The small joy of studying with strangers on the internet

“Study with me” videos helped me be productive when seemingly nothing else has

Graphic Joey Bruce

For months it has felt as if I have accomplished nothing academically, that I am merely existing everyday. Even the most mundane tasks on my daily checklist feel impossible.

The niche YouTube genre of watching strangers study, referred to as “study with me” videos, have given me a sense of academic accomplishment that nothing in online school has been able to.

I’ve always enjoyed studying and doing schoolwork independently, but I’ve come to

realize I actually don’t like being alone while doing it. There’s something about working in a

space where you know others are around, like a library, that personally makes me feel more accountable.

Studying and working from the confines of my small apartment for almost a year has proved to be an incredibly taxing, lonely and isolating affair. 

For the majority of 2020 I ceased to have any sort of academic drive. With no one but myself to keep me accountable academically, I got into the habit of ignoring schoolwork as it has slowly piled up.

But then something happened. At the beginning of December, I discovered the world of “Study with me” videos on YouTube, and I felt motivated for the first time in forever, and as a result, a sense of academic accomplishment.

These videos, most often watched on YouTube, generally revolve around individuals filming themselves studying and working, and are both live-streamed and prerecorded. The idea is to motivate themselves to do work, while other people watch and study with them at the same time. Many of these videos revolve around getting tasks done by portioning work sessions into short time chunks, marked by periods of short rest.

Studying and working from the confines of my small apartment for almost a year has proved to be an incredibly taxing, lonely and isolating affair.

Alongside “study with me” videos, I’ve also found a few other ways of feeling less

alone and unmotivated while working from home. Listening to videos consisting of binaural

beats, coffee shop background noise, ambient music and white noise can help me enter the zone, so to speak. This noise helps to convince my brain that I’m back in a library or a cafe as I listen to these ambient sounds rather than the silence of my apartment.

Although it could completely be a placebo, listening to these videos gives me the impression that I’m better able to focus on what I’m doing, and boosts my motivation to do my schoolwork.

I also recently began virtually co-working with a few friends of mine who are also stuck at home studying. I often do this with them via video chat, and it helps me feel more accountability to get work done. We call each other, catch up for 10 minutes, then keep our cameras on and mute our mics, set a timer, and make sure we are both doing work during that allotted time.

Studying this way has given me that extra bit of motivation to finish my master’s degree. When I want to give up I see the person on the other side of the screen working, which keeps me going a little longer. When I do this, I am filled with the sensation of working around other people, without anyone actually being physically present. 

I feel a strange sense of comfort in watching other people study, and it makes me feel less alone. Perhaps it’s because the people studying in these videos are also stuck in their homes, feeling the same unmotivated and unproductive feeling as me. And yet, they are still marching on, doing their best.

This makes me, if only slightly, want to do work too.