From a Student, to a Student: Surviving the Switch to Online

*This is a guest submission by Morgan Kool, B.Eng Candidate as part of the (Dis)Connection Stories project*

Life as a student can be difficult at times: running from one activity to the next, new things
popping up every hour, long sleepless nights of completing assignments, clubs and other
commitments, and sometimes commuting hours a day. All of this, and you still need to have a
social life, home life, and keep a good grade point average so you don’t flunk out of school. Oh,
and let us not forget that part-time job you may have. There goes another 15-25 hours a week.
Now, amid this pandemic, your entire schedule has been flipped upside down, and things
around you are changing by the hour. You may be overwhelmed with how the new school
system is working, and not be able to get anything done at home due to a close-packed house
with innumerable distractions.

Do you ever feel like you don’t know where to start? That the day flies by and you
haven’t gotten anything done that you needed to? Or maybe you don’t even know
everything you need to get done?

While no expert on the subject, being an undergraduate Biomedical Engineering student, I do
think I can provide some tips on how to tackle time management, during this pandemic, from a
student’s point of view. I have a very long list of things I’m trying to juggle myself, so I know
what it takes to successfully manage one’s time properly to maximize efficiency. Hopefully
sharing my tricks of the trade as a student will help other students like you take charge of your
productivity in this new virtual school experience and make your day a little easier. After all, we
may be apart, but we’re all in this together.

Let’s take a look at some time management and stress-relieving schedule ideas to make your
day as productive as it can be, while allowing some downtime – that you don’t need to feel
guilty about. I’ll be going through some must-know time management and productivity tips for
making the transition to online classes a smoother, easier one.

To do lists, with structure

The first thing you’ll want to do when you wake up in the morning is make a to-do list of everything you WANT to get done today. Now, highlight all the things that you NEED to get done today. Beside each item, write down approximately how long you think it’ll take you to do. Take the things that are highlighted and put them into your time blocks (see the next section). If you accomplish the highlighted items, go back to the list and choose some of the other items to complete with any extra time you have.

Time blocking

Time blocking is essentially looking at your day and breaking it down into pieces or ‘blocks’, with each block representing something you’re going to do during that time. Essentially, it’s like scheduling yourself for an appointment to get something specific accomplished. Start by picking an easy to use app like Google Calendar, or print a paper copy from online. Simply search “hourly calendar“.

Next, block in all the times where you know you already have plans. Schedule yourself for all
the online live lectures you have, any work shifts, meetings and other things you’re already
committed to.

Be sure to block in time for eating and sleeping and, if your schedule allows for it, block in an
hour each for lunch and dinner, and a half hour for breakfast. After 10pm, unless you are a
night owl who peaks in productivity at night, avoid trying to work late because you likely won’t
be very productive. Block that time off for a break or sleeping, depending on your sleep

Now, you’ll probably notice that even if you don’t have the entire day open, you’ve got an hour
here and an hour there. Go to your to-do list for the day (or days, if you would like to work on
your schedule in advance) and block your tasks into the spare hours. If you find you run out of
hours, then you’ll need to prioritize which things are going to get done today. The rest simply
will have to wait until tomorrow, or something else must give (like outside of school
commitments, personal projects, etc.).

Get dressed for your day

The thought of getting dressed into something presentable, even on a regular morning before
the world came crashing down around us, already seemed like a drag. But now, more than ever,
it’s important to try to maintain some normalcy. Getting dressed in the morning will help your
body register that it is time to be productive, and no longer time for sleep. I’m not saying you
should be red carpet ready – simply comfy clothes instead of pajamas will suffice.

Personal care

Try starting the day with a shower and see if that helps you wake up and feel prepared to start
a new day. Keep up self-care practices that you normally would, or maybe try something else
that makes you happy and feel refreshed (like face masks, or baths for example). Keeping up
personal hygiene is a must because you will feel 100% better and more motivated to seize the

Another thing to do is stay hydrated – it’s easy to go 2, 3, or 4 hours while studying without remembering to pour yourself a glass of water, especially if you’re typically a refillable water-
bottle enthusiast like myself. The first couple days of isolation I realized that I had barely been drinking anything, because I was so used to bringing my water bottle with me everywhere while
I was out and about and had forgotten to do the same at home! If you need some extra
reminders, Aloe bud and Drink Water Reminder are both apps that can help you keep hydrated.


Get moving. Even if it is going up and down the stairs twice instead of once, or doing jumping
jacks every time you stand up. Go on frequent walks, making sure to maintain physical distance
between yourself and others. Download an app to track how many steps you’ve done in a day
and try to beat it the next day. My personal favorites are Strava, and Fitbit if you have one.
Challenge your friends to see who can walk the most in a month. Do what you can to get some
fresh air and your blood flowing – walks, runs, bike rides, and in-home exercises are all good
ideas. There are plenty of online resources for ideas, and tips on how to stay motivated.

