On staying motivated as an online student

Expat Life

February 21, 2021

Let’s just be completely honest here. Being an online student is not fun. Around a year ago when my high school classes first started going online I was excited about being able to wake up later and not having to wear a uniform to virtual school, but those little novelties have quickly worn off. I’m now a college freshman in my second semester, and I’ve been spending pretty much every day on Zoom. I’ve been hearing from a lot of people that they’re struggling to find motivation in this online environment, which is why I wanted to write this post. I by no means have it all figured out! I also have days where I just feel super unmotivated and procrastinate everything, but I thought I would share some of my experience and advice here to hopefully help you!

Look forward, but adjust your mindset

I think one of the main things that causes students like myself to feel unmotivated in this environment is not knowing exactly when things will get back to normal. We thought we would go to college this fall but that got cancelled, then we thought it would be the spring but that also got cancelled, and I’m just hoping that it ends up being next fall. This cycle of getting our hopes up and then being disappointed can really take a toll. It’s impossible to know when things will be normal, and it’s completely out of our control. It’s good to look forward and have hopes for the next few months, but it’s important to remember that we can’t expect to look forward and hope for things to completely back to how they were – it’s going to be a long time before we get there! Instead, maybe just adjust your mindset when looking forward so that you can gain a more reasonable expectation of what’s coming round the corner and look forward to that – essentially just taking it in small steps instead of one huge leap

Celebrate the little things

Again, on a similar note, this is a weird environment where we can’t really plan ahead too far. Since it’s also so much more difficult to stay motivated day-to-day working from home, I think it’s better to celebrate and look forward to the little things instead of the less frequent big things. For example, instead of saying ‘oh only 6 more weeks until Spring Break’ maybe change it up and say ‘only 2 more days until the weekend where I’ve planned a fun movie night with friends.’ Yes, your movie night may not be as relaxing as a whole week off school, but it’s still something that makes you happy and that you’re looking forward too! Having smaller things to motivate you like this can make the whole unknown timeframe of everything happening right now seem a lot less daunting.

Make your own certainties

One of the things that we’re all missing right now in this extremely uncertain time is, of course, a little bit of certainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the outside world, but instead, we can build up some certainty in our own lives. Build a daily routine, plan a weekly event, or create a morning routine. Whatever you decide to do, planning ahead and having a routine that you can rely on can help balance out all of this uncertainty with certainty in your own life!

Set boundaries on your time

While being at home can save us a lot of time because we’re not commuting or waiting in queues for lunch etc… it’s important to recognize that we don’t have to spend all this new free time working. With this new void of free time it can feel like you have to fill it with being productive, however, remember that this would normally be time where you were talking with friends, having those lunch-time chats, or enjoying a drive home from school. Those mindless moments aren’t as built into our routines anymore because we’re just at home all the time. I think it’s easy to just forget that they ever existed and try fill them up with work and productivity. It’s important to still have those ‘mindless moments’ everyday whether it’s you going for a walk, calling up a friend, or taking some time off to cook yourself dinner.

Distance yourself!

By distance yourself, I don’t mean social distance from people (although you should be doing that as well!), I actually mean distance yourself from your laptop or phone once a day. It can often feel overwhelming, sitting at home, knowing everything you have to get done, and it’s weird having all aspects of our academic life on one laptop or tablet because you can’t really escape it if you’re just at home all day! That’s why I recommend doing something every day to get away from your devices, or at least your work device. Go for a walk or a run where you can’t take your assignments with you or check your email! Just as we would have previously gone home at the end of the day and left some work at the office or in the classroom, do the same here and distance yourself from your work a bit.


I hope that these tips can help you stay motivated through the online work or school environment. Just remember, that we’re all struggling a bit and are all trying our best! If there are any tips that you find useful to get motivated, leave them in the comments!

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