How to stay productive while studying at home – 6 tips from the Peer Learning Advisors

Struggling to stay motivated with your online studies? La Trobe’s Peer Learning Advisors (or PLAs) are here to help. The PLAs are high-achieving students who have been specially trained to support students with academic skills and assessment advice. Keep reading for their top tips to keep your mind sharp and boost your productivity when studying online.

1. Harness the power of habit

Staying consistent can be a challenge, particularly with many of us finding our days a lot less structured under lockdown. Samuel Hoch recommends trying to minimise distractions in your study space. “If possible, make it the only place you study and not somewhere you watch movies/play games,” says Samuel.  

Establishing a routine can also help. “[Last semester], I tried to stick to a clear schedule/timetable each week,” says Shannon Robinson-Hore. “I would watch my classes at the same time to help my body/brain get into a routine. This also helped me concentrate as my body ‘knew’ it was study time.”

2. Pay attention to your environment

Your physical environment plays a major part when it comes to your motivation to study. “Things that help motivate me are having my workspace set up in a way that works best, meaning I am less likely to be distracted,” says Jacquelyn Evans.

Kate Cumming agrees. “Finding a place where you can be productive, that is as quiet and peaceful as possible, is vital to meaningful study,” says Kate. “Get comfy!!! Have your trackies and uggs on if you want! You’ll be more able to concentrate on the content and complete tasks.”

Taking control of your space is also important for when it’s time to recharge. Mel Holland definitely has experience with juggling a busy lifestyle – in addition to studying, parenting, and working as a PLA, Mel also writes the popular MyLaTrobe SHE blog.

“Pack study away so you get a good break,” Mel says. “Study can take over the kitchen table, or if your office is in the living area of your home, it is always reminding you of what you could be doing. I was feeling overwhelmed by this and found it hard to switch off. I bought myself a trolley from IKEA and now I pack it all in at the end of each day and wheel it out of sight so I can switch off and relax.”

PLA Samuel Hoch.

3. Take regular breaks

Breaks are essential to avoid ‘burn out’ from sitting for too long, says Shannon. “During Semester 1, I found it quite challenging to remain engaged in my tutorials and lectures and often found my mind wandering/getting distracted by other things meaning I would miss what the teacher was saying.” Taking a short break every 45 minutes or so helped. “I would make myself a cup of tea, go outside in the sun, talk to a housemate etc. I found this really helped me retain my focus in class and when watching online lectures.”

Jacqulyn says regular breaks helped her stick to a routine. “I found that it was more important to pay attention to breaks and food as there were fewer outside things to reinforce my schedule,” she says. “Making sure I reward myself for achieving things off my to-do list, snacks or time out for a walk on a sunny day are good things that keep me going.”

4. Boost your online know-how

Now can be a good time to become more confident with using digital technologies.

“Online study has also meant we need to be proactive in tackling tasks using online resources such as Zoom,” says Kate. “This provides you with real world experiences that you will likely need in the modern workforce.”

Jess Grant has taken advantage of the opportunity to upskill. “Working as a PLA online has allowed me to home in on my IT and troubleshooting skills,” she says. “Since transitioning to online, I feel more connected with the team across all campuses and I believe that has been a beneficial union for both PLAs and the students that use the service.”

PLA Jess Grant.

5. Stay social

Mitch Lawton is a former PLA and current postgraduate student, who now works at the Learning Hub at La Trobe! With a passion for problem-solving, Mitch says “it’s about connection and working out how to connect with people. Currently, we have a couple of late-night Zoom sessions while studying, or even completing an online puzzle while talking about a subject.”

Whatever social media platform you choose, having regular meetings with a study group on can enhance your understanding of your course material. “We meet each week and chat via WhatsApp all week too,” says Mel. “Our group is a great mix of learning consolidation and social connection.”

Try to speak up during class time, too. “My piece of advice to students would be to ask questions at the end of any live Zoom lectures or workshops you have,” says Courtney Taylor. “It feels good to engage this way. I would also encourage students to use the LMS forums… These don’t get used anywhere near enough in the classes I take and as is always said it’s very likely other students have the same questions that you do.”

6. Don’t hesitate to ask for help

“Ask for help,” says Mel. “We might feel isolated and we may be studying alone at home, but we can still ask our educators for help and clarification. The sooner the better.” 

The PLA Zoom drop-in service is a great way to get help with your uni work. “The PLA team are your peers and therefore know themselves how online study feels, as they are experiencing it as well,” says Samuel. “There are many PLAs from various study backgrounds that will be able to assist you in your queries and if not, know exactly where to direct you for the appropriate help and advice.” 

A final word of guidance? Be kind to yourself, says Jess. “Take it easy, don’t put too much on yourself, your health comes first! Study is important but use this time to step back a little and breathe. Make sure you know of all the supports available to you and use them!”

Go to the Learning Hub LMS to access the PLA Zoom drop-in links, from Monday to Friday during the semester, between 12-2pm and 4-6pm Melbourne time.