10 Tips to Stay Motivated as an Online Student

One of my work spaces (and a very dirty laptop screen.)

One of my work spaces (and a very dirty laptop screen.)

I’ve been pursuing a full-stack web development certification through Flatiron School since last July. I wanted to share some of the tips I’ve learned over the past nine months.


  1. Make sure your learning environment encourages productivity.

    It’s been proven that clutter can distract you—even having too many icons on your desktop can be a distraction. Make sure your workspace is clean and distraction free. I prefer to work outside of the house, because then I can’t get distracted by laundry, dishes, or other projects at home.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that it really helps me to have snacks while I’m working. My brain tends to fizzle out without food (real food—not pastries that are usually sold at my coffee shop) so it helps to bring snacks that are protein/healthy fat heavy.

  2. Set goals and track your progress.

    I started out with time goals for my certification program, but life gets crazy, and time goals are a bit rigid—once I was behind, I was behind on my goals every day regardless of the progress I was making.

    Now I like to gauge my progress based on percent completion. Each day I calculate how much of my course I have completed, and each week I set goals for what percentage (or how many lessons/labs) I want to complete by the end of the week.

    I also have a goal board (you can view the photos here) where I check off boxes for each chapter when I complete it. I like the action of checking off the boxes and it’s nice to have a visual of the progress I’ve made.

  3. Share your accomplishments.

    Whenever I complete a portfolio project or a certain number of lessons, I post my progress and accomplishments on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. I like sharing what I have done, and my friends and followers are supportive of the hard work I’ve put into my course. I also think it demonstrates to potential employers that I set goals and continue to work to complete those goals.

  4. Build a reward system.

    Every time I complete ten percent of my course I have a “big reward” to incentivize me and reward myself for the progress I’ve made. My course is 684 lessons and labs long—that means I have to complete almost seventy lessons and labs to hit that mile marker! That’s a lot of work. When I hit 50% I bought myself an unlimited month of yoga (if you’re new to a studio, the first month is usually discounted) and when I hit 60%, I bought myself some new clothes. For five percent markers I do smaller things, like get a treat or buy a face mask/nail polish—whatever sounds nice.

  5. Switch things up if you lose steam.

    I tend to work outside of my apartment and have found that changing my study location can really help me hunker down and focus. Try a new coffee shop, your local library, or even a grocery store cafe. Mine serves beer, coffee, kombucha, smoothies, and juices and if you get hungry or need to do some grocery shopping afterward, everything is conveniently right there.

  6. Separate work time and decompression time.

    Separating work time and decompression time is really important, and it’s something I struggle with. For example, if you work while watching tv, you’re not giving your work your attention and you aren’t able to relax. You end up feeling like you’re working all the time and that’s not good for your productivity or stress levels. I can usually tell I’m working too much or that I need a break when I start wandering away from my lessons. Sometimes I need to take a day off to continue being productive, so I’ll usually take a day off to do something I enjoy once a month.

  7. Experiment with adding exercise.

    One thing with online classes is that it requires a lot of sitting. I have a standing desk at home, which really helps, but I usually benefit from adding an hour of exercise a couple hours a week. When I did a month of yoga, despite taking an hour out of my work day or time with my family, I was more productive, felt better about myself, and had more patience with Gus, who is getting more independent and rowdy by the day.

  8. Connect with your classmates online.

    Becoming active on Twitter and my Flatiron School Slack channel, was a game changer for me. One of the hardest parts of being an online student is the lack of human connection. I found I was able to get more of that when I started sharing my experiences and interacting with other students, and in turn I didn’t feel so isolated when I was working on my course.

  9. Put your phone on do not disturb while working.

    You don’t need to respond to every text message and social media notification as it comes in. I just let my husband know I’m turning DND on so he knows to call me instead of text if something urgent comes up. You can also put your phone on silent (not vibrate!) and face down, just so you don’t see it light up every time.

  10. Evaluate what is working and adapt.

    Juggling responsibilities is a big part of being an online student: you can’t balance everything perfectly. One week you might miss your workout goals—figure out how to meet those goals the following week. The next week you might not get enough sleep—make that a priority the following week. One week might be a lot of work and not enough play—build something into the next week whether it’s a coffee date with a friend, playing a video game for an hour, or watching a movie. At the end of each week evaluate what you did well and what you want to concentrate on the next week. Writing these priorities down can be helpful too.

This article is based on a blog post I wrote for my Flatiron School curriculum—you can see the original post here, which focuses on how to gauge progress in that specific course.

-A