With effective time management strategies, however, you can organize your schedule to minimize distractions and maximize productivity. To do this successfully, you’ll need to be flexible, adapting to changes in either your studies, work, or personal situation.
Not only that, it’s also crucial to create a healthy remote studying environment at home and to look after yourself—for instance, by avoiding burnout. This adds to your comfort and well-being and will ultimately benefit your learning.
In this article, we explore the top strategies for balancing your online education with work and life, and offer practical examples you can start using now.
Time Management for Online Students
The attractiveness of remote learning is partly due to its flexibility. While you may have some live online classes, it’s mostly on-demand content and self-planned revision. So, you can arrange your study sessions around your work tasks or family commitments. For instance, if you spend a day on personal errands, you can just add more study hours to the following day.
However, many online students struggle to maintain productivity. This is because it’s easier to procrastinate when you lack a formal structure and shared accountability with your peers. You may also over-prioritize work and family duties to the detriment of study time. In contrast, on-campus classes and study sessions with peers push learners to make progress.
This is why time management is crucial to balancing remote learning with your other activities. First, you must define your study goals, break down learning components like projects and revisions, and estimate the time you’ll take per task. Then, by organizing, prioritizing, and tracking your tasks, you can make progress in a structured, predictable way.
You should apply the same logic to your work and personal life as well, for a balanced approach. For instance, you can schedule in a half-day block every weekend to spend with friends and family, to ensure you get the benefits of fulfilling relationships. Similarly, keep a structured professional schedule so that work demands don’t affect your studies.
Keep Your Priorities in Line
Prioritizing your to-do list helps you juggle work, education, and your personal life more successfully. Certain tasks may feel equally important—say, submitting a college paper and organizing a loved one’s birthday—but trying to do everything at once means that nothing will be performed to a high standard.
Prioritizing also prevents burnout. This is because poor prioritization leads to cramming too many last-minute tasks, which can be exhausting and stressful. By ticking off your top priorities first, however, your stress levels will be lower and you’ll have time left over for less important tasks.
Here are some tips for identifying and managing your top priorities at work, school, and at home.
Draft a to-do list of all tasks required for a specific project, whether it’s re-designing your living room or delivering a tutorial presentation. Create sub-tasks where necessary—for example, rehearsing a presentation will also involve making time to learn the script first.
Organize your tasks into the four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix, which categorizes activities according to their importance and urgency. Start with tasks marked as “urgent and important.” Then, work through “urgent but not important” and “important but not urgent.” Finally, turn your attention to tasks that are “not important and not urgent.”
Set deadlines and estimate the time required for each priority. Where multiple deadlines are in close proximity, switch between tasks at regular intervals, such as every few hours, to make progress on simultaneous priorities.
Re-prioritize based on new information. For example, if a task deadline has been brought forward, you may re-classify it from “not urgent” to “urgent.”
Create a Schedule
Without clear scheduling, online learners risk missing deadlines or getting less-than-desired grades. When you have additional work and family duties, a lack of scheduling can also cause you to feel overwhelmed and damage your well-being. So, aim to organize your calendar on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to stay on top of your main priorities.
We know—it’s easier said than done. Here’s a list of practical suggestions to help you schedule study time alongside work and personal tasks.
Keep tasks specific. Break down your work into manageable sub-tasks that can be completed in shorter time slots—for example, “Write essay introduction,” instead of “Write essay.” This will feel less daunting, so you’ll be less likely to procrastinate. Use a calendar app, like Outlook or Google Calendar, to schedule tasks and reminders.
Group similar tasks together. The more similarity there is in context and process, the more concentrated and productive you are. For instance, if you’re sending emails as part of a research project, write and send them in one session before moving on to the next task.
Add study peers to your scheduled slots. Then, meet them in person or on a video call at the allocated time to foster a sense of accountability. By studying alongside a classmate, you can exchange ideas and will be more productive overall.
Don’t over-schedule. Leave some gaps in your schedule to allow for unexpected events. Furthermore, be mindful that regular breaks increase your long-term productivity. Use tools such as the Pomodoro technique—which gives you a five-minute break after each 25-minute block of work—to avoid burnout.
Avoid procrastination. Turn off your mobile device and log off social media sites or other distracting apps. You can also ask your close friends and family for alone time while you’re working or studying.
Make time for your well-being. Leave enough time for eating healthily, exercising, resting, plus hobbies you enjoy doing. Where possible, communicate your physical or mental health needs to your education provider, employer, and your loved ones. For example, you may ask for more flexible shifts or help with domestic chores.
No matter how well you plan ahead, bumps in the road are inevitable. For example, one of your course tutors could fall ill, or your boss may ask you to do an extra shift at work. You might experience changes in your personal life, too, such as starting to date a new partner, or variations in your mental health or energy levels.
While remote studying offers you more control over your time, and the ability to move tasks around more easily, you’ll nevertheless need to be flexible and adapt quickly to change. Here’s some advice on how to manage your time when facing unexpected challenges:
Learn when to slow down. Symptoms such as tiredness and lack of concentration could signal burnout, which makes you less productive and possibly unhealthy. Rest and take more breaks in the short term to gain long-term results.
Include buffer time in your daily schedule. Don’t fill your day with back-to-back lessons, work shifts, and family duties. By adding a buffer of 15-30 minutes between tasks, you prevent unexpected events—like a tutor being late for class—from negatively impacting the rest of your schedule.
Stay open to technical tools. Flexibility includes staying aware of productivity-enhancing tools. As well as scheduling software, you might also consider lifestyle tools that could heighten your overall well-being, such as meditation or exercise apps.
Be well-organized. Always have a comprehensive schedule and the necessary resources ready, so you can quickly respond to schedule changes. For instance, when traveling for a family event out-of-state, a clear task list and materials such as e-books can help you maintain your study schedule.
Delegate where possible. Be prepared to ask family members, study buddies, or work colleagues to share the load, where appropriate. This frees up extra time and can help prevent burnout.
Arrange a Healthy Study Environment
Studying online comes with the freedom to design your home study environment. A mindful approach to this can improve your concentration and creativity, reduce your stress levels, and ultimately contribute to higher marks.
Choose your study spaces consciously
Where you study in your home matters. Think about what inspires and relaxes you, as this will help with motivation. For example, it may be a quiet room with a pleasing color scheme and natural lighting. Furthermore, keep your working corner tidy and organized, with everything you need conveniently to hand, from stationery to books and your laptop.
However, not everyone can create a dedicated study space in their home, particularly when living with family or housemates. If this is you, pick a quiet cafe or your local library as your main desk space. Pro tip: avoid studying in your bed as it can damage your sleep patterns.
Detach from distractions
Potential distractions are everywhere—they include mobile phone alerts, scrolling aimlessly on social media apps, and getting caught up in conversations with those around you. These distractions can throw you off course and delay your task completion. You can’t always avoid them, but you can use strategies to detach from them.
The antidote to distractions is enforcing boundaries. For example, you can ask friends and loved ones not to disturb you while you’re concentrating on a specific task. Also, you can set your smartphone to focus mode, which blocks app notifications and usage, or you might even place it in another room.
Balancing work, personal life, and education may feel overwhelming at times, but you can apply the principles of time management to achieve your goals in each of these areas. First, use strategies such as prioritizing, scheduling, and maintaining flexibility to maximize your productivity. Second, create an environment that’s conducive to concentration—and factor in plenty of breaks.
Don’t underestimate the value of relationships in finding balance. Reach out to study buddies for accountability and communicate your scheduling needs with employers and family. Finally, use technology as an aid, not a distraction. Scheduling apps and well-being tools such as meditation programs can help keep you productive and happy.