Tips for Staying Motivated Through Online Classes

Nathan Wilgeroth / Colleges of Distinction »

Remember when we all thought that we were going to quarantine for two weeks and then get on with the rest of our lives? When we were all convinced that, as privileged Americans, we only had to be marginally aware of COVID-19 like we had been during things like the ebola and swine flu outbreaks?

We were so young. So innocent.

And now, after a year of online or otherwise socially distant classes, it’s no wonder why you may be feeling a bit burnt out. So how can you stay motivated? Even if you’re a senior who has already gotten into college, it’s still crucial for you to stay on top of things and make it through the rest of the year. So grab yourself some coffee, relax your jaw, and read on for some simple ways to help you stay motivated through the rest of the year.

1. Get Your To-Do Lists in Order

During this Zoom limbo we’re living in, you probably found that the days have melted together, and all the assignments you have to do have turned into one large, insurmountable blur. That’s why it is helpful, now more than ever, to create a clear to-do list with specific tasks. Whether your tasks are small and precise or more broad, it’s best to have some sense of organization so that you know what all needs to be done. 



You might find it more helpful to write you tasks down on paper, or maybe an app with reminders is better for you. Smartphone apps for productivity are plentiful, each formatted differently to fit different learning and organizational styles. 

2. Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals and Celebrate Incremental Successes

Setting clear goals and reward systems are key to success. Attainable goals, tracked progress, and even a little treat as a reward can dramatically improve your student experience and performance.

For this, you can set goals that are S.M.A.R.T.:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

The more specific your goal, the easier it will be to know when you have reached it. That way, you can measure your progress along the way and pace yourself so that you reach your goal by the time you want to reach it. Make sure these goals are realistic and attainable, leaving room to rest and maintain your physical and mental health outside of school. Your goals can be ambitious, so long as they are broken down into reasonably attainable parts. Chasing a goal that is too difficult will feel frustrating, and choosing one that is too simple will feel unsatisfying and boring. Complete big goals gradually, step-by-step until completion rather than all at once. This will also give you a clearer idea of how to manage your time and pace yourself so that you don’t end up with too much work right before your deadlines.



And every time you reach a goal, reward yourself with any little pleasure that’ll break up the drudgery. It could be an episode of your favorite show, a special snack you enjoy, or just some extra study breaks

3.  Don’t Let Failure Define Your Focus

Even if you struggle to check off items from your to-do list, you’re not going to get any more productive or motivated by beating yourself up. Do you ever feel ready to start afresh and get a whole bunch of work done after calling yourself names and punishing yourself for not doing your work on time? Absolutely not! No matter how many people chuckle about how this is the “new normal” (you know the tone of voice I’m talking about), things are still very abnormal! Even as schools revert to completely in-person classes, we’ve all lived through some trauma whose effects will last beyond everyone’s vaccination.

Have some compassion for yourself if you fall short on your goals. That doesn’t mean you have to surrender entirely to failure, but if you acknowledge the physical and mental barriers to your achievement, you will be less likely to convince yourself to create even more emotional hurdles. 

Don’t punish yourself into getting work done; instead, try to become what some people call a “nurturing disciplinarian” for yourself. This mindset will allow you to understand, without judgment, the reasons you might not be meeting your goals while also nudging yourself to keep trying. You don’t have to be a total optimist, nor do you have to be your own worst enemy. Even if things are difficult, you can still acknowledge the funk you’re in while gently moving yourself forward.


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4. Create a Routine

The most effective way to stay productive is to build a routine that makes productivity a habit. While you may have a rocky start at first, practicing a consistent schedule will train your brain to catch onto the rhythm. Prescribe certain times of the day for different activities, making sure to block out a time for when you are doing school work and nothing else. You won’t catch on naturally; our brains choose the path of least resistance, and so the uncomfortable, boring period in which you should be doing work might be the last thing you want to put yourself though. That said, the more you practice it, the more your habits will start to shift. Eventually, the period of time in which you’re supposed to work will end up being just that: a time for you to work.

5. Get Support

Though many of us are still socially distant, we are not alone. In fact, the middle of the semester is probably when most people are feeling fatigued. If you’re struggling to fulfill your tasks, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by both personal and academic stressors, there is so much value in asking for help. Find a buddy with whom you can keep each other accountable, speak to a counselor to sort out your emotions, and let your teachers be aware of how hard you’re trying to stay motivated. You’d be surprised by how many friends can relate to you and how many teachers will understand and cater to your needs. 

As you finish out the school year, always remember that there are steps you can take to make motivation come a little more easily to you. Keep working hard knowing that a brighter future is ahead of you!