time.
Where possible, try and use a dedicated study space – your living room is one of the worst places for this, so get off the sofa and relocate to a more suitable learning environment. A desk with a comfortable chair, ideally located in your own home office, is the perfect place to learn.
But failing that, your kitchen table is just as good. Not only does it improve your posture and minimise distraction, it also saves your comfortable spaces for rest and relaxation and helps to maintain that vital balance between your studies and your downtime.
For those with children, preventing distraction is easier said than done – those parental duties often can’t wait. If you find it difficult to focus without the interruption of your youngsters, try and co-ordinate your study time with theirs – it helps you stay focused together and encourages them to get their heads down too.
And if you’re really struggling to focus at home, consider getting out of the house! Many people enjoy studying in public locations such as cafes and libraries – if you’re not distracted by the presence of a little light chatter, this is a great way to squeeze in some study time, experience a change of scene, and treat yourself to a nice latte, too.
4. Leave nothing until the last minute
Procrastination – we’re all guilty of it! Postponing those all-important tasks and insisting to ourselves we have plenty of time. Then, before you know it, you’re staring a deadline in the face with nothing to show for it. Cue the last-minute rush and late nights trying to get everything finished on time.
Ditch those eleventh-hour scrambles for success and instead set yourself a long-term schedule to prevent deadlines creeping up on you unexpectedly. Start your assignments well in advance and take the opportunity to get ahead when you can – it’s never too soon to make a start.
Every student has their own unique way of learning – some find it easier to absorb information from visual cues, whilst others prefer to learn by listening.
And the same is true for time management. There are hundreds of productivity techniques out there designed to help you make the most of your study time. If you’re struggling with your current learning routine, trial a few different methods to find the one that works for you.
One of the most popular is the Pomodoro method – this involves working in set 25-minute blocks of time, known as a ‘Pomodoro’, punctuated by a 5-minute break. Every three or four Pomodoros, take a slightly longer break of 15-30 minutes.
This is a great technique for those who struggle to focus for long periods of time, as it allocates slots for permitted ‘distraction’ whilst providing structure to your study sessions.
In the beginning, finding your feet with distance learning can be challenging. But by finding a system that works for you, you’ll be able to fit your course neatly into the rest of your life.
6. Set goals
When the task ahead feels huge it can be difficult to measure your productivity.
That’s why it’s a good idea to break your main goals into small, achievable targets. You may have heard the term ‘SMART goals’ before – the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based, and it’s a great system for ensuring the goals you set for yourself are realistic.
Not only does this give you an opportunity to structure your learning, it also enables you to better appreciate the progress you’re making as you accomplish each individual goal. Just don’t set yourself back by making overly-ambitious targets – you won’t complete a 3000-word essay in the space of two hours, for example. But you might manage, say, 300 words in that time, which is ten per cent of your overall goal! Setting these milestones can take the pressure off tasks that feel initially overwhelming and make them seem much easier to tackle.
When hitting those small goals along the way, remember to reward yourself, whether that’s with an extra bit of chocolate or an episode of your current Netflix binge – you deserve it, and incentives are a great way to maintain your motivation.
7. Practice self-care
No one can run on empty, and as tempting as it is to power through, when the going gets a little too tough, it’s not always the best way forward.
If you’re feeling tired, worn out and pulled in all directions, you’re unlikely to produce your best work and your headspace won’t improve unless you step away and recharge.
That’s why it’s essential to budget downtime into your schedule. Take breaks when you need them and treat them as an essential part of your routine – knowing when to wind down is just as important as knowing when to focus, and a crucial part of taking care of your mental wellbeing.
And just as it’s important to look after your mind, it’s also important to take good care of your body – stock your fridge with nutrient-rich study snacks and try and utilise your breaks for a walk outside to enjoy some light fresh air and exercise. The better you feel physically, the better prepared you’ll be to handle your busy schedule and take on whatever comes your way.
These seven time management tips will help you on the road to success in every step of your distance learning career.
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