How to Increase Productivity Taking Online Classes

Becca Cornell
May 6, 2021

With the world suddenly online, being productive at home is essential to be successful; especially for anyone taking online classes.  You should know that if you stay productive, you can get more done in less amount of time.  

Wouldn't you rather not be a slave to your computer? We've got you.  While the crazy reality of the world right now has pushed more of us than ever before into online work, working remotely online is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around for the last decade.  

And while professionals may struggle to convince their bosses that they’re just as, if not more, productive at home as they are in the office, there is another sector of people that have recently been pushed online that are more than capable of thriving in working online: The college student.  

Online courses have been offered for about as long as remote work has, and while some schools have adapted and thrived prior to the Coronavirus, some are just now being forced to adapt their educational systems to a more online-friendly educational system.  

The challenges of remote student life

For those who are used to the in-person setup, this shift to becoming a full-time remote student is proving to be a bit more difficult than expected.  The problem doesn’t lie with the lack of technological capability.

Today's college students can video chat five different ways, send instant messages on seven different platforms, and have been sending emails since the fifth grade.  We are more than capable of navigating the necessary technology for online learning.  

Instead, the real problem is staying focused.  While being home with nowhere to go might seem like the perfect opportunity to jump into learning, instead it’s proving to be the perfect reason to get distracted and procrastinate.  If there’s no happy hour motivating us to have our biology paper done by 5 pm today, why do it when Netflix and TikTok are sitting right beside us on our phones and laptops?  

This epidemic is lasting longer than anyone would prefer. Rest assured, whether you're a college freshman or a third-year medical student, you’ll have time for studying (yay?). A recent report found that students are studying and engaging more in the educational process, so you'll in good company.  

However, you first need to figure out how to be a productive student from the comfort of your own home.  If you’re struggling to figure out just how to do that, try one (or all) of these productivity tips. You (and your professors) will thank us for it.   

Set up a designated space for studying

Preparing your space will, simply put, be the make or break for your productivity levels. It doesn’t matter if it’s your kitchen table, a desk in the corner of your bedroom, or a whole office space - set aside one area where your sole focus is your schoolwork.   Don’t do anything else in this space; not Netflix, not TikTok, not your little sister's craft projects, no matter how much she begs.   This will trick your brain into believing that when you’re in this space, you’re there to learn and to work.


Make sure you have any supplies you’ll need from the start as well:

  • Laptop
  • Charger
  • Pens
  • Highlighters
  • A water bottle
  • Calculator
  • Anything else you might need for the classes you’re taking

Setting up in a well-lit space is also a huge perk if you’re able. It’ll keep your brain awake and keep you from nodding off during your fourth Zoom lecture of the day.  

Design this space as a space for you. Make sure, in addition to the essentials, you’re adding things to the space that bring you joy, like:

  • A potted plant
  • Cute pen holders
  • A desk lamp
  • Colorful organizers

All are great ways to brighten up your space and make it more your own. Making your study area a space you want to be in will help you get down to business.  

Create a schedule - and actually follow it

This is probably the hardest tip to follow through on.  With an unlimited amount of hours before you and the blessing (and maybe curse) of online learning, you can do your homework, eat, and sleep entirely on your own schedule.  This makes it seem like pushing back that midterm paper to 2 am in order to continue binge-watching Tiger King might not be all that bad of an idea.  

I'm not condoning this...but here's a list of the most binge-worthy Netflix shows 

After all, what do you have going on tomorrow morning?   This kind of thinking is exactly what you’re trying to avoid, because it’s a never-ending cycle of procrastination.   When 2 am becomes 3 am and that becomes 4 am and then all of a sudden it’s 9 pm the next day, and you’re in the same position you were the day before, you have a problem on your hands.

A few tips for avoiding this time trap:

  1. Amazon Prime a planner to your house or simply grab an old notebook
  2. Design your schedule however it best suits you, even if that means doing homework at 9 pm and not waking up until 11 am
  3. Stick to the schedule

Pro-tip: You’re more likely to check (and adhere to) your schedule if it’s aesthetically pleasing to you. Put a little extra effort (and entertain yourself) by designing a colorful and organized schedule and you’ll find yourself more willing to stick to it.  

If you like pretty things but aren’t keen on being creative yourself, you can find tons of planners, time blocking pdfs, and schedules online.  Try Amazon, Etsy and even your favorite Instagram influencer's page. Most of them are working from home full-time and will share their schedules with their followers.

Regardless of how you design your day, make sure you follow the plan.  

Remove distractions—yes, this means your phone

This is hard, we know. Without much social interaction outside of your family right now, it’s hard to give up texting in your group chat, even if only for an hour.   It's clear that your phone will be the biggest distraction in your workspace. Setting it aside and putting it on do-not-disturb will have you more focused and getting your work done faster.  

