6 healthy habits to help keep you motivated and productive

Earning your degree or certificate requires determination, dedication, and diligence. Particularly in these uncertain times, it’s critical that you develop healthy habits to help you balance your professional, personal, and academic obligations in a way that allows all of these aspects of your life to thrive.

At Penn LPS Online you also have support from a team that is committed to your educational and professional success. You have access to top-notch resources including academic advising, technical support, online tutoring, and Penn’s large online library system. If you’re pursuing a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences, you also benefit from advising services to help you transition into the next phase of your career.

Read on to explore six healthy habits that can help you be more successful at Penn LPS Online, at home, and at work. Discover how to stay motivated and create a new routine for self-improvement; it's a very personal experience, so keep in mind that the suggestions below can be customized to support your unique lifestyle and goals.

1. Develop a set morning routine

Starting the morning off on the right foot can have a huge impact on your motivation, productivity, and stress levels for the rest of the day. Although it can be extremely tempting to reach for coffee as soon as you get up, try getting into the habit of drinking a full glass of water first. Doing so is a quick and effective way to rehydrate your body after 7-8 hours of sleep, and it may also help jumpstart your metabolism. Then feel free to have that coffee or tea.

It's highly likely that you have many responsibilities to deal with in the morning, whether that involves making breakfast for your kids, getting ready for work, or walking the dog. But before you tackle them, try to take 5 to 10 minutes for some self-care. What you decide to do with this time is completely up to you, as long as it doesn’t involve scrolling through social media or checking your email. It can be as simple as making your bed, decluttering your study space, practicing a deep breathing exercise, or writing in your journal.

You can also set yourself up for success the night before by taking care of some of your usual morning chores. Do the laundry, set out your work clothes, make your oatmeal, or pack a lunch for your kids—anything that can lessen your obligations will help to make your mornings less stressful and more enjoyable. If you’re not already a morning person, you may grow to be one!

2. Set a priority list for your studies

When you’re juggling multiple responsibilities, it can be tough to stay organized and on-task. That’s why it’s important to create daily study goals to help ensure your priorities are in check. An effective way to do so is by using the SMART approach wherein you ensure that your goals are specific, measurable, relevant, attainable, and timely. When you make and fulfill daily SMART goals, you also may attain added benefits such as reduced anxiety, stronger focus, and increased motivation.
Examples of SMART study goals include:

  • Spending 30 minutes to finish an assigned reading for the next day
  • Completing research for a paper that is due in 2 weeks
  • Meeting online with your peers for 15 minutes to discuss a group project
  • Emailing your instructor with questions about an upcoming assignment
  • Using your lunch break to create an outline for a writing assignment

Keep in mind that your daily priority list is not the same thing as your study schedule, which should lay out the due dates for your projects, quizzes, and exams for your courses on a macro level. Instead, you need to think on a micro level and ask yourself, “What do I need to do today to ensure that I’m on track in my studies?” If it’s helpful, you can also include your work and personal responsibilities, since the goal is to ensure that you fulfill them all to the best of your ability.

3. Ensure you get enough sleep

If you want to succeed academically, it’s important to take care of your physical health. A huge component of that involves getting enough sleep every night. Work, academic, and personal stressors can create anxiety, preventing your brain from relaxing once you hit the pillow. Here are 4 steps you can take to help increase the chances of getting a restful sleep:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule: Whenever possible, go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day and resist the urge to sleep in on the weekends. If you can’t fall asleep within a reasonable amount of time, get up and listen to music or read until you’re tired enough to go back to bed. Avoid naps longer than 30 minutes, as they can disrupt your sleep at night.
  • Avoid blue light exposure: Electronic devices like smartphones and computers emit blue light, which disrupts your circadian rhythm, making your body think it’s daytime. Stop watching T.V. and dim the lights a couple of hours before bed. If you must use electronics, invest in glasses that block blue light.
  • Pay attention to your food and drink: It’s best not to go to bed hungry or too full, as the resulting discomfort may prevent sleep. If possible, have nighttime snacks and drinks at least 1 to 2 hours before bed. Both caffeine and alcohol are also disruptive to your sleep, so try to limit your intake in the evening.
  • Create a comfortable environment: For most people, a cool, dark, and quiet room is ideal for sleeping. If this doesn’t describe your bedroom, consider using blackout curtains, a noise machine, or earplugs. If you can’t control the room temperature, a fan can help cool things off while also offering some ambient noise.

