Student working on laptop from home

Tips for writing and studying from home

Have you noticed that studying at home is (now) less effective? Do you have too many distractions and do you find it difficult to maintain your motivation? On this page you will find tips on how to study successfully despite these strange circumstances. Of course you can still make a (Skype) appointment for study or writing coaching or attend an academic skills workshop.


This guide is designed to support you through the final steps of distance learning. In this guide - compiled by the teachers of Academic Skills - we answer seven questions that can help you keep yourself and your studies on track. Read more about procrastination, better planning, and meaningful self-study activities. Read the home study guide here (pdf-file).

Planning and productivity

Now that you have to study at home more often, it may be harder to stick to your own schedule. Below you find tips that can help you to make a schedule for studying from home.

  1. Set specific goals for yourself each day. Write down for yourself exactly what you want to do today. This goes beyond deciding which subject you want to work on or which part of your thesis you want to write. It helps to think about when you are satisfied with the day, so what do you want to have read, looked at or done at the end of the day? Think about how much time you need to meet these goals and plan when you will work on them.
  2. When making a schedule, keep in mind that you will probably need more time for your tasks than usual. This makes sense because you have less space and more distractions at home. So plan a little more generously than before. 
  3. To give more structure to your day, it can be useful to divide the day into blocks of an hour in which you work for 45 minutes and take a break for 15 minutes. You can also do this the evening before: you are then quickly motivated for the next day.
  4. Your instructors are now even more motivated than usual to assist you digitally (i.e. via Microsoft Teams or via e-mail). If something is not clear, feel free to contact them!
  1. Get up early, preferably at the same time every day, and decide for yourself what time you will start with your daily tasks. Do you find this difficult? Maybe you can make arrangements with roommates, family members or friends to have breakfast together (digitally) or do a day start where you tell each other your goals for the day.
  2. No matter how tempting: working in your pyjamas can reduce your motivation and productivity. If you notice that you are in too much of a relax mode, put on the clothes in which you normally go to university or the library. In this way, you can also keep your work and private life separated at home.
  3. Take a real break. Put your work aside, eat well and do something fun. And as long as it's allowed: have a walk outside!
  4. Stop in time and ensure that you can begin the next day with a fresh start. Then also turn off your laptop. Try exercising after work, for example by having a yoga or running session. This will help to clear your mind and give you new energy.
  5. Where possible, try to set up a separate place to work. This will make it easier to keep work and leisure separate.
  6. Working together with friends or classmates via a live stream can help to be more productive.
  7. Lazing around and doing nothing isn't so bad at all! Alan Lightman, professor at MIT, writes in In Praise of Wasting Time that it's okay to take a long break or not to study at all for a day. Keep that in mind!
  8. With the large amounts of news, your phone can be an additional source of distraction. Try to turn off notifications and sounds on your phone as much as possible and put your phone out of sight while you're working. If this really doesn't solve the problem, there are several apps available such as 'Forest' and 'Offtime' that can help you.
  9. Take a break to list what your biggest distractions are and what you can do about them. Too much noise? Maybe you can make arrangements with your roommates/family members or buy noise-cancelling headphones. Do you tend to go to netflix, youtube, instagram etc. quickly? There are several website blockers that you can easily install. These will prevent you from accessing these websites within certain hours.
  10. You are not alone! People around you probably also find it difficult to get motivated to work every day. Therefore: support and help each other out. Make agreements with roommates about noise-free study hours, start an online study group with fellow students, discuss your schedule with family members, go to breakfast together with roommates at a fixed time or exercise together. Plan a fixed moment with (a) friend(s) to talk about how you are doing: this gives rhythm and it helps to vent.

Getting enough exercise can always be a challenge, but especially now. Here are tips on how to keep moving even though all your gym classes have been cut and you're confined to your dorm room. 

  1. Buy a skipping rope. Seriously, that's all you need: just jump! Start by doing a minute of jumping ( you might be worn out by then already) and build it up.
  2. Running is also an option. Try to keep a one and a half meter distance from your fellow runners (because there are a lot of them now).
  3. Take two one and a half litre soda bottles and lift them forwards, backwards, to the side. Guaranteed sore muscles!
  4. If you need motivation from others, you can also take yoga classes on YouTube.
  5. Use the breaks between studying to do some stretching exercises.
  6. Is your studying is not progressing or do you have a bad day? Exercise or just movement in general may work for you. Something as simple as a walk outside helps to get your body moving, after which your head will follow easily(er).
  7. Again, you're not alone! Find a buddy to exercise with (digitally) so you can hold each other accountable.

