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Adjusting to your Study-at-Home Routine

Friday, May 1, 2020
a male student looks between library stacks at a book

With final exams around the corner, Coates Library offers study tips and advice

by Alex Gallin-Parisi, Instruction Librarian and Associate Professor

Coates Library, our once bustling campus hub, now stands serenely on the north side of upper campus, with an empty parking lot abutting a much-quieter-than-usual Hildebrand Avenue. The librarians’ offices are dark now, too, because for the most part, we are in our homes just like you are. And just like you, we are making space amongst our families and cats and books and dressers and kitchen tables to bring our work home, continuing to stay productive in our support of students’ and faculty members’ work and research.

The librarians have heard from students that they miss the library, in part because coming to the physical library tells the brain that it’s time to work. So, how are you supposed to actually do your research or study at home during the pandemic? There are approximately ten million pieces of advice online right now to help you, and we know how overwhelming that feels. (We get overwhelmed too!) Here are my top eight recommendations for adjusting your research and study habits during COVID-19.

1. Get dressed and do a morning routine

It is strangely easy to forget to brush your teeth and get dressed in the morning. So let’s start easy here and control something you can control. Whether you are a shorts and t-shirt kind of person or a person who spends a lot of time on your hair, do what you need to do to be ready for the day. If you are a morning exerciser, throw that in. If you are a coffee person, drink that cup (or two). If you are a roll-out-of-bed-into-class person, do some variation on that. Wearing comfortable but non-pajama clothes is part of preparing yourself and your brain for a day’s work.

2. Set a schedule

As the situation unfolds, you may have fewer social commitments, group meetings, or work hours. Setting a schedule for yourself can help provide structure and keep you motivated. This is a unique time that requires unique planning, so using a template like this one or one you create yourself is important. Please remember to include time on your schedule or To Do list for exercise (even just stretching or walking) as well as self-care. 

A very productive friend of mine explained that there are two types of people when it comes to making schedules: “when-ers” and “what-ers.” My friend is a “when-er,” meaning she wants to create a calendar that details exactly when each step of each task will be done, so that she can hit those deadlines on time. I am a “what-er,” meaning I work better with a to-do list of what needs to be done and then work on my own timetable to accomplish all the steps. Think about whether you are a “when-er” or a “what-er” and what you can do to maximize your strengths.

3. Consider that you may need to adjust your usual strategies 

Everything is different now, and I would recommend reacting to that fact instead of trying to fit your old strategies into your new world. Both little and big things might feel different, and it is ok to try new things now. 

  • If you usually study in a coffee shop or library, ask yourself what kind of environment helps you study, and see if you can recreate that at home.
  • If you always study in groups, try a virtual or even phone-based study session with your group. Have an agenda for the meeting, since meetings that used to work informally in-person might not work as well electronically.
  • If you thrive on tight timelines, think about how working with others or setting up a schedule can recreate that for you. Make the stakes higher by checking in with others. 
  • Consider trying something new. Watch the Library’s Organizing Your Research video and pick up some ideas that will help you now as well as in the future. 

4. Avoid multitasking 

If you’re doing more work on your own and your time is less structured, you might be more tempted to multitask. However, research shows that only about 2 percent of the population can effectively multitask—so it is likely that you cannot. Instead, you’re switching between tasks very quickly (some call this “micro-tasking”). 

The downsides of microtasking:

  • Assignments take longer, because you have to spend time re-familiarizing.
  • You’re more likely to make mistakes due to distractions. 
  • You’ll remember less, because you’re less able to commit what you’re learning to long-term memory.

What to do instead:

  • Consider The Magic of Monotasking. Spoiler alert: You might not like it but it’ll probably help.
  • Consider the “pomodoro method to help you focus for 25- or 50-minute periods and then reward yourself with 5- or 10-minute breaks.

5. Ask a librarian!

While we are not in our offices in Coates Library, we are still here to help you navigate your research, find sources, compile literature reviews, help you find the full-text version, even help you get a chapter of a book scanned and sent directly to your inbox.

Schedule a research appointment, email us with questions, use the “help” bubble on the website, and even check out physical items.

6. Take breaks

An essential part of attending a liberal-arts residential university is learning things outside of the classroom. Try to make the most of this undefined amount of time at home by learning something new or practicing something you haven’t done for a while. It will likely make your research and study skills sharper by using your mind in different ways.

Try: exercise (walking counts!), checking in on people you care about, cleaning or organizing your home or computer, reading a book, learning how to cook, playing with siblings, learning how to do your taxes, talking with your older relatives or making a family tree, and supporting your local community through at-home volunteer opportunities.

7. Prove to your parents that you are more grown-up than they thought (even if you don’t feel like you are)

Think about it: you are back at home, living under your parents’ or guardians’ roof, not going to see friends whenever you want… It can start to feel like high school all over again. This is a great time to show your parents that you are becoming an adult. In addition to doing your own laundry, offering to help take care of siblings, or cleaning up around your home, you can do certain things that will not only show your parents that you are growing up, but will also ultimately help you with your coursework.

  • Set boundaries. Saying no to family and friends when you need to study will help you focus and will show that you are a responsible young adult who takes their schoolwork seriously.
  • Maintain sleep hygiene. It will help keep your mind sharp and your body healthy—and might really surprise your parents to see that you aren’t the high schooler who used to sleep until noon!
  • Manage your exposure to the news. Set some limits on your news exposure so that you are well-informed but not glued to your device.
  • Ask your parents/guardians how they are handling the crisis. You are becoming an adult, so show the other adults in your home that you care about their feelings too.

8. Be gentle to yourself (and your families)

If COVID-19 has disrupted your study-abroad plans, ended a lab experiment you were excited about, or for any reason feels like it came at the worst possible time, remember: this is temporary. You will find your way when it settles down. You’ll get back on track, and things will get back to normal, or at least a new normal. We don’t know when, but it will happen. Until then, take a deep breath, do your best, get some rest, and WASH YOUR HANDS.

Alex Gallin-Parisi is an Associate Professor and Instruction/Liaison Librarian at Trinity’s Elizabeth Huth Coates Library. 

References: Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan; Oberlin College’s Remote Student Engagement and Activities; University of Colorado Boulder Leeds School of Business’s Adjusting to Remote Learning During COVID-19; Trinity University Coates Library home page.

This article is part of a series aimed to help students, faculty, and staff manage distance learning, working, and living during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information and resources on Coates Library services and hours, visit