For more than a decade Apex Process Consultants has worked to help businesses automate and modernize their processes. But in light of the current turmoil caused by the Covid19 pandemic, we needed to find out how to change our own processes to help address the challenges we're all facing.  In particular, many of us are now responsible for helping family members adjust to an online learning environment. To help understand the best practices for this new world, we turned to the experts: Our kids.
Today's blog post is brought to you by Lyn Tran. Lyn is a dual-enrolled sophomore Student Leader at the Early College Alliance @ Eastern Michigan University (ECA@EMU).  She spends her weekends and summers participating in the Wolverine Pathways enrichment program at the University of Michigan.  In addition to being a Teaching Assistant at the U of M Math Corps last summer, she participated in the MSP - Michigan Youth Leadership Academy (2018 MiYLA) in Lansing.  On her spare time, she swims and dives for the Ypsilanti Lady Grizzlies high school Varsity Team.  Lyn gives back to the community by volunteering  regular at the local elementary school and VA hospital in Ann Arbor.

Education at Home

Unless you’re taking a full online schedule, not many students are at home all day in the fall and winter— at least, not many before this year. 2020 has been a crazy maze of twists and turns, with many events (both great and not-so-great) that have taken place. Many students have had to upend their lives and work remotely in online classes. This can quite easily become a toxic situation mentally, physically, or emotionally.

Personally, I went from a full college schedule and walking around on-campus to being on my laptop 24/7 and video-conferencing with my professors. I can relate to this overwhelming situation that most of you are in. In these stressful times, it can be hard to adapt to all of the changes happening now. Sticking to these 7 steps can boost productivity and ease into the chaos right now.


Set a schedule and a to-do list


Setting a schedule and making goals can help you get things done more efficiently. Creating a simple to-do list at the beginning of one's day can serve as both a reminder to stay on-task and a rewards system. Being able to look back on my checklist at the end of the day and seeing all of the crossed-out tasks elicits a sense of pride and accomplishment, especially if I get everything done early. For each task, create a small reward for finishing it, like a couple of minutes on Instagram (with a timer), or a few minutes of yoga and stretching. This can help break up your to-do list into simple tasks that are easier to accomplish, rather than one complex web of instruction. Just remember: the most important part of setting up a to-do list is writing it down. You identify all of the work you have to get done by being constantly reminded of the tasks you need.

Creating a schedule at the beginning of the week can help you use your time efficiently. Having a set time for tasks and classes is important for maintaining your productivity. Setting a schedule can allow you to accomplish tasks while keeping in mind what others are doing, especially if you’re sharing your space with others.  If needed, create events and reminders online in your calendar to notify you of meetings, virtual classes, and deliverable due times.


Keep your routines


It can be quite easy to lie around in pajamas all day, but that can actually hurt your overall performance when working at home. In order to maximize productivity, it’s crucial to keep to routines. Keeping your routines reminds your brain that you are still in school, not on vacation or break.

Have a consistent wake-up time and sleep time
This allows you to get a consistent amount of sleep (even better if you’re getting 8-10 hours a night)

Get dressed in the morning
Getting dressed in the morning eliminates that feeling of laziness by training your brain that it’s go-time. It starts your day out efficiently, so you can continue in a productive manner.

Eat your meals at regular times
Instead of snacking every hour and skipping regular meals, take breaks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to cook up a meal. This breaks up the monotony of working at home and allows you to get the proper nutrition you need.

Maintain your daily morning and nightly routines
Maintaining your morning and night routines allows you to train your brain that it’s time to wake up and study, or go to bed and step out of work-mode.


Take breaks


In school, you’ve got plenty of break times (though it might not always seem like it). You have five to ten minutes of passing time to get from class-to-class, lunch breaks, and sometimes even scheduled breaks in-class. If you’re in college, you might have minutes between classes, or hours. When you’re taking online classes, there aren’t any structured break times unless you plan them out first.

While it is important to get all your work done for the day, it is equally important to keep your mental health awareness. Taking breaks is vital to keeping up with work. It can be quite easy to slip into work-focus mode and try to get everything done all at once, but taking breaks can renew that energy and allow you to work more efficiently.

Just make sure that your intermissions are small and spread out over the course of the day, instead of that five-hour lunch break you so desperately want. It’s great to have many small lulls in studying to renew energy, but not too many, as it can interrupt your work-flow and minimize productivity. Don't let your intermissions become disruptions.


Communicate


Being online makes it easier to isolate yourself. While that’s a good thing to stop Covid-19 from spreading, it can cause you to be harder on yourself than needed. Just because we’re all practicing social distancing, doesn’t mean that we have to completely isolate ourselves for those that want to help.

Connect with supporters
Having people that will collaborate on large projects, study groups, or problems you face can increase your chances of success. Find those that are willing to study with you, back you up, and collaborate.

Accountability Partners
Find people that you can count on to keep you on-track and remind you to finish your work. (Absolutely essential if you get really distracted like me.)

Advocate
Being able to communicate your needs can determine your success in online classes. Email and other online platforms used for class (like Google Meet, Canvas, Zoom, Adobe Connect, etc) are essential. Being able to tell your instructors that the platform isn’t working, or the notifications aren't sending can save you grade.


Workspaces

Creating a workspace that promotes productivity can boost your capacity to do work. Having a cluttered workspace can in turn make you feel more overwhelmed, anxious, and a whole party of other emotions. Take the time you’d previously used for breaks and utilize it to organize your studyspace:

  • Clear your space and remove distractions like electronics, games, YouTube and Netflix
  • Gather study materials -- textbooks, stationery, writing utensils. Clean your space, especially if you haven’t used it in a while (dust does not promote productivity, FYI.)
  • Declutter your space, especially if it has become a breeding ground for all the stuff you don’t use (like that drawing you never finished, or that late homework from forever ago… ).
  • Be deliberate in choosing a space to work in. If you designate the living room couch as your workspace, it is hard to maximize productivity and minimize distractions (as well as potentially falling asleep).