Studying from home

  1. Consult the PowerPoint of the lecture beforehand. No PowerPoint available? Check the course manual for information about the content of the lecture. This can also be done by globally reviewing the lecture literature in advance. If you know in advance what will be discussed, you will be able to listen in a more focused way and important information will be easier to remember.
  2. Take notes (in keywords) while watching the video. Record conclusions instead of loose facts and use arrows and colours to illustrate connections.
  3. Don't watch the video all at once, as with a Netflix series, but pause regularly. That way, you'll watch the lecture more actively and learn more from it.
  4. In the breaks you take while watching, expand your notes.
  5. After watching the lecture, review your notes (this can also be done by videoconferencing with other students!). 10 minutes may be enough for this. Arrange your notes, see if you understand everything and what you still need to look into further.
  1. The first step: keep (virtual) contact with fellow students to collaborate and have meetings. An text message is often not enough, so install Teams or call each other.
  2. What is appreciated during a face-to-face meeting or discussion, is also appreciated now: be on time, be prepared, keep eye contact and try to avoid talking through one another.
  3. Now that you are collaborating online, it may be more difficult to discuss details quickly with each other. Splitting your tasks is therefore even more important, so that it's clear for everyone what you are responsible for.
  4. Do you have to do a group assignment and are you struggling to move forward within the groupmeetings? Try assigning different roles in your group: a chairperson, note-taker, liaison with the teacher, presenter, etc. Possibly you can swap these roles per meeting.
  5. Use the video where possible. Make sure you have a professional and natural background and proper lighting. Looking into the camera enhances your presence and provides eye contact, so be sure to make use of it.
  6. Through Microsoft Teams you can use practical functions, such as (partially) sharing your screen, taking notes and a whiteboard.
  1. Make an appointment with a study coach at the Skills Lab (online) and discuss your personal situation. After the session you will be in a better position to determine what is not going well yet and what is needed to improve your (study) approach.
  2. Make an appointment with a writing tutor at the Skills Lab (online) and discuss your academic writing assignment. The writing coach will, for example, help you to find a more efficient approach, sharpen the formulation of your core message, write a better structured text or improve your writing style.
  3. Are you struggling with SPSS? Then use the UU online campus course Grasple. With this online tool you will learn the basic concepts and get started with exercises in statistics. Are you studying at the Faculty of Social Sciences? Then check out the Methods and Statistics page.  
  4. Follow a short online course or workshop at Educational Consultancy & Professional Development to improve your study skills. You will learn strategies for efficient reading & studying, time management and a good approach for research and writing assignments.
  5. When you want to work on your information skills, the online training Compass of the university library offers a solution.
  6. Language centre Babel offers several online courses, for example to improve your academic writing skills,.but they also offer short online English courses such as: Brush up your English – Vocabulary and common collocations. With a discount for students!

Writing from home

  1. Prepare the assignment by looking up all the requirements, for example in the course manual or on Blackboard. Ask your fellow students or teachers about the academic conventions when the discipline is new to you.
  2. Look up examples of the assignment you have to create. You can do this, for example, via UU's Thesis Archive, but you can also ask your instructor to put an example online.
  3. Divide the assignment into several steps (formulating a research question, reading literature, making a text plan, writing, editing) and work on just one part at a time.
  4. The first draft of your text doesn't have to be perfect yet. Start by writing a bin version.
  5. An academic writing style is usually rather objective and very precise. Support your claims with arguments and references.
  1. The LibGuides of the University library give advice on searching for literature. For example, there is assistance with evaluating the relevance of sources, with referencing, and with literature management.
  2. Use websites about academic writing. On Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) and Couthino you will find writing strategies. 
  3. The Manchester Phrase Bank is useful when writing in English.
  1. Because of the national regulations, it is possible that, for instance, fieldwork or laboratory research has to be postponed all of a sudden. Contact your supervisor in time to see what this means for the writing of your thesis.
  2. Do you need a book from the University library that is not available digitally? Books can be requested, check the site of the University Library for up-to-date information. 
  3. In times like these, writing a thesis is an even more solitary process. Therefore, try to regularly (video) call fellow students who are also working on their thesis.
  4. Talking about your thesis with roommates, friends or family can also be enlightening.
  5. Make an appointment for free writing tutoring from the Skills Lab. The writing tutor will listen, ask you critical questions and will offers strategies at all stages of your thesis process.