The University of Vienna asked its students how they are doing with studying remotely from home. Some students replied that they are coping with the situation only moderately or even poorly. We want to change that. In this blog entry, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) provides tips and tricks on how to create your optimal studying environment at home, enhance your well-being and achieve a better study-life balance.
Tip 1: Separate working space and living space
Ideally, you have a separate room that you use specifically for working and studying. But do not worry if this is not possible: Try using shelves, plants, floor markings, etc. (be creative!) to separate your working space from your living space. Avoid working on your sofa or on your bed even if it might seem more comfortable. These places should be reserved for relaxation. The more you work on your sofa or in your bed, the more you will associate these places with work: This can make it harder for you to relax there.
Tip 2: Arrange your working space as ergonomically as possible
To prevent back pain or getting tired early during longer study sessions, you should follow the recommendations below when working at your desk:
- Your upper and lower arm form a 90-degree angle at the elbow.
- Your forearms rest on the desk.
- Your knees are at a 90-degree angle.
- Your feet are flat on the floor.
- Your legs have enough space under the desk.
If your desk and chair are not height-adjustable, you can also use a seat cushion. Please also note that the distance between your eyes and the screen should be between 50 and 75 cm. This means that you should be able to place your flat hand on the screen with the arm stretched out in an upright sitting posture. When setting up your screen, note that the first line on the screen should be slightly below eye level. If you work with a laptop, raising up your laptop and using an external keyboard and mouse allow you to work more ergonomically.
Tip 3: Exercise, exercise, exercise
When studying from home, you spend a lot of time seated. Spending long periods in a seated position can lead to an uneven tension of the muscles, especially in the area of the stabilising muscles of the spine. The 40-15-5 rule can help you effectively prevent tensions: Sitting for 40 minutes, standing for 15 minutes and moving for 5 minutes.
Try to make sure that you get enough exercise every day. We often underestimate how much distance we cover only by going to University every day, walking from the library to the lecture hall, etc. Now that most courses take place online, we do not have to walk as much. However, as a balance to the intellectual work of studying, these small bits of exercise are very important for your physical and mental well-being. Daily exercise of 20-30 minutes is ideal, and any kind of exercise is better than no exercise at all. Exercising regularly is the most important thing: Try to make your training a habit by integrating it into your daily schedule.
Maybe you can get some inspiration for short workouts from the USI athletes Caro and Nadine from #StayFitAtHome.
Tip 4: Schedule fixed time slots for studying
Without having to travel to University, the boundaries between work and leisure time are becoming blurred during remote studying. You can prevent this by scheduling fixed time slots for studying and keeping to this schedule as far as possible. This method is especially helpful if you are grappling with procrastination. Do not forget to also schedule time for breaks: You should take a 10-minute break at least every 50 minutes. Also, try to have as few late-night sessions as possible. Getting refreshing sleep is important for good cognitive performance.
Tip 5: Take time to unwind
Remote studying goes hand in hand with a lot of time spent in front of a screen. Therefore, it is all the more important to give your eyes some rest from time to time. It might be tempting to sink back into your couch and start Netflix right after studying. However, this direct change from one screen to the next leads to additional stress, in particular if you are already exhausted. Try to schedule some buffer time between studying and leisure time and consciously take time to unwind. Take a walk, cook something, do yoga, listen to music or take a relaxing shower – your very personal evening routine can help you unwind.
Tip 6: Fellow students and friends are worth their weight in gold
Talking to people who are in the same situation as you can help to ease your mind, as they might face similar difficulties and can thus relate to what you are experiencing. Coping with minor, common and even more complex problems is often easier together with fellow students or friends.
A group working together (such as a study group) provides a safe environment to address issues that you might not want to discuss in front of your teachers. And if you do not feel like talking about ‘uni’, a virtual games night can help.
Tip 7: Reward yourself
Knowing that you have worked productively for an entire day might not be enough of a reward. Therefore, it can help to decide in advance how you plan to reward yourself at the end of the day: Do you want to hang out with friends online, get your favourite pizza or take a spa day at home? Decide what goals you have to achieve to reward yourself at the end of the day. For example, you could decide to buy a new book if you manage to write the first 5 pages of your seminar paper: This way you can also effectively overcome writer’s block. Remember: Stay realistic regarding your goals.