!! Do not work in your bed !!

This goes along with keeping a routine. Working in your bed can be less productive than working at a desk, or the dining room table. Similar to working on the couch, being in bed can signal to your brain that it’s time to relax and fall asleep (like at night). This causes drowsiness and minimizes productivity. It’s better to work at a desk because your brain associates that with work and tasks, rather than laziness and procrastination (especially when waking up).

Minimize distractions


Minimizing distractions is important to being able to finish your work. In order to be productive, distractions have to be put away (yes, that includes Netflix). Be aware of all auditory, visual, and physical distractions.

Auditory
If you have to have background noise to be able to work, it is highly suggested to listen to instrumental music, sounds, or music without words. Listening to music with words (even if you don’t know the lyrics) can cause you to lose focus on the work at hand.

If you live in a busy environment with sounds that cannot be controlled (like loud neighbors) try putting on a white noise or downloadable background sounds, such as soothing rain noises, or beach waves.

Create a study playlist with your favorite non-lyric music and instrumentals. You can also find a profuse amount of auditory sounds (#ASMR) readily available, with many not needing to be downloaded.

When reading information with large amounts of text (like this!!) you should read aloud multiple times for better understanding. Sometimes, our brains can miss information right in front of our eyes. I personally find myself spacing out when faced with lots of reading assignments, so reading aloud helps me focus more.
Don’t jump around and skip sections when reading. You’ll find yourself (more than once) coming back to the paragraph you skipped because it had important information needed to understand the rest of the section. You can miss crucial information needed for an exam or assignment if you can't maintain focus.

Visual
Reduce or split up the times you have to use screens. The blue light from your laptops, tablets, and phones can damage your eyes if you’re on it for too long (yes, even with those fancy bluelight filters). It is best to reduce the amount of time (especially at night or in dark rooms) that you’re on technology. If at all possible, open a window and allow the natural light from outside to filter in and illuminate your workspace.

Using a visual display (whiteboard, checklist, post-its, calendars) can help when paired with a to-do list to keep you focused.

Physical
Physically putting your games and TV into a different room, or setting app timers for your phone can help you stay on task more. Instead of having that one movie taunting you while you work, you can be completely focused on your assignments with all your physical distractions in another room.
It is also highly recommended to put your phone in a different room when you’re sleeping. Having your phone in your bedroom can cause many interruptions when trying to sleep (notifications can be loud in a silent room, even vibrations!)


Self-care


Self-care is important to creating a productive work environment. Never underestimate the power of a good meditation!

Sleep 8-10 hours a night
It is important to get enough sleep. Numerous studies have concluded that the growing teenager and young adult from ages 13-25 need at least eight to ten hours of sleep. Any less than six hours a night can be classified as chronic sleep deprivation, which can lead to a lethargic feeling and drowsiness throughout the day. This reduces our ability to think cognitively and impairs our reaction time.

Nutrition and hydration
Just as sleeping is important, drinking enough water and eating enough calories is crucial too. Both your brain and your body need fuel to function, and eating health foods is the best way to give them nutrition (no, a Starbucks triple-shot does not count as “healthy fuel”).
Eating too many carbs can impair our ability to problem-solve and think through things.
Eating too many sugars can induce both a sugar-high (you’re full of hyper energy with very little ways to expel it) and a sugar-crash (you’re left feeling very tired and out of energy from the sugar-high that came before it.)
Eating too many unhealthy fats can induce a lethargic feeling (aka “food-comas”) which greatly reduces the amount of work we can accomplish.

Move around often
Get your blood to flow— do some quick exercises (the horror (ಥ﹏ಥ)) or take a quick walk around the house. Being hunched over a laptop or scrunched over paperwork is bad for your posture and if consistent over long periods of time, it can cause back and bone problems later on in life (your parents can attest to that).
When you take a break, try to enjoy nature as well. Being outside and soaking up some Vitamin D can do wonders for your mental health. Remember to enjoy the small things in life too.

Maintain a positive mentality
It’s very easy to fall into a slump and feel discouraged about many things going wrong right now, but it is more important than ever to keep that growth mindset and be open to new possibilities. Three months ago I didn’t think I would be having a full online schedule for the remainder of the semester, but look where we are now. Things can change very rapidly, and it is important to be flexible and adaptable.
Try to replace your negative thoughts with reassuring messages. Having a positive attitude about your situation can help make it that much better.


Now, I know you’ve probably heard of at least a few of these tips in various other websites, or maybe from your school administrators, but these are important points being made. So many people forget that self-care, or workspace habits are important for maximizing their productivity when they get caught up in their work.



Other resources to learn from
setting schedules and to-do lists
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/smarter-living/how-to-work-from-home-if-youve-never-done-it-before.html
keeping your routines
https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/340617
taking breaks
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/changepower/201704/how-do-work-breaks-help-your-brain-5-surprising-answers
communication
https://explore.easyprojects.net/blog/5-ways-workplace-communication-effectiveness-can-increase-productivity
workspace habits
https://habitaction.com/10-signs-happy-workspace/
minimizing distractions
https://www.americanexpress.com/en-us/business/trends-and-insights/articles/increase-your-focus-reduce-distractions-tips/
self-care
https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-needs-get-the-sleep-you-need.htm