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While school has just started, it’s not too soon to start creating a study space that will maximize your ability to concentrate. Studying more often isn’t the only thing that will help you get good grades; studying effectively is just as important. Setting aside a regular place to focus on your work can reduce stress and help make it easier and more pleasant to prioritize, focusing on the tasks that affect how well you do in school. Wherever you live, having a good study plan is a key to succeeding this semester.
“Being comfortable is extremely important. If you’re uncomfortable, you’re thinking about it [and that] competes with your ability to study,” says Dana N., a fourth-year online student at Ashford University in Iowa. Sherry H., also at Ashford, concurs. “Not having a comfortable, quiet space can cause [you] to lose focus and miss details that [you] would not normally miss.”
Being physically comfortable is only part of the whole equation, says Alan Hedge, a professor at Cornell University specializing in ergonomics. “A lot of the time people don’t think about the way that they are working until they start to hurt,” he says. Where you study, how you study, what kind of equipment you use, and even what time of day you study not only protect you from injury, but also can help you do better in school. “If you can find a neutral [body] position, you are going to be more healthy, you are going to be more alert, you are going to perform better,” Hedge says.
Make It Yours
Feeling ownership of your study area can offer motivation and comfort as well. Sarah M., a junior at Troy University in Dothan, Alabama, lives off-campus with her husband and two sons, ages 18 and 12. She sits on her couch and uses a coffee table that lifts up as a desk. “I have sticky notes, a calendar, pens, highlighters, my laptop, iPad®, and paper—everything I need within reach,” Sarah notes. “I know if I have to get up to go look for something I need, I’ll find something else to do instead.” Study areas that bring everything to your fingertips can decrease the likelihood of getting distracted.
If you’re not sure how to set up a study area, “simply rely on your own sensitivities,” recommends Judy Morris, master of feng shui at the Feng Shui Research Center in Austin, Texas. “If you want things to work better in your life, have the proper environment for it,” she says. “It’s best to have a chair that is close to the wall, but not facing it, and a lamp that hangs above your shoulder to shine on your work.”
Morris recommends getting a bamboo water plant or finding computer programs that play soothing chime sounds to create a relaxed environment. Regina B., a first-year graduate student at Lakehead University in Canada, explains, “I turn on my Zen music and make sure I have good lighting and all my materials. [This] allows me to focus on my work.”
It is important to keep only things that allow you to study close by, such as a comfortable chair, a nice piece of art, and good light. If you find yourself stressed or losing concentration, “clear some clutter,” Morris suggests.
Shannon McCasland, assistant director of student life at Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado, talks to students about the importance of finding solid study spaces. “Many students underestimate the importance of finding space both on campus and at home. I talk to students about studying for different subjects in different places. For example, when I study biology in the library, I then picture myself there during the biology exam and can better recall what I have studied. The ‘where’ of studying is almost as important as the ‘how’ of studying.”
“I unplug all electronic devices while I’m working, and disconnect from Facebook and Twitter,” notes Emily S., a third-year student at Madison Area Technical College. Some students find they need to move their phones and laptops away so they can focus on their books.
While you may like to be in control of your space, sometimes other people need to be a part of the study equation. More than 40 percent of the respondents to a recent Student Health 101 survey of students across the United States and Canada said that the presence of friends and family at home had an impact on their choice of study location, and almost 50 percent said the most pressing distraction when studying is other people.
Effective communication with family or friends can make a big difference. Professor Hedge explains that having roommates or interruptions doesn’t have to be disruptive. “There are times when people work together collaboratively, there will be times when they work in parallel collective time, and then times when they want to work alone.” Remember: it’s okay to set boundaries. Speak with the people with whom you share space to balance each of your needs for quiet and plan a strategy for making it clear when you don’t want to be disturbed.
Suzanne G., a third-year student at Northern College, Porcupine Campus in Canada, has set clear rules for when she is studying. “My family and friends know not to visit unless they call ahead. I set aside two hours on Sunday for family time. Unfortunately, I have no time for anything else.”
If you are living with friends or family this semester, sit down with them and talk about rules of the home. Minimize conflict by discussing visitors and quiet time. Discuss which areas of your home will be available for studying, at what times, and how to manage multiple responsibilities. Doing this before things get harried can prevent stress and conflict later on.
Just as setting up a consistent study area that meets your needs can improve your concentration, talking with friends and loved ones about your need to study can also help you be more productive, focused, and experience less stress as the semester unfolds.
- Find or create a study space that can be tailored to your needs.
- Pay attention to your comfort: ergonomics, lighting needs, noise levels, and temperature.
- Minimize distractions, such as the Internet, your phone, other people, and clutter.
- Keep materials you need close at hand to avoid getting up and losing focus.
- Talk with roommates, friends, and family members to address potential disruptions and create a study plan that meets everyone’s needs.
Maximizing Limited Space
- Organization is key. If the area is cluttered, it can be counterproductive.
- Stack clear or labeled containers full of supplies nearby, keeping just the essentials close at hand.
- Use totes to hold books and notes for each class. Bring each one closer when you need it.
- Tuck things you use less often into hidden areas, such as in the foot well under your desk.
- Attach wall-mounted file holders or a bulletin board above your desk for notes, a calendar, or a to-do list. Decorate with inspirational pictures and quotes to keep motivated.
Get help or find out more
Office Ergonomics How-To Guide
Medline Plus Ergonomics Resources