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You’ve got it made. You’re still in your PJs and the commute to school only involves propping up a pillow. Want a get a sandwich? Need to yawn loudly (or perform other bodily functions)? Go ahead. Online classes are freeing — and you have all the time in the world to get your work done. So, why are you struggling to keep up? For most of us, school has always meant a structured and regimented environment, and without that scaffolding, the house of cards can threaten to fall down pretty hard if you don’t have an effective time management strategy.

With that in mind, here are seven tips to keep you on the straight and narrow when it comes to your online class work.

  1. Scour your syllabi.
    Just like on-campus students (should) do — pore over the syllabus for each class. Knowing when the tougher assignments are due is even more important for the online student. Get a LARGE calendar and mark off the days. Put different classes in different color ink. Even if you usually aren’t an organization freak, make this a priority. Have countdowns to research papers or exams (Two weeks out, one week out, etc.). You have to be the one to make sure because no one else will.
  2. Make a study schedule and KEEP it.
    One of the benefits of online education is you can work anytime… but you still seem to be cramming at the last minute! What can you do about it? Make a study schedule. To do this, first look at the events coming up during the semester that are definitely going to conflict (plans for your Grandad’s 85th birthday, your Lasik surgery appointment) and jot these down on your huge calendar. Then create a study schedule and stick to it as if your life depended on it — and indeed, your academic life might. If you can, study in the evenings as studies show it is better for retention. Also, try to schedule sessions in shorter blocks with breaks in between — long suffering hours might lead to less productivity and falling off the study wagon.
  3. To Sir, with love.
    Don’t be hesitant to ask for help because you haven’t met your professor face-to-face. You’ve paid for the privilege of a knowledgeable teacher, and just because he or she is disembodied does not mean you have less of an investment. It is an absolute certainty that your professor will make time, and be able to explain issues that are concerning you regarding the material. Don’t stay in the dark just because you are shut up at home.
  4. Don’t be a stranger.
    Try to make connections with your peers. By joining in online (or ideally in-person) conversations with others in your classes, you may find ways to crowd-source your studying, just like they do on campus when meeting up together at the library. Make a virtual study room and use sharable documents for collective study time. You might even make a friend or two. Remember: part of school is networking, too.
  5. Set up a separate learning area (and take a shower).
    Ray Bradbury used to write in a room filled with odds and ends so when he was blocked he could just write about something weird he spotted. But Ray was writing about Mars and not taking an Econ exam. Treat your studies with more focus. That means having an established study area dedicated to your schoolwork and only your schoolwork. Clear off a desk and make it a sacred space — no trash, no TV in the background, and (try) no social media or other distractions. It makes ergonomic sense to sleep in a bed… but you should study in a chair. If you are too comfortable, it leads to lackadaisical focus.Oh, and personal hygiene is important — it just makes you feel more prepared to work. Your education is like a job. Study like someone IS watching.
  6. Don’t go all agoraphobic.
    For some of us, there can be a temptation to cloister like a Trappist monk when working online. To combat this, join meet-up groups or intramural sports (exercise is important too). Make sure you are out with real people every once in a while. You’ll burn out if you don’t spend some time in the fresh air (my wife calls it getting “googley” when I put in days and days at the computer). Vitamin D is key! If you have some reading due, take it to the local coffee shop.
  7. Get a laptop.
    Did you save some money by taking online classes? Invest it in a nice laptop. Online schools often have strict technical requirements so investigate these first. They may require a computer upgrade for you anyway. And with a laptop, you will be able to check in on classes from anywhere — something that might save your life one day.

With these tips in mind, your path to a successful online degree can start today. Throw off the covers, because it’s time to shop for that massive calendar.