By Noemi VanSlyke

With another online quarter in full swing, I’ve begun to question my ability to maintain focus (and stay sane!) while working, writing, and participating in classes virtually. To combat this, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to share with you that will help keep motivation up and stress levels to a minimum. Whether you’re trying to make headway on a novel, taking classes online, or just working from home, I hope these ideas will promote a healthy work-life balance and boost your morale.

Use a Planner: Planners are invaluable for keeping yourself organized and on-task. Writing a short daily “to-do” list with specific times that tasks need to be completed by can help steer you in the right direction if you’re tempted to procrastinate (like me), and can provide structure to weekend days when you still want to be productive. Breaking up longer assignments or tasks over multiple days, and scheduling a small chunk of work on each day can also make them seem less overwhelming and more achievable. Cross off tasks when you’ve finished them and congratulate yourself on the progress you’ve made rather than focusing on how much there is left to do. Keeping a positive mindset is vital!

Minimize Distractions: I find background noises will often cause me to lose my concentration and are especially bothersome when trying to write. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, having a room of one’s own is key. Separating work-time and relaxation-time becomes much easier if there is physical separation between the two spaces. If you do not have a home office, try creating a “work nook” within a larger space that you can go to every time you need to be productive. It is also useful to put on background noise: instrumental music or, if you prefer, a “white noise” playlist can be extremely helpful when trying to drown out distractions.

Get Outside: Though it can be a challenge to maintain social distancing at times, there are always ways to get outside and enjoy the fresh air while staying safe. Planning hikes on the weekends or even an evening drive can give you something to look forward to and help prevent you from feeling too stir-crazy when stuck in the house. Also try going to a nearby park or walking around the block during a break in your work or studying. Set out a blanket or a chair and spend time reading or writing outside, taking in a nice view and enjoying the breeze. If you’re comfortable, working at a coffee shop or cafe with an outdoor seating area can also be a nice way to change up your environment and treat yourself to a delicious drink or pastry while you’re at it.

Treat Yourself: Speaking of drinks and pastries, you don’t always have to leave the house to enjoy a mid-day treat or a caffeine pick-me-up. Try one of these three recipes for a divine Matcha Latte (, a soothing London Fog Earl Gray Tea Latte (, or a slice of this delectable Chocolate Chip Banana Bread ( What better way to spice up an ordinary work day than to indulge yourself with some homemade delicacies? You deserve it!

Stay Positive: Whether it’s writing down affirmations, yoga, meditating, mantras, journaling, whatever it is that gets you into a state of flow and promotes a sense of well-being, make time for it in your daily routine. It can be very easy to focus on all the negatives during difficult times like this, but try not to dwell. Write gratitude lists, be patient with yourself and forgiving. Try not to put too much pressure on your work and make time to connect with family and friends as much as possible. Above all, clear space in your schedule to have fun and do the things you’re passionate about.

Hopefully, by keeping these tips in mind, we’ll be able to get through this virtual fall together and keep ourselves energized for the winter and a new year ahead!

Noemi VanSlyke is a third year student at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is studying English Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing and she is one of two work studies at UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program.


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