How to be productive in our jam-packed lives

No sugar-coating: learning online is no walk in the park. Various studies show that less than 7% of students complete online courses – especially Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Udacity, Coursera, and edX.

While online education increases affordable access to modern skills needed for today’s workforce, it’s difficult for students to stay focused and cross the finish line.

We’re living in a fast-paced, jam-packed world, where there never seems to be enough time.

Yet research shows that adults across the world spend between 5-12 hours per day using media like smartphones, books, music and TV.

Consider the progress you’d make by dedicating just 1 of those hours to learning every day!

Below are some tips for how to be productive while learning online, including create goals, habits, and having an accountability buddy. By following these steps, you can be strategic and effective in your efforts, and improve your chances of success.


Table of Contents

Create SMART goals for your learning process

What are SMART goals?

  • Specific: WHY, Who, what, where, when.
  • Measurable: The point at which you know it is accomplished.
  • Action-oriented: List the key actions needed and prioritize them.
  • Realistic: If your goal is too far out of reach, you may burn out or get discouraged trying to get there.
  • Time-bound: Have an end date for your goal, and split your actions into days or weeks.

How to make your goals SMART

Say your goal is to learn to code in 2020. Questions you can answer to make your goal SMART include:

Specific: WHY do you want to learn? And therefore, what exactly do you need to learn to achieve that?

Measurable: How will you know when you’ve accomplished your goal? Going back to your WHY… Do you want to learn enough to get a job? Build a project you’ve been thinking about? Speak knowledgeably with your team? What is your measure for success?

Action-oriented: What are the exact steps you need to take to achieve your goal? This section can quickly turn into a can of worms. Taking a coding courses can provide the actions you need to learn the skills, but what else needs to be done to achieve your WHY?

Realistic: What hurdles will you need to overcome to achieve this? Should you split your goal into smaller goals to make them more achievable and rewarding?

Time-bound: When do you want to complete your goal? How much time will you dedicate each day/week/month on each action step to achieve your goal?

Take the time to write down your goals, and answer each SMART section question above. By using the SMART goal framework, you’ll see your goal start to grow into a plan.

how to be productive

Create a routine, so you can develop coding into a habit

Making coding into a healthy habit is another great way for how to be productive while learning online. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg teaches us that habits can be made through a system of cues, routines and rewards.

Think of this like training your dog. You give her the cue to sit, which activates her learned routine to sit, and then she gets a reward, which encourages her to remember that loop and perform it again.

Example of a healthy coding habit


  1. Decide on specific days and times that generally work every week to sit down and code.
  2. Block it in your calendar, and schedule yourself recurring calendar reminders.
  3. Write these times on a sticky note to put on your mirror, fridge, wherever visible.
  4. Schedule your phone alarm to play your favorite song, or your favorite ringtone, each day at that time. No scary alarms!


When your alarm goes off, that’s your cue to start your routine. Considering the time-bound actions that you created in your SMART goals, what is a realistic routine for you to follow?

TIP: Start small and keep it simple. Just like our goals, having an unrealistic routine only decreases the chance of completing it. Even if one day you can only dedicate 5-10 minutes, 5 minutes is better than 0 minutes, and you have still stuck to your routine which leads to…


Learning to code is tough work, so you deserve a reward for putting in the effort! Consciously choosing to reward yourself each time you follow your routine will reinforce turning this process into a habit.

Reward yourself with something you enjoy – read a book, play with your dog or kids, kiss your wife,  meditate, have a glass of wine, scroll on social media – anything! Even if your “reward” is something normal from your everyday life, labeling it in your mind as a reward for completing your coding routine will make it all the more sweet.

how to be productive

Image Source: Charles Duhigg

Get a mentor, coach, or accountability buddy

It’s no surprise that when left to our own devices, it’s easy to push online learning to another day. One of the most effective ways for how to be productive while learning online is to have someone else hold you accountable.

Some online courses – like CodingNomads’ online Java and online Python courses – offer mentorship to support and guide students through the course content. A mentor helps you learn more efficiently by holding you accountable for completing your goals and routines. Additionally, a course-specific mentor is a subject matter expert who can help you understand concepts at a deeper level so you learn more effectively too.

“I quickly realized I was in over my head but my mentor stuck with me and I was able to learn more than I ever thought I could. I liked the flexible approach of the online learning combined with the structure and support from regular mentor check-ins.” – Natalie W., CodingNomads Online Java Course Graduate.

I know that we are all adults, and might loathe the idea of someone checking in on our progress…or failure. But the fact is that you are much more likely to make continual progress and finish your online course if you have someone there keeping you accountable, and supporting you along the way.

How to be productive – additional resources

Setting SMART goals, creating routines and habits, and having a mentor or coach hold you accountable are great tools for how to be productive while learning online. And this is only the beginning. For additional help, productivity training companies like Lifehack Bootcamp have a wealth of resources from free YouTube videos all the way to intensive productivity bootcamps to help you on your way. We found their free videos on planning your work week in advance, and prioritizing tasks particularly useful and relevant for how to be productive while learning online. You can also check out more general e-learning tips here.

Need an accountability buddy for learning to code online?

That’s our specialty! We love new friends 🙂 Working with a mentor is the most efficient way to learn to code online. If you want to get a feel for the CodingNomads mentorship experience, schedule a free call with our mentorship team, and learn why our online mentorship gets student reviews like this:

“Retaining information is three times more easy when you have a mentor, and if you’re serious about coding or just want to get started, I would highly suggest reaching out to [CodingNomads] to be your mentor.” Bryce L.

“I have an amazing online mentor…and had good and prompt offline support from Martin and [the] rest of the crew…Overall the program is above my expectation…I wish the whole team good luck for the future.” Kaushik P.

“Overall worth the money and time, and now I will always be apart of a community of programmers. Shout out to Johnny, best mentor I ever had!” Blane S.

“Whenever I became stuck, my mentor was there to help me renew my motivation and/or guide me through the next obstacle in my path.” Anonymous.

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