4. Eat healthy and stay active

It’s time to take stock of how you’re fueling and moving your body. If you find yourself reaching for sugar or caffeine to keep you going, then consider making some changes. A fiber-rich diet, which includes whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits, can help you feel fuller longer. Try to include color and variety when choosing fruits and veggies, like yellow, orange, red, purple, and dark green produce. Beans, fish, poultry, and nuts are great sources of protein and contain healthy fats, which the brain needs to function correctly.

Exercise is also important for both your body and your mind, but getting your body moving doesn’t necessarily mean spending hours in the gym. It does involve setting aside time during the day, whether that’s 15 or 50 minutes, to take a walk or run, fit in a bike ride, or play your favorite sport. The key is finding the activities that you enjoy and integrating them into your schedule. The benefits of exercise include:

  • Stress release
  • Improved mood
  • Enriched sleep
  • Enhanced energy
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Increased cognitive function

If you find it difficult to make physical activity a priority, you may want to try a strategy called habit stacking. In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear explains the process, which involves adding a new habit—in this case, exercise—onto an existing habit that is already ingrained into your routine. For example, while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew in the morning you can fit in some sit-ups or push-ups. Or, while you’re making your breakfast you can get in your aerobics by dancing around the kitchen. The point is to do what works best for you to help build habits that last.

5. Practice healthy coping strategies

It’s virtually impossible to be successful in your studies if you are perpetually stressed out. Excessive worry can cause issues such as irregular sleep, headaches, loss of interest, inability to concentrate, and poor memory retention. And when your stress is coming from one facet of your life such as your career or a relationship, it can bleed into areas such as your education. That’s why it’s important to develop coping mechanisms to help you deal with stress more effectively.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, if you’re stressed out about your course load, one of the best ways to relax is to engage in a hobby that brings you joy. Whether that involves gardening, painting, journaling, or hitting some golf balls will vary depending on your personal interests. What’s important is that you get into a state wherein you’re fully engaged in your activity, which can help lower stress and your heart rate.

In high-pressure situations, it can also be helpful to connect with your loved ones. If you can do it face-to-face (or screen-to-screen), that’s even better. Talking with a partner, friend, or family member who you trust can help ground you and quell the unfounded fears or anxieties that you’re holding on to. And don’t discount the value of spending time with your pet! Research has shown petting a dog can lower the stress hormone cortisol and increase levels of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone.
It can also be beneficial to practice relaxation techniques, including:

  • Mindfulness mediation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • 4-7-8 deep breathing
  • Guided imagery
  • Restorative or Yin yoga
  • Gratitude practice

6. Schedule time for breaks and fun

You likely have many motivating factors for enhancing your education at Penn LPS Online. Whether your goals include advancing your career, pivoting to a new industry, or pursuing your intellectual passions, it’s important to remember that you still need to take time for yourself. That includes taking breaks when you’re studying. This is particularly true when you’re balancing work, family, and personal commitments you can’t allow to fall by the wayside.

The good news is that scheduling time for purposeful breaks may increase your productivity, energy, and ability to focus. You can also try setting up a reward system for meeting your daily priority list for your coursework. Having something to look forward to and celebrating your small victories can have a positive impact on your morale, motivation, and overall happiness. Think about the types of rewards that would best help give you an extra lift. Maybe it’s trying a new restaurant, watching a movie, catching a game on TV, or planning a vacation.

Establishing a routine of healthy habits takes work, but getting started is often the hardest part. There will likely be times you will falter and have the urge to give up entirely. That’s when it’s critical to cut yourself some slack, refocus, and get back on track. Remember all that you’ve accomplished so far, why you’re committed to earning an Ivy League education, and everything you look forward to in the future as a result.

Looking for more support?

You can rely on the Penn LPS Online team. To learn more about available services to help make your academic journey successful, please visit the Student Resources page.

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