text.skipToContent text.skipToNavigation

Self-study tips to keep ahead of your workload (from a PhD student)

Closed universities and online lectures mean one thing – you are mostly on your own to manage your studies.

Of course, you can still email your lecturers and most universities offer online learning help and guidance. Still, it’s not the same as face-to-face learning since we now all study at home and it’s easy to lose track of your workload.

Here are some tips on how to stay on track with all the tasks, and how to deal with the anxiety that may come with managing your workload as an international student.

Divide the workload

If you have several tasks, several modules, several essays or exams, try not to look at them as one big task because then it will become a big bugbear.

Put the deadlines into your calendar and prioritise your work. Work out what has to be done ASAP, and what assignments can wait a little bit longer.

Once you’ve done that, prioritise even further. Take one assignment and divide it into dozens of small tasks that you can complete each day. That way you can easily keep track on what you have done so far, and what needs to be done in the next few days.

For example, if I have difficulties with starting a task or assignment and keep postponing it, I make a small Gantt chart for the next week.

In your case, you can start with something small but important such as finding literature for your essay. Put all the documents and PDFs into one folder and create a Bibliography list. That’s not something you will spend much energy on, but it’s a start and research and referencing is an important part of the essay-writing process.

The next day write an introduction and keep going with a section or paragraph easy day until you finish the task. Of course, keep mind your deadline, so try to divide the workload equally through the days. This way, you will still have a day or two to reflect on your work by the end.

Desktop Body Image 1 - self study tips.jpg

Make a habit

This quarantine period creates the perfect condition for postponing work, or as we popularly call it – procrastination.

When I first arrived back home to Croatia from the UK I felt like I was on vacation and just coming home to visit for a week or two. Well, it’s been a month now and soon after I unpacked I realised the work is not going to get done by itself.

The most important thing you can do is: Just start. Even if it’s the small tasks I mentioned above. Once you’ve started it’s important to keep working every day.

Ok, maybe not every day, but at least 4–5 days a week. That way you’re making a habit and writing/learning/reading is becoming a constituent part of your day.

It’s the same with everything else really. If you’re struggling with fitness or home exercises, it’s important to be consistent. You know what they say, it takes 3 weeks to break a habit, 6 weeks to develop a new habit and 36 weeks to hardware a new habit!

Discover your creativity

Who says everything has to be done in an old-fashioned, black-or-white way?

If you’re more of a visual type of person, traditional reading and writing might not work for you. Now you have time to discover some new ways of getting your work done. Why not use some colours, scissors, markers and tape?

Make a mind map, draw, cut, colour – whatever works for you to get something done!

When we use traditional surroundings such as libraries, offices and lecture halls as part of our work routine, we get so used to it that we don’t often realise there are different types of people who prefer different types of didactic teaching.

Take out your primary school arts tools and make some fun out of your work!

Keep in touch with your peers

Being far away from your university means being far away from your friends and colleagues.

That doesn’t mean you can’t communicate! If you have doubts, need advice or just need to hear that someone else has the same problem as you do, call your university friends.

Discuss the task, brainstorm and make a debate out of it if necessary! Some great new ideas may form that will uncover new paths and solutions to your problem.

It is often when we say something out loud and get feedback that we understand what needs to be done, what the next steps will be.

Desktop Body Image 2 - self study tips.jpg

Don’t feel guilty

Whatever you do, and even if you don’t implement any of my advice, don’t feel guilty. This is a difficult time for the entire human race, and it's perfectly normal to feel less productive.

I know I said create a habit out of your workload, but if you don’t work for a whole week then it’s fine. Today’s my first day actually writing something since last week. What’s even more important than creating a habit is giving yourself a break and respecting your mind and body when you’re trying to push past your limits.

I guess what I’m trying to say is find some balance. Keep to the schedule when you can or when you feel like you can do it. Make smaller steps when you feel like you cannot keep up as much. And take breaks when you need it. That way you’re making sure you get back to your schedule rested and ready for work.

 Recommended articles

Studying at Home in the time of Coronavirus

Being an international student during the global COVID-19 pandemic means that most of the lectures have been switched to online learning, allowing many international students like me to return home and adjust to studying from our home country.

Top research tips to prepare for university assignments

The most common type of assignments in British Higher Education are essays. You may have some exams too, but most modules will require an essay at the end of the term. There is no doubt that you will have an opinion about the subject, the question is ‘how do you do it?’.

Please select a level of study

Enter subject, choose from the list or hit search

  • Start typing, choose from the list or hit search

  • Enter subject, choose from the list or or hit search

Please type and select an institution

  • Type 3 characters of a university name and select from the list

  • Enter a university or school name and select from the list