Perspectives on remote studying and working- how to make it work better for you?

(This text is based on text written by Klara Schauman-Ahlberg, psychologist of Åbo Akademi, March 2020. Text is edited and translated in English by Aalto psychologists Henna Niiva and Sanni Saarimäki, December 2020)

It is important to think of your attitude towards remote studying, now when the most of the courses are organized remotely. In this text, some useful perspectives and advice are given; you may apply them in your life during remote studying. This is written mainly for students, but many themes and advice are applicable also for staff in remote work. Remote working will be part of our work life also in future so now you have a chance to create new ways to work which might be beneficial later, as well.

Studying or working remotely may sometimes feel quite challenging. Self-leadership skills are even more crucial now while studying at home. Different factors in remote studying can be challenging for different people. Some may suffer from studying alone and having too little social interaction. Some may struggle with creating and maintaining routines. The ability to concentrate may be challenged at home with so many temptations and possible distractions. It is also easier to procrastinate at home, postpone starting and instead do something that is not related to studying.

The life looks and feels different than before COVID-19 outbreak. Many free time activities that we usually enjoy may be cancelled or forbidden. Life may feel confusing or insecure, at times. Maybe it can help to remember that this period of time will be still quite a short part of your life (even though we can’t know the duration of this period).

When we are stressed, we need other people. Studying together may support our wellbeing. Try to keep in touch with your friends and family members online or by phone. Helping and supporting others is natural for humans and it creates good mood. Maybe we learn to appreciate face-to-face group projects and meetings, and be grateful that we can interact with different people. 

This exceptional situation may cause different kind of strong and difficult emotions, as stress, fear, restlessness, panic, worries etc. Now it would be a good time to let the emotions to come and try to let them go without getting stuck with them. There are a lot of good ways to affect your own physical and psychological wellbeing.  It's good to reflect what kind of strategies you use for feeling better. Do your strategies help for short term but are harmful for longer term, such as avoiding difficult emotions with alcohol or playing video games without any time limitations?

In the following list there are concrete tips that can help support you in building good life with remote studying:


1.     Place for studying: If possible, choose some spot at home which is reserved just for studying. Use for example different side of the table than you usually. Collect all the tools you need to this place and maintain them in good order. Try to make your study spot as comfortable as possible and take good work ergonomics into account. Clearing place for studying can help with separating studying and free time from each other. 

2.      Routines: Routines bring clarity and predictability to our everyday life, and help concentrating on relevant tasks. When you have a plan and routines, you can focus your energy to studying instead of planning. Unclear practices, and not having a schedule, take our time and energy; then studying is not effective nor rewarding. Try to keep up the same routines that have worked for you before. If you haven’t had routines before, now is a good time to create them.

Try to maintain your daily rhythm: sleep enough, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and take care of eating regularly. Our body interprets too long gaps between suppers as emergency as the sugar level in blood drops. Don’t burden your body and mind with this. Remember also to have breaks and longer break for lunch. Thinking takes a lot of energy as our brain is active. Avoid sitting for too long and notice the need to move and stretch your muscles during the day.

3.       Planning: Make a weekly schedule. Try to make your schedule and to do- lists as concrete as possible and define clearly what you are going to do. Start your day with something that feels easy and interesting. Prioritize the most important tasks and do them first. Notice that there might be tasks that need a lot of concentration - do you know what is the best time (prime time) of the day for you to concentrate? It is not effective to spend the whole day with one and possibly demanding task, as it is important every now and then to do something that feels easier and smaller.

It's also good to pay attention on how you can boost your concentration and energy level. It is usually easier to continue studying on the next day if you plan a concrete point or task with which to start. Think what kind of schedule has worked for you before and use this information for planning.

Divide the study day in shorter periods. For many students, 25 minutes of studying and then 5 minutes break is a good rhythm. Other students may prefer longer periods of studying, for example 45-60 minutes, and 15 minutes break. Don’t assume that you can study for 8 hours without breaks - It's impossible! Have also one longer lunch break in between of these study sessions. 

4.     Concentration: Many students may struggle maintaining concentration especially while studying at home. Luckily concentrating is a skill that we can practice. It's essential to avoid all the distractions. Nowadays there are many stimulus around us almost all the time. Still, it isn’t always distractions coming outside; often we are the ones who are distracting ourselves. We may check e-mails, send a message to a friend or check news while we should be concentrating on a study task. When we do this, our brain gets used to having something new going on all the time. If we do a lot of multitasking, our nervous system will get used to having a new rewarding stimulus constantly and concentrating for longer period may feel difficult.

