EastBay Today

Posted April 13, 2020

How to Successfully Work, Study Online

Cal State East Bay professor shares tips to maximize brain power, minimize distraction

Times are changing. During this unprecedented time, students, faculty and staff may find themselves home alone or under a shelter-in-place order with a roommate or entire family.

Neuroscientist and Cal State East Bay Associate Professor Pradeep Ramanathan recently shared tips with East Bay Today about maximizing brain power, minimizing distraction, and studying and working effectively while stuck at home, whatever the situation.

Do an inventory of your current challenges — study-related and personal. Don’t wing it. Actually sit down and make a list of all the ways COVID-19 impacted your ability to study. What are the pitfalls of online learning? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Next, develop strategies for each challenge, whether it includes finding funding for better internet connectivity, time for meditation, or allotting time to study when there are fewer distractions.

“Students may not realize just how much they are affected by some things not directly about them. For example, if a student’s parent has been assigned to work in a context that places them at greater risk of exposure to the virus, this can cause stress and anxiety in the student. So, it’s about being aware of those things and then deciding what to do about it.”

Take care of yourself first —This may sound simple, but sheltering in place can make it difficult to get sufficient sound sleep, eat well (not just packaged foods), and exercise. Your brain needs sound sleep, healthy foods, movement and sunshine.

“Just 5–10 minutes of walking outside every hour or two can refresh and reset the brain for more learning.”

Carve out a study space — Although you may be competing for space with others in your household, get creative in marking out an area you can use to study or work. Let others know when you will be in an online class, studying or working. This will allow you quiet time to focus and hopefully ensure that you are not disturbed.

Find a schedule that works for you right now — There’s nothing routine about the time we are living in, but it’s important to set and stick to a schedule. It’s something we can control, not to mention the structure might help curb some anxiety. For items you can’t control (for example, an online exam or meeting scheduled at a specific time), work with those sharing your space to ensure a distraction-free experience.

Combat Zoom fatigue — While online classes and meetings allow for connection and eliminate the need to commute, these virtual meet-ups are also energy zappers. Video conferencing can place additional burdens and challenges to our attention. Our brains are working to take in not only what people are saying, but also to ignore distractors, such as what’s in the background, what we look like on video, etc. And we don’t benefit from seeing the usual subtle cues (body language, gestures, etc.) so our brains have to work harder to fill in the gaps. 

“Work to build in breaks between Zoom classes or meetings — get up and stretch or take a quick 5-minute walk in the sun.” 

Also, think about whether it’s essential to have a video conference. Would a phone call suffice?

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