Starting classes again feels surreal amid such extreme change and uncertainty. We’ve transitioned from popping in and out of friends’ dorms or apartments to moving into relatively isolated spaces. Some of us moved back to our hometowns, greeted with a bedroom that has not been inhabited long-term for a few years or months, while others have remained on campus, hoping our roommates don’t drive us crazy during self-isolation.

Many professors have changed their courses’ structure significantly, and students must learn to adapt to a completely different studying environment. 

So, how do we refocus on classes when the world before our extended spring break looked nothing like the current one?

Here are six tips to refocus during quarantine.

Set a Routine 

Between irregular sleep schedules and short-notice plans, college is its own messy routine. Quarantine brings its own challenges. But a daily plan can bring consistency to this tumultuous time and balance procrastination with school work. 

Creating (and sticking to) a schedule enables you to limit too much time spent on assignments, while simultaneously giving you time to do the only activity currently allowed: binging Netflix.

You can build a schedule on a variety of platforms. If you like pen and paper, a planner or bullet journal are great options. If you prefer going digital, Google Calendar or a spreadsheet (either Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel) are also reliable alternatives.

Prepare your Workplace 

If you moved back home, chances are your desk has not been touched since the day you last moved out. Most of our living spaces may no longer have a dedicated area for studying, and access to public studying spaces is not currently an option. 

One vital step is selecting a specific, consistent workplace. Sticking to one spot will rewire the brain to begin associating that area with working. So, find somewhere comfortable, but not too comfortable, preferably with ample natural light.

Drown Out the Noise 

Moving out of the stacks means moving into a place that is significantly more distracting. When selecting how to balance the background noise, consider what sounds you surrounded yourself with while studying at Emory. If you studied best in silence, try earplugs (either legitimate ones or cotton balls) or noise-canceling headphones. If you listened to a specific kind of music, play it. Note that songs with lyrics tend to interfere with focusing, so maybe start with acoustic versions of your favorite songs or tune in to a lo-fi playlist.

Free Write 

Whether you’re in the humanities or STEM fields, spending two to five minutes writing about an assignment can re-route your brain to produce thoughts related to the task at hand. Begin the exercise by writing about your personal feelings toward the assignment — whether directly or tangentially related to the topic. 

Then, shift from personal feelings to the actual assignment itself. Brainstorm what knowledge is needed to complete the assignment or what ideas can be used for the assignment. Reflecting on these topics can help shift your thoughts from that binge-worthy TV show to your homework.

Physical Exercises and Breathing Exercises

The overwhelming nature of current events may cause us to forget how our body is also responding to stress. Part of focusing may thus be integrated with managing our bodily stress responses. 

While many of us might be celebrating that the gym is off limits during quarantine, limiting movement altogether can be detrimental to our health and energy levels. Exercise doesn’t have to require extensive space or heavy lifting. Simple stretches only require a small area of carpet, and beginner yoga videos can be found all over YouTube. If you have access to a park, and your city is not on lockdown, you also have the option of going outside and enjoying the budding trees (just be wary of allergies and practice social distancing).

If you would rather not move much, you can opt for breathing exercises. According to NPR, stress causes rapid breathing, which is “controlled by the sympathetic nervous system.” So deep breathing “stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction” — it calms us. To practice deep breathing, you can control your breath on your own or try popular mobile apps like Breathe2Relax or Calm.

Make the Phone Disappear 

Our phones, which were a distraction when we attended classes on campus, can become both a blessing and a curse during quarantine. 

Eliminate your phone from your study space to dedicate time exclusively to studying. Put it inside a drawer or under a pillow to avoid mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Twitter. 

Alternatively, turn off your phone or change the color scheme to grayscale to minimize distractions. Remember that during quarantine, you probably will not miss out on anything by setting your phone aside for a little while.

Conclusion

The concept of classes feels distant and surreal, and it may feel strange to prioritize school when it hardly feels like we are in school, especially with the rising global pandemic. But if we keep pushing, we can at least take control of our academic lives.