Here's how you can remove distractions

  • Set timers. For every 50 minutes you study or do work, give yourself ten minutes to check your phone and go on social media
  • Turn your phone on silent mode so you aren't tempted to check it
  • Make sure you remove any other potential distraction as well; this includes TV, iPads, and even your pup if he’s not ready to be quiet and take a nap
  • Set yourself up with a snack, drinks, etc so you don't have to get up if you get hungry

Let people know when you’re not to be disturbed

Share your schedule with your family, housemates, or boyfriend and straight up ask them to not disturb you during your designated study time unless the house is on fire.  A great way to let them know you don’t want to be disturbed is to have a signal that you put on your desk, door knob, or computer depending on the space you’re in.  

A few fun ideas would be:

  • A stop sign
  • A funny bobblehead (extra points if you have a Dwight Schrute bobblehead)
  • Printing off your favorite “Be Quiet” meme or joke
Communicating your boundaries to those you’re spending copious amounts of time with right now will not only be essential for your focus, but also for your sanity long-term.  

Figure out what helps you focus

This might be a no-brainer, but what works for some doesn’t work for all.  The library at your school always offered a quiet place to study. Now you’re now surrounded by your noisy family.  The big change in environment might make it obvious what the problem is, but sometimes the reason why you can’t focus can be a bit more subtle.  

Some people work best with background static, but not noise; others work best to music or silence.  If you’re unable to get complete silence and you need it in order to focus, try white noise playlists on Apple or Spotify.   If you work best to music, include a pair of headphones when setting up your workspace and maybe even create a playlist specifically for when you’re studying.  

This applies to more than just noise, too. Some people find that they’re unable to focus if they’re in their pajamas, as they just don’t feel ready to work. Others can’t focus unless they’re comfortable.  Be sure you know what works best for you so that you can set yourself up for success from the very beginning.  

Being a remote student is a marathon, not a sprint

The fact that you’re here, learning how to be more productive and do better with online learning means you’re probably like a lot of other college students: A high achiever.  While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to do your best, don’t forget that this semester is still another two to three months long. You don’t need to get it all done in the next two weeks.  

Set yourself up for success and productivity, but don’t forget that if you push too hard, too fast, you’ll burn out.   Pace yourself and be sure that there’s plenty of down-time and time for self-care in the schedule you oh-so-carefully planned.  This not only will be good for your productivity, but for your mental health as well.  

Another way to apply this on a smaller scale is to remember to take breaks when you are studying.   Don’t try and crank out six hours of writing papers and reading straight through without a break.  You need to be sure to schedule time to rest and recoup as well.  

This will actually make you more productive in the long run, in addition to helping prevent you from giving into hustle culture and burning out.  You have time, so be sure to give yourself some. 

Take care of yourself

Yes, this does mean taking time out for self-care to make sure you don’t burn out, but it also means holding yourself accountable.  It’s too easy to eat mac-and-cheese, drink White Claws and binge watch Netflix when you have nowhere to go later (or for the next few weeks).  

While now’s not the time to start a new diet, making sure to eat your veggies, drink plenty of water, and get active and move your body in some way will be beneficial to more than just your productivity. It will keep you healthy, happy, and focused.  

Having time for good nutrition and exercise built into your schedule will make you more productive for the long term and will probably make you happier as well.  If you’re looking for ways to get active when all the gyms are closed, take the dog for a walk, try an at-home work out from YouTube, or join an Instagram Live workout from the plethora of trainers online.  

If all else fails, get someone to hold you accountable

Be it your mom, boyfriend, or roommate, if you’re really struggling to stay productive at home, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone is adjusting and will most likely be understanding and willing to help.  Match your schedule to theirs to keep yourself on track, or simply have them check in on you to make sure you’re getting your work done.  Before long, you will have adjusted to your own routine and won’t need them to keep yourself on track.  

If you’re on your own, try setting up a Zoom or Facetime study or accountability group. Reward yourselves when you stay on track for the whole week by scheduling a virtual happy hour or virtual movie night.  Making small steps towards being more productive while online learning will make huge waves in how you spend your time and teach you exactly how you’re wasting your time.  

While being a full-time remote student will have you missing your dorm, best friends, and maybe even your professors, you don’t need to miss out on what you learn from your college courses too.  Look at this time as an opportunity to discover more about how you learn, work, and prefer to spend your time.  By doing so, you’re setting yourself up for success for when you graduate and making yourself a more desirable employee.  

And hey, being more productive now and learning how to do so for the future will get you to happy hour that much faster once you’re back at college this fall.