Sleep schedule

A lot of people no longer have that 8am lecture or morning commitment that they attend to.
I’m sure to most of you it seems pointless to have a sleep schedule when you have nowhere to
be. Maintaining a decent sleep schedule right now is likely the last of you concerns, but it
should be, because it will positively impact both your productivity and your mental health.
I’m not saying you should wake up by 8:00 am every day. I’m not even saying you should wake
up by 11:00 am every day. Everyone is different and has different things to do, places to be
(virtually, of course), and bodies that require different amounts of sleep at different times.

We’re all different. But I recommend you find the day of the week where you need to wake up
the earliest. Let’s say Wednesday you have a 10:00 am online lecture. Plan to wake up by
9:30am every day. EVERY DAY. Including Saturday and Sunday. This will not only improve your
productivity, because your body will have a schedule, but predictability in your time blocking!
If you don’t know when you’re going to wake up, how do you know when you’ll be awake
enough to do something? Get your body in a rhythm, and after a couple weeks it will feel
natural again.

Location, location, location

Ironically, in a setting where you are stuck in one place, this saying is applicable. Break your
time down into 3 main location categories.

Location 1: Your sleeping area. Do not work in your bed. Your sleeping rhythm will get messed
up and you won’t be as productive.
Location 2: Your eating area. It is a good idea to eat in a separate area, possibly with other
individuals you are quarantining with (if applicable) for some social interaction.
Location 3: Your working area. Set up on a table or desk, with a supportive chair if possible. Try
to maintain good posture and take breaks to stretch every half hour or so. Ideally, you should
be able to keep your books and all your work to this one area. Keep it organized so that you can
get to everything easily. Make sure you’ve got water on hand and are staying hydrated while
you work.

Important note: NEVER have your phone at your working area. Leave it in your break/free time
area, unless absolutely needed. If needed while working, use it only for that purpose, then
place it back in the break area when you’re done with it. If you’re feeling like you need a break,
this will force you to remove yourself from the working area. Not only will this give you an
actual physical break from what you were working on, changing location will help distinguish
between which areas are for being productive and which are for checking your phone.

Location 4: Your break/free time area(s). This can be in front of a TV (not on your bed!).
Studies also say this can mess up your sleeping rhythm. Consider finding a place to do some art
or other hobbies (also a good idea to pick one of these up!), ideally different from your sleeping
and work areas.

Some people don’t have the luxury of having 4 different rooms in a home where they can do all
these different things. That is ok! You can do it all in one or two rooms. For example: bed for
sleeping. Table or desk set up for work. Kitchen/other room for eating, couch or other area for
break/free time.

Trust me, I’m no stranger to location blocking in small spaces. My apartment this past year was
essentially one large room. I didn’t even have a kitchen table. I had a counter for eating, bed for
sleeping, couch/sometimes counter for break and relaxing, and a desk for working. All in 300
sq. ft., with a high energy puppy as a roommate. It can be done! Believe it and achieve it.

Do daily course check-ins

It can be difficult getting updates about all your courses. With different professors using
different software, updates anywhere from 8:00 am to 2:00 am, and messages on various
platforms that might not even be relevant 24 hours from now, it can get overwhelming.
Something I’ve discovered that helps me, is going through and finding all the updates I can for
each individual course, and writing them down on a piece of paper, with my class notes for that
day. Do it consistently every morning. Go course by course. Check your email, D2L or other
main classroom software, and additional software that your professors may be using like
Mastering. Check every possible place for updates, write them all down, and move on to the
next course. When you’re through all your courses, you’ll have a good list of all the new
information provided that day, making it feel less overwhelming, and keeping things organized.
If there are any conflicting pieces of information (two different due dates for the same
assignment, for example) then be sure to email your professor to clarify.

Use the information gathered to add to or adjust you to-do lists, and/or time blocking.

Talk to people

Social distancing doesn’t actually mean that you have to socially distance yourself from
people. Physical distancing is a must, but human interaction, even if virtual, is also
recommended. Make sure to talk to people throughout the day, whether it is work-related, a
friend, family member, or group members for an assignment. Some top rated video chat apps
are Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype.

Take time for the things you love

In your time blocking, make sure to allot some time here and there to do things that you enjoy.
Whether this is scrolling through Instagram, watching TV, doing a hobby or walking your dog, it
is important to keep doing the things that you love. They will help keep you sane during this
difficult time!

Looking to pick up a new hobby, or find ideas for an old one? Pinterest is an amazing site for all
things hobbies.

I hope that these tips helped you think about how you’re going to structure tomorrow – we’re
all in this together and we can all get out of this together if we maintain positivity and stay
healthy. Take care of yourself and stay safe, and remember, you can survive the switch to