May 19, 2020
Sometimes it can be hard to be motivated to do your schoolwork even in normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances! The switch to remote learning caused by COVID-19 has been unsettling and making most of us feeling a little challenged in engaging with our study and work.

We are operating with much less structure in our lives than usual, our habits have been disrupted, we have had less contact with others than you normally would, and remote classes are different from classes that involved face-to-face learning – all of this can make it very hard to stay motivated!

While it is a challenge, there are some steps that you can take that could maximize your motivation and productivity when you are at home in your continuous learning programs. Gaining some motivation can also help to prevent procrastination.

1. Change your thinking!

  • Figure out why it is important to get this done and develop intrinsic motivation
See the bigger picture behind what you are doing and studying, and think about what you’re doing and its long-term impact. How does this project/assignment/test connect with your goals, skills learnt, and what you’d like to do in the future? Think about what you will gain from learning this topic. Are you fascinated or curious about a specific topic? Write down the reasons why you want to get this done.
  • Identify roadblocks.
What are the things that are keeping you from working on what you need to do? Can you identify the issue or remove it, or find ways to solve it? i.e., you could be thinking about “I haven’t seen my friends for so long, it’s more important to talk to them when I have time rather than getting on with my assignments”. Instead, try checking how much time you have left to complete this assignment, and prioritise what you need to get done first, given the due date is tomorrow.
  • Develop rational and positive self-statements.
Do you have excuses like “I am not in the mood right now”? How we can frame it into more realistic thoughts like “I might not be able to get it done if I am waiting for the right mood, so maybe I better just get started now since I have time.” Therefore, finding out what our common excuses are, and giving more realistic thoughts to these excuses might set us up to get things started better.

Incorporate some good “self-motivating statements” and list them out in front of your study desk like:
  • “The sooner I get it done, the sooner I can talk to my friends or relax!”
  • “It’s easier and less stressful if I do it now rather than wait until it gets worse or I run out of time!”.

2. Make things more manageable and easier.

  • Set up the environment that creates a working mode.
Think about your study area; are there a lot of books and things around that might be messy and make it difficult for you to focus? What is the lighting like around your study area? Is it good lighting (not too bright nor dark) that could assist with looking at the screen and books for a period of time? Is your seat comfortable for you to sit for sustained periods of time?
  • Remove roadblocks and minimize distractions.
Our ability to resist temptation diminishes each time we are faced with another temptation, so try to set up your surroundings with less temptation. Identify what your temptations/distractions are. If it is your phone, turn your notifications off and have phone screen face down, or put it in another area that is harder to reach while you want to work. If you often like to go to get cups of tea and a snack before you start studying, have tea and snack ready next to your desk.
  • Break tasks into smaller chunks.
It’s easier to see the assignments as a series of small steps, and envisioning the first step makes it easier to get started. This also makes tasks more manageable. Estimate roughly how long each step might take.
  • Use visual timetables and “To Do” lists.
It is useful to use a weekly visual timetable, and start with blocking out times that you are not available so you can see when and how long you have available to work on tasks (see below additional resource of a visual timetable example). This includes family dinner time, shower time, or ‘online co-curriculum’ tasks.

Note down all the due dates for upcoming assignments, tests and homework so you are clear how many days you have left for the tasks to get done. After you have broken each task down into smaller manageable chunks, slot them into your timetable of the time you have available each day, so you can clearly see what you need “to do” for each day to finish the tasks before their due dates.
  • Set goals
When setting your goals, it is not as helpful to set generic, vague goals. Try setting specific goals, particularly goals that relate to efforts or in relation to completion of certain tasks. Goals such as “spending the 11/2 hour after shower revising my notes on upcoming Maths Methods test”, “Research and read those articles on history assignment tonight after dinner”, or “Start on 3 paragraphs on my book review”.

3. Get started

  • Start small and tick off your “To Do” list.
When tasks are broken down into smaller steps with a specific time to complete, it is less overwhelming to get started and you can see the progress as you complete each step. Tick your “to do” list off as you go which will help you feel a sense of achievement.
  • Use a timer.
Utilise a timer and set a specific amount of time (30 minutes, 40 minutes), and work on a goal until the timer goes off. You can use some apps, such as Flora app to help keeping you focus. Afterwards, you can reward yourself with a small break to grab a cup of tea, or check your phone for messages.
  • Start easy or start hard?
Sometimes starting with the small easy tasks helps you gain momentum and feel accomplished which can lead to further productivity. On the other hand, some people might prefer to get the biggest and hardest task out of the way early, which makes the rest of the tasks seem easier. See which one works better for you.

4. Create Rewards

  • Find a partner or create your own support network.
Find someone who has similar goals that will motivate you and get you started. Create your own support network that might include your friends, family members, or even a teacher you are comfortable with. Share your goals to your network of people who can keep you accountable, which might help to push you to work harder to stick to your anti-procrastination goals.
  • Reward yourself.
Self-reinforcement has a powerful effect on developing a “do it now” attitude. Doesn’t matter if it is an internal reward, such as telling yourself what good work you’ve achieved, or external reward, get yourself a treat when XYZ is completed. Celebrate, pat yourself on the back, smile, and let yourself enjoy the completion of even the smallest tasks. Don’t minimize your accomplishment. Remember, you are already that much closer to finishing those things that need to be done. You can list your own reward list that helps you get motivated.
  • Create (healthy) competition.
For some people, creating some healthy competition (with yourself or others) can give you a desire to “win” and may get you started if others don’t, i.e, I normally get 65% for my science, see if I could aim for 68% or more this time.
  • Measure your progress.
Track what you’ve accomplished so you can see your progress and results. Ticking and checking things off your list can help motivate you to get more done. Celebrating your accomplishments will increase your motivation to do more in the future.

5. Finally, be flexible and patient with yourself.

This is an unprecedented crisis, and we are all scrambling to make it work. No one expected to spend these months at home and learning online. Developing a new habit will take time and willpower, and some days just won’t go as planned – and that’s alright.

Forgive yourself for when you skipped some tasks or postponed reading a chapter, there is tomorrow to restart again. Meanwhile, also remember to set aside some fun or down time in your schedule and day, so that you don’t have to feel like you are always working, such as a Netflix show or ice cream!

Written by the MLC Counselling Team

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