If you are planning to earn an online Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, knowing how to prioritize your life and study time is a key skill for successfully completing a distance learning program. You will have to decide when to read, research, watch or listen to lectures, and study. You will need to come up with your own workflow based not just on your schedule, but on the schedule of everyone in your home and life.


By choosing the University of St. Francis you did take a solid step in the right direction for the balance of flexibility and structure. What follows is a series of suggestions and steps to make it easier to be a successful online student.

1. Prepare to devote clear hours to your studies

One way to manage your online studies is to create a fixed schedule for yourself, with specific time slots that are strictly devoted to taking your classes and sitting through online tutorials. Instead of trying to fit your online studies into your life and activities, set up a schedule for studying first. Build a fence around those times. It will give you the feeling that you are enrolled as a student in a classroom and supports your efforts and commitment to your studies.

The key here is that this new “school schedule” is designed according to you and not imposed by the university. So, if it’s easier for you to work at night, after you’re home from your full-time job, and to only work twice a week, you have the freedom and flexibility to work this way. You simply have to decide which time is best to fit your school work into your own life. But, with this level of freedom, it is easy to let your coursework get away from you. That’s why a strict, solid structure to your working hours, will help you avoid the temptation to procrastinate and waste time.

Hint: For about a week or two, write up a short, but detailed, daily log of all of the activities that you do each day, and for how much time you do them. Time how long it takes you to finish basic jobs, and log every little thing that you do for a constant period to make sure you’ll gain a real picture of your time use (and also misuse).

2. You’ll need to keep yourself motivated

When you’ll become a distance learning student, you’ll discover that it can be rather difficult to motivate yourself to complete your work, especially with no one standing over your shoulder to make sure it is done. This is true if you do a Bachelor’s, a Master’s or even a Ph.D.

Self-discipline and self-motivation are among the hardest skills to develop in your life, but there are a few ways that will effectively lead to good study habits.

As with many tasks, chores, and assignments, what will help you is to create small incentives, or treats, for yourself, so that you feel extra motivation to finish your work.

When you finish your work, treat yourself to a snack or, set a deadline for yourself and say, “If I finish this by 2:00, I will go get a cup of coffee.” Incentives are a good way of giving yourself that extra push, that extra bit of motivation to complete all of your work on your own. Especially with online classes, you’ll want to find ways to get you to sit down, log on, and work, without being tempted to do other things.

IMPORTANT: The number one problem with being an adult online student is the “give up” factor. It gets tough, you hit a wall, and then studying is the first thing to go. Like with all things in life, you have to push through the tough parts and get to the other side. Don’t give up your studies when times get tough and things get busy.

3. Set timelines for every assignment

You probably have the habit of doing your assignments one after another, basing your work according to deadlines. Maybe you’ll start with the assignments that are due first, and then move on to the assignments that are due later. While this may seem like a good way to work through the list of assignments, it is actually not the most efficient way to work. 

Instead, consider the amount of time your assignments will take (including reading, viewing, and writing), and be sure to start with the most intense assignments first. For example, if you’ve been assigned an online quiz, a 10-page paper, and a group project, you’re probably wise to start with the group project first, even if it is due last.

Consider that online group assignments can be especially difficult to manage. Your fellow students might live in different locations and have different responsibilities, and you’ll sometimes be asked to meet over Skype. Planning and getting all of your digital classmates to meet will require a lot more time for planning than, say, studying for a short quiz.

So, instead of saving the difficult work for last, start with the difficult things while still keeping a close eye on your deadlines. This is a useful way to manage your time that is both effective and efficient and does not force you to cram everything into a small timeline.

Hint: Don’t miss your due date because of poor planning! As a writer and a student, you need to keep really good deadlines.  Jotting down certain dates for due dates, and maintaining a calendar system will help you. Some people even like “old school” calendars, where they can cross off events as they pass.