How do I stay motivated when learning remotely?

What should you do if you’re starting to feel unmotivated or isolated while learning off campus, in isolation, and/or online?

Do Now: Self-Reflection

Before you read further, take out a piece of paper and answer the following question in bullet form. What is making it hard to get work done right now? If you are uncertain, keep the list next to your computer and write down points over a period of time as you try to work.

Challenge #1: Intrinsic Motivation

If you find you are having to toggle back and forth from personal to national to global concerns right now, you are not alone. Academic studies may feel less meaningful during challenging times.


  • Reconnect to the big picture, either in personal reflection or in writing. Where do you hope to be in three or five years? How does your education address your larger goals? 
  • Rekindle your interest. What appeals to you most about the classes you will choose for Spring 2021? What tasks or thinking still excites you? In what way can you still access and build upon those interests online?
  • Reach out to a friend, family member or Academic Strategies Mentor to help discuss your concerns and keep you on track.

Challenge #2 : Lost Structure

Kickstarting your day can feel difficult. You may have less structured class time due to asynchronous instruction, limits on the campus environment, or your physical location.


  • Identify a consistent wake time and set an alarm.
  • At the beginning of each day, write a to-do list.
  • Find someone to touch base with at the beginning or end of each work day to help you set priorities and stay accountable–otherwise known as an accountabilibuddy! If you don’t have a person to serve that role, Academic Strategies mentors are available for this function too.
  • Commit to 25 minutes of work, take a short break, and then do 25 more minutes of work. (Pomodoro method)

Challenge #3 : More Opportunities for Distraction

This unprecedented time may make it harder to buckle down and stay focused. Some distractions are easier to control (technology—see below), but it’s important to recognize that distractedness can also be a coping mechanism in itself. Don’t fight the response—recognize that you can adjust to multiple demands by being flexible and working in smaller chunks of time. Taking more frequent breaks may even make you more focused when you sit down to work!


  • Construct a schedule of your synchronous instructional periods. For those meetings that are asynchronous, try to do work for those classes at the same time that you would have gone to class.
  • Layer in breaks, both those that are task oriented like chores, and real breaks, like going outside, talking to a friend, spending time with your family or suitemates.
  • Switch around from subject to subject as you study, if you find your mind wandering. Changing up your subject matter can benefit your focus and postpone burnout.
  • Move or alternate your work space to keep yourself more engaged.
  • Keep a list of personal concerns as they come up, rather than attending to them all immediately. Try to protect a study period from the myriad of other distractions and write them on a list to address later—in an hour or two.

Challenge #4: The Internet

Although technology has helped us adapt to our current situation, it can also be an enormous source of distraction. If you find yourself struggling to control your tech consumption, try the following:


  • Use the internet as a reward after getting a specific period of work done (i.e. after 25 minutes I can check my texts)
  • Replace internet breaks with movement breaks (get some water, move around the room, walk around the block)
  • Turn off notifications and/or keep your phone in a different room.
  • Download an application or browser extension that limits your access to favorite sites.
  • Try writing in a word processing program without using Google Drive or the internet.
  • Monitor your media consumption. Checking the news is not necessarily a break–read enough so that you are well informed but not obsessively reading news coverage.

Challenge #5: Social Isolation

Some people may find themselves with strong support at home or in their suite, but others have fewer social and emotional resources. Working for long periods alone contributes to a larger sense of isolation.


  • Structure social times with friends in groups or as individuals. Build these social occasions into your calendar.
  • Make a habit of checking in with people. Others are in your situation and will gladly reconnect.
  • Get outside and/or exercise. You can’t control how long you’ll be isolated, but you can control your health and schedule.
  • Get creative about how you visit with people. You can “have dinner” with friends, do yoga, watch a movie or play games together online.