4 Tips to Stay Organized with Online Learning

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Our students, faculty, and staff have been busy adjusting to the realities of online learning these last few weeks and months, and for many students, the virtual environment can be tough to navigate.

Between readings, assignments, discussion questions, and quizzes, there is a lot going on and juggling it all can get hard – especially if you haven’t yet developed a system that works for you or the one that you used before doesn’t work as well in our new environment.

Even if your workload gets overwhelming sometimes, the bright side of our new online learning environment is that we are all going through the same thing. Because this is new, it’s okay to feel like you’re lost in a world of apps, Canvas courses, YouTube videos, internet tabs, and Piazza discussion boards.

We talked to some Science students to find out what organization systems they’ve found are working to stay on top of their school work. We hope these tips will send you off in the right direction for Term 1 and beyond.

1. Using and staying on top of a planner or calendar is a MUST!

If you didn’t keep an agenda before, now is the time to start. Whether it’s in your digital calendar or the old-fashioned notebook, keep it to track all of your due dates, quizzes, and assignments. It’s also smart to add important UBC dates, like add/drop deadlines, holidays (we know it’s easy to forget what day it is!), application due dates, and events you’d like to attend. Have you ever heard of a “Bullet Journal”? Lei, a science student, highly recommends it and uses one herself to visualize her weeks ahead! If an online calendar is for you, colour-code your assignments for each class, add automatic reminders, and make sure you can use the calendar on both your computer and mobile device.


“If you’re someone who really struggles to stay motivated, try making a schedule with the tasks you hope to achieve during the day (ex. from 4 until 5 p.m., write some notes based on your bio reading).”

– Astrid, Second Year, Honours Cellular, Anatomical & Physiological Sciences



“To stay organized, I have a large whiteboard calendar above my desk and a paper agenda where I write out all my assignments, quizzes, exams and extracurriculars. I colour code my calendar for different classes and extracurriculars. I also check Canvas at the beginning of each week to ensure that I haven’t missed anything.”

– Lauren, Third Year, Biology and Science Peer Academic Coach

2. Utilize a weekly to-do list

Scan your emails, Canvas courses, and other places you may receive assignments to ensure you’ve caught them all – don’t forget to include things from your personal life (if you need to put “take a shower” down, no one is going to judge!). The best part about to-do lists is the big, fat checkmark you get to mark down when you’re done!


“Every Sunday, I write a list on a sticky note of everything I need to do for the week, going through each course to make sure I don't miss anything. This helps me visualize the amount of work I have for the week and reduces the amount of surprises. Especially now with online learning, I put the sticky note on the edge of my monitor and cross things off as I finish them."

– Max, Third Year, Combined Honours in Physics and Chemistry


3. Build up a routine, and stick to it

There is no doubt it can be really easy to pick up the video game controller on a Monday morning instead of finishing your required readings. Or stay in your pajamas all day. A major advantage of online learning is you can do things at your own pace, but staying committed to a sustainable routine will help you feel more organized. There is no logic in trying a daily routine that involves seven hours of studying and no free time – we are humans after all!

  • If video games or Netflix help reset your mind in between tasks, work that into your routine. But make sure you have a defined end time to that activity!
  • Start with just your morning routine and try to be consistent with the order of which you do things, like: wake up, breakfast, scan social media, one hour of study, attend class(es), update agenda, then lunch (for example).
  • If you used to commute, try “commuting to school” from home – go for a walk or a bike ride around the block at the beginning and end of your day (rain or shine!).
  • Schedule dates and times into your day to attend any asynchronous lectures – and treat them just like a live class.


“Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule - staying up until 4 a.m. (to study or just messing around) is not sustainable and can impact your work ethic as well as your health."

– Astrid, Second Year, Honours Cellular, Anatomical & Physiological Sciences



“Something that has helped me stay organized and stay on top of my classes is trying to attend the classes live instead of watching the recordings, as I would if I were attending classes in-person. I also think that taking breaks, by either taking a walk or just talking to a friend, in between my study time, has helped me stay focused and concentrated on my assignments!"

– Arooj, Fourth Year, Biology and Science Peer Academic Coach


4. Don’t give up – you’ve got this!

Look, we’ve all had those days – especially this year. There are many resources to help pull you out of a problem, such as your professors, TAs, and academic advisors. Professors and TAs are available to you over email and/or virtual office hours to go through issues you are facing. Your Science Advising team is also here to help give guidance, provide referrals and help you find solutions to both small and big problems. And if those really hard days turn into weeks, or months, you’ll benefit by connecting with mental health resources like counselling; there are options available to students no matter where you live.


“Rally with one another - you're not in this fight alone. Find people who are driven and create a mini community, brotherhood, or sisterhood out of that. Rely on one another and do your best so that others may rely on you as you rely on them. Support networks are built on trust and it begins with your actions."

– Raphael, Third Year, Chemical Biology



“Something that’s helped me focus on my assignments and in class is creating a designated study/workspace. For me, this space is free of distractions, including my phone and is just that: a studying/working space, so it’s not a place where I also watch Netflix, eat my meals etc."

– Harman, Fourth Year, Biology and Science Peer Academic Coach




Science Peer Academic Coaches:

Video chat with a coach to set goals, discuss study habits, brainstorm ways that you can adapt your approach to learning, and create a plan of action.

Science Advising: 

UBC Science Advising is available online and via phone Monday to Friday, 9:30 AM to 4 PM. Until further notice, Science Advising is not providing in-person services.

Managing Your Mental Health:

Resources to take care of your mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Indigenous Student Support:

Indigenous students taking one or more science or math courses are eligible for subsidized tutoring.