Academic Success During Isolation 

With campus closures and classes staying online, it can be hard to transition from the structured schedule of classes and other activities to large blocks of free time. Here are some of our tips for managing writing assignments while you’re home all day. We encourage you to mix and match techniques to suit your needs! 

Tip 1: Create a Schedule  

Planner and writing materialsHow It Works  

  • Dedicate certain times of certain days to each of your courses, and set goals for what you want to accomplish during each time. During the reserved time, try to only work on that course. 
  • Create a dedicated study space (that hopefully isn’t your bed). When you go to that study space, only do work there. If you want a break, physically step away. 
  • Hint: Remember to schedule time for household chores, spending time with friends and family, self-care, and other non-school activities!  

Works Well For… 

  • Someone who enjoys routine.  
  • Replicating the familiarity of having a routine schedule, like you do when classes are running normally. 

Some Drawbacks... 

  • It doesn’t allow for much flexibility. 
  • You may have to adjust your schedule if it isn’t working for you after a few trial days—but that is totally okay! 
  • You have to know what’s on your plate and be able to schedule time appropriately, which is where our next tip comes in.  

Tip 2: One Step at a Time 

Person climbing a staircase between escalatorsHow It Works 

  • Start by looking at your assignment and ensuring you understand all of the components. Write down all the major parts of the assignment if they aren’t broken down in the instructions.  
  • Hint: If you’re struggling to understand an assignment, talk to your instructor or TA, use this WCC resource on understanding assignments, or book an online session with a Writing and Communication Centre tutor!  
  • Break down each assignment part into even smaller steps— as small as you want. Breaking it down like this will make each step more manageable and achievable. Here are some sample breakdowns: 
    • Find research, take notes, make an outline, write a draft (larger steps). 
    • Introduction: Write hook, write context/background, write roadmap, and include thesis statement (tiny steps). 
  • Assign yourself a deadline for each step of the assignment. If you planned out bigger steps, you might plan to complete one or two per day. Smaller steps might take you an hour or two each. For help with breaking down your assignment into smaller deadlines, try out the library’s assignment planner
  • Reward yourself after completing each step. Snacks, cute animal pictures, online gatherings with friends, that next episode of Tiger King, and time for hobbies all make excellent prizes! 

Works Well For… 

  • Managing large amounts of work, especially lots of different projects and deadlines. 
  • Creating manageable deadlines for schoolwork while also fitting in other life activities.  

Some Drawbacks…  

  • Having strict deadlines can feel stifling to some people and can create extra pressure.  
  • Planning out how to complete an assignment takes time, too, and it can turn into procrastination. If you find yourself delaying your actual work, try our next tip. 

Tip 3: Bite-Sized Pieces of Time with the Pomodoro Technique  

Red and white metal gauge with arrows pointing to 48 and 4

How It Works 

  • With the Pomodoro technique, you work for a set amount of time, usually 25 minutes, then take a break for a set amount of time, usually 5 minutes.  
  • After four work sessions, called Pomodoros or even “Poms,” you take a longer break of 25 to 30 minutes.  
  • You can always adjust how long the timer runs. Try different time lengths if you’re finding the 25/5 ratio doesn’t work for you! 
  • To help you time and track your progress, you can use one of the many Pomodoro websites and apps, like this one

Works Well For... 

  • Managing writer’s block or stress about starting assignments.  
  • Making sure you take adequate breaks for self-care and destressing.  
  • Allowing you to focus on one specific task at a time, without getting distracted or trying to multitask.  

Some Drawbacks…  

  • It might be difficult to motivate yourself to commit to the technique. Using prizes will help you get started. And eventually you’ll get so used to working this way that you won’t question whether it works! 
  • You may find yourself “in the zone” during one of your writing sessions and not want to take a break—which is totally okay! Adapt the timing to work best for you. Just be sure to fit a break in a bit later, instead.   
  • It may be hard to remain focused during your Pomodoros if there are interruptions in your environment. Try reducing external distractions by: 
  • Keeping your phone outside your study space. 
  • Telling the people you live with when you plan on studying and need quiet time. 
  • Using apps like Self Control (for Mac) or Cold Turkey (for Windows and Mac) that block you from using distracting websites during your Pomodoros!   

Tip 4: Studying with Others  

person using a macbook pro

How It Works 

  • Talk to your friends about your assignments and tasks. Share academic goals and keep each other accountable. 
  • Arrange study sessions with friends through Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or another program for solidarity and accountability while writing. 
  • With your instructor’s permission, consider doing a peer review session with a classmate on your writing and communication assignments. Check out this resource for more information on a successful peer review! 
  • Join some of the Writing and Communication Centre’s peer tutors for live Q&As on Instagram and live write-in sessions (with Pomodoros!) on YouTube.  

Works Well For… 

  • Reducing the feelings of loneliness that come along with physical distancing and online classes. 
  • People who are used to doing study sessions and lectures with friends on campus.  
  • Confirming your understanding of assignment expectations with peers. 

Some Drawbacks 

  • You might find yourself getting off track or not feeling super productive while working with friends. Try using the Pomodoro technique together, using the Poms to write and the breaks to socialize!  
  • It requires higher internet or data caps to video call, so those methods may not be accessible for everyone. Consider using an online chat room or talking over the phone if that is a concern for you.  

Tip 5: Use Academic Resources 

The Writing and Communication Centre's WCOnline website homepage

Take advantage of these additional resources available to you. 

  • The Writing and Communication Centre is open for virtual appointments and drop-ins! We can help you with any stage of the writing process and any kind of writing or communication assignment. 

  • Email your professors, TAs, or peers for clarification about assignment instructions. 

  • The library staff is still available online to chat about any questions you may have about citations and research. 

  • Use these writing resources for topics ranging from starting your assignment to citations and grammar. 

Tip 6: Self-Care 

Close up image of pencils and artwork

It’s a stressful time right now. With an unanticipated switch to online classes for the spring, changes to our lifestyles, unexpected moves, and general anxieties around COVID-19, it’s just as important to take care of your mental health as your physical health. Here are some ways you can take care of yourselves and others during this time: 

  • If studying with friends isn’t your thing, try to connect purely for some fun and relaxation. Playing games online or just talking after a long day is a great way to care for yourself and others.   
  • If you can, open a window. The fresh air can help you feel rejuvenated. 
  • Pick up a hobby to do in your spare time. It can be refreshing to create or do things without a deadline. 
  • Do some light stretches like these. If you’re hunched over the whole time you’re working, stretching can help relieve aches and pains. 
  • Choose a specific time to check the news about COVID-19. There will always be updates and it’s important to stay informed, but continuously fixating on it can be exhausting. 
  • Remember that this wild pandemic time will pass, so do the best you can in the meantime! 

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