How to maintain your focus during online dental school classes

It is crazy just how incredibly fast life took a 180-degree turn in the last 60 days. From schedules filled with exams, group projects, study groups and lab work to Zoom meetings all day, every day. Sitting at a computer screen from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. is daunting, even more so when no one knows if you are actually paying attention or if you’ve joined the call, pressed mute and are aimlessly scrolling Instagram for the 30th time that day. 

Self-discipline is more important than ever, and while everyone is not preset with the determination to work through all kinds of distractions, there are a few things that can be done to increase productivity, time management and overall sanity during these unprecedented times. 

Create your study space 

First things first, the amount of time we’re spending with our families right now is off the charts. It is such a blessing to be able to spend so much time with loved ones, friends, roommates — whoever your quarantine crew may be. However, boundaries are also important. Make sure your household understands that dental school is still in session. For a large portion of the day, you are virtually in school and need to be uninterrupted. 

It is also time to set up a dedicated study space in a low traffic area of your home. Try to use a big table so there is space to spread out and keep a few key things accessible at all times. Invest in a power strip cord. As silly as it may be, having multiple plugs in your “school room” will lessen the distraction of moving across the room when the low battery sign comes on. 

Master a schedule 

It is likely that you have had to throw out your agenda from the beginning of the semester. All assignment due dates are totally different, and you have no idea when lectures, exams and quizzes are scheduled. Take a few hours and create a master schedule. Add in all class times throughout the week, lecture topics and how the lecture will be provided to you virtually. 

Stick with a normal schedule and complete the lectures during the time scheduled, as if you were still driving to school every day. Time blocking is a great way to not get bogged down in one assignment for the entire day, set a certain amount of time to do a task and stop at whatever place you are when the block of time is up.

Virtual study groups 

Study groups do not have to be a thing of the pre-COVID times. Use resources such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc., to meet up with your study group and review topics for exams. Success in dental school is made possible by the people we go through it with, and now is a time to rely on our classmates more than ever. 

A rule of 3’s

It is so easy to become overwhelmed at a 10-page to-do list. You don’t know where to start, what to prioritize, and you end up in mental breakdown mode. This is the time to use that master schedule. Figure out the three most pressing things that you need to do, write them down and keep your to-do list at a three-task maximum. 

Take a breather

Every 50 minutes of work should be followed by, at minimum, a 10-minute brain break. Do some yoga stretches, walk a lap around your house, anything to get moving for a few minutes and to release some energy! 

Don’t forget your ergonomics

Just because we are not in the clinic or the sim lab, does not mean we can ignore ergonomics. Stay in neutral posture, keep your keyboard at elbow level, as well as things you use frequently within your primary work area. 

Most importantly, realize and accept how scary these times are, how different learning has become and that we all have stressors outside of being a dental student right now. Take time to take care of your mental wellness, talk to friends, reflect on your feelings and know that it is OK to have feelings about this new normal. We are all pulling for each other, and we will get through this together! 

~Caylor Mark, Georgia ’23

Caylor Mark

Caylor Mark is a 2018 graduate from Valdosta State University and a current first-year student at the Dental College of Georgia. She is involved with ASDA both in her chapter and on the district level, serving as vice president and fundraising chair. During social distancing, she has been enjoying time at home with her family, doing a lot of cooking and playing with her dog, Hudson.

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