Learning takes time and effort. If we have taught ourselves for having fast rewards all the time, we need to practice staying with one topic for longer period. We actually are the most effective while we concentrate on one thing at the time instead of multitasking. And after a distraction it may take 20 minutes to get back to the same state of concentration again.

In remote studying it may be even easier to find yourself checking your phone while you should be studying. We may get some study-related information from phone so it might sometimes be difficult to avoid using phone at all while studying. Still, it is good to try to limit checking your mobile phone. It is easy to get stuck with your phone, it's a great tool for procrastinating.

In these times, there are news and updates all the time about the coronavirus situation. People also share information related to that in social media. So, it can be especially hard to concentrate in these circumstances. Anxiety may increase because of information overload. It may be even calming to concentrate deeply on studying for a while. Getting things done is rewarding. Try to keep in mind that this remote studying won’t last forever and there will be time that we have more face-to-face teaching again.

5. Motivation: Social support that we get from other students usually increases our motivation. Studying alone, especially while doing something difficult, may feel tough and it can feel hard to find motivation. However, motivation isn’t something that is formed by itself, but it is in interaction with our thoughts, beliefs and actions. It is possible to build your motivation by choosing good study strategies, wondering what I will learn through this task and thinking how the task is related to the big picture.

In everyday life we tend to think that we either have motivation or not. But when we see motivation as a skill, motivation is more dynamic and developing. Motivation can be divided to different skills (Kaukiainen ym. (2020), ProMot-käsikirja):

·       a skill to get interested in what you are studying

·       a skill to maintain positive emotions related to studying

·       a skill to face and bear failing

·       a skill to overcome disappointments

·       a skill to notice and accept the need for help

·       a skill to look for feedback and guidance that supports motivation and benefit from them.

Getting things done and succeeding are important for motivation. You can create feeling of success by setting yourself right kind of goals. Motivation and flow experience are created by doing. That is why it is usually not a good idea to wait for motivation or right kind of mood as these rarely are there before starting. Studying alone and missing social interaction may also be one reason behind low motivation. If you feel that you are too much alone, just contact others without any specific reason.

6. Study together: It is important to co-operate even though we can’t meet face-to-face. It is a good idea to make regular meetings with other students or colleagues. However, it is good to remember need for informal interaction and to have a chance to share how it is going with remote studying. Try to be active and contact also less active students. Ask how others are doing and show interest. It is a great time to create all kind of groups and channels for communication if you haven't already.

7. Be active and don’t hesitate to ask for support: Teachers will answer your questions even though you don’t meet face-to-face. We are all individuals, so it differs how easy remote studying is for us. Some of us may need some support and guidance with remote studying. It is good to be brave and ask for help when needed for example from your teachers, other students or coordinators, so that you can study efficiently.

8. Acceptance and compassion:  Remote studying differs in some ways from studying that we have got used to. It is good to remember that finding effective ways to study and maintaining routines may take time. Circumstances are also in constant change, at the beginning of autumn we could study at the university and now the situation has changed, so also adapting to this changes take time. You might not be as effective and concentrate as well as in face-to-face teaching. All the emotions and thoughts related to the situation take our energy, so let's show ourselves some compassion when we don’t study as effectively as we planned.

9. Families with children: If you have young children remote studying at home may be quite challenging. Toddlers and other young children need a lot of attention and taking care of. Also older children have to now stay at home if they have even slightest symptoms of flue. It might be especially hard to try to study at home if you have young children at home. It takes flexibility and compassion from ourselves but also from our teachers and bosses. 

10. If you notice that you start to feel depressed, stressed or anxious and that you don’t recover from stress (for example you are almost all the time anxious or fearful) contact Finnish Student Health Services, occupational health care or study psychologists. You can also contact crises help line or try if self-study materials could be helpful for you. Unfortunately, corona outbreak is burdening also students health services and queues might be quite long. We study psychologists prefer at the moment remote appointment via Zoom, Teams or calling by phone. You can make an appointment by e-mail

Remote studying can be burdening in many ways and there might be uncertainty and unsecurity in this situation. You may feel lonely or anxious, but there is always help. Please take care of yourself and get help early!

Last modified: Tuesday, 22 December 2020, 2:03 PM