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Set Up a Space

Creating an Effective Study Environment

By: Maggie Veneman

Cat in a bookEnvironment influences everything we do, from our mood to our organization to our productivity. Though it may seem insignificant, choosing a study space is actually a very big decision that inevitably impacts your academics. Your space needs to be free of distractions, conducive to learning and deep thought, not too relaxing so that you remain alert, but not so outgoing that you’re overwhelmed – in short, an impossible place. Though a perfect study space may be unattainable, we can provide you with some tips to create a pretty good one.

Minimizing distractions in your study space is crucial. In their article “Space and Time to Engage”, Ella Kahu et al. describe different strategies students use to set up their space:

From the most to the least successful, the strategies were: separation, study had little impact on other activities; integration, study was fitted into life with negotiation and support; overlap, characterized by ongoing negotiation and imbalance; and finally conflict, instability from conflicting demands and stress. (525)

You should try to avoid conflict, and strive instead for an equilibrium between your work, personal, and academic responsibilities. Kahu et al. identify separation and integration as the most effective strategies. Separation means removing yourself from distractions by setting up a separate study space. This may work for some students, but may be tough for those whose personal lives are more demanding. For these students, integration could work. Try to study alongside your other daily responsibilities. One risk of making integration your primary study tactic is that you may slowly begin to experience overlap or conflict. The “blurring of boundaries between study and home” is something to watch out for. If you are studying at home, your study space should be an actual space that you go to, such as a separate room or a corner of your living area. You may need to try several different places until you find what works for you. If you are feeling too distracted, or, at the other end of the spectrum, too isolated, you may need to make some adjustments. Keep in mind that different types of assignments may require different learning environments; you may need complete silence and isolation to write an essay, yet prefer being outdoors or in a coffee shop when reviewing for a quiz. Experiment, and do what works for you.

dog studyingOnline learning can be extremely challenging, but setting up a workspace is one way to mitigate conflicts between your home life, your work life, and your academic life. Each of these facets of your identity are deserving of their own space and dedication. Siva R. Sankaran and Tung Bui discuss online learning and motivation:

[Online students] should see the value of the education and be able to postpone current enjoyments and cope with interruption life frequently entails.

If you make your study space a space that motivates you, makes you focus, and blocks interruptions, you are setting yourself up for a successful and fulfilling semester.

How to Set Up a Space: Advice from Fellow Students

Have a place in your home where you do your schoolwork (ex. at a desk or the kitchen table) and places where you don't do your schoolwork (ex. in bed or on the couch). This helps you get into the studying mindset when it's time to work, and also helps you relax when it's time to unwind.

            - Jen Evans

I have converted a bedroom into my office so I could have my own quiet space. I have always been a very active person so I found sitting every evening to do homework was difficult for me. As I have a desk job during the day which requires a lot of sitting, I have set up a 'stand up desk' in my office. I also have my exercise ball which I often sit on if I want to sit at my desk. I try to work for 30 min at a time (set a timer on my phone and place my phone out of sight) take a quick break and then get back to it. While many say work for 50 min, I found it was too long for me so I experimented to see what worked.

            - Marilyn Clark

My best advice for studying online is to have a study space that is separate from procrastination tools. For example, at the picnic table, I don't care that the dishes aren't done or the laundry hasn't been put away. I can separate myself from distractions and simply focus on my studies.

            – Karen Gawne

I study on my bed with my notes and books sprawled out! I like this space because I study late at night and my adorable 11 month old is close by so I can settle him when needed, and just seeing him keeps me inspired. Staying motivated in self-directed learning can be tough!

            - Kelly Wagner

My best piece of advice is, be untidy! Worrying too much about making sure your desk looks perfect might stress you out and take away from studying. Just be comfortable! Also, keep a warm or cold beverage close by. I find that caffeinated tea helps me focus, and herbal tea helps me feel relaxed. Water close by also helps with staying hydrated. Finally, make sure to keep a nice picture on your monitor of someone that means a lot to you. It helps to look at that picture when things get overwhelming!

            - Julia Partington

How to Design Your Study Space

When it comes to designing a home office or study space, there are a lot of factors to take into account. How often do you plan to use the space? Is it a shared family space, or a private space? What type of work do you hope to complete? What distractions do you need to eliminate? What do you need in your space to inspire you?

We did a little research on the topic, and came up with some ideas that may inspire you to create your ideal study space.

Light

Natural light is essential. In addition to brightening up your workspace, light will reduce feelings of claustrophobia and exhaustion, and will increase your energy and productivity. Studies show that the majority of people prefer to work in a space with windows. Seasonal Affective Disorder resulting from reduced sunlight can cause withdrawal from social activity, reduced energy, and mood changes. In sum, keep your space bright!

Colour

The colours in your work environment should strike a balance between calming and activating your senses. You don’t want to go with a hot pink that is going to distract you and take away from your studies, but you also should avoid the other end of the spectrum – too much white or beige and you’re bound to get restless. Pastels work well for a study space, or more neutral shades of blue, green, purple, etc. Choose a room in your house with colours that put you in a good mood.

Ergonomics

You may spend quite a bit of time in your study space, so make sure it is comfortable. Your chair should have a seat cushion, good back support, and the ability to swivel. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and you shouldn’t have to bend your neck up or down to see your computer screen. Don’t forget to get up and stretch! You may want to follow the work 50 minutes, break for 10 minutes model and use your break to get up and walk around.

For more ideas, see these articles:

HGTV Home Offices

50 Home Office Ideas That Will Inspire Productivity

The Impact of Light and Colour on Psychological Mood

Why You Should Take Your Work Outside

USA Today College has a ton of great, short articles about student life and studying. I found this one about the benefits of studying outside particularly interesting.

As the article explains, there are a lot of great reasons to try studying outside:

1.      Lowered stress levels

As you might guess, being outside decreases stress. Doesn’t matter if you’re basking in nature or outside at a café in a bustling city, just being under the sun and breathing in fresh air makes a difference. As it happens, I’m writing this blog outside right now, on the patio at my favourite tea shop.

2.      Improved ability to focus

Though there are some distractions when you’re outside, if you’re able to minimize or ignore them, you will be able to focus on your studies. There aren’t nearly as many distractions as there would be at home, and your focus will improve as your stress levels lower.

3.      Boosts your memory

According to the article, students in a study performed better on a test if they had studied outside. Not sure if that always works, but it’s worth a shot!

4.      Vitamin D

Finally, being outside gives you access to Vitamin D. Your body needs Vitamin D, and most people aren’t getting enough in their daily lives. If you have the option to study out in the sun, take advantage!

5.      Creativity

Being outdoors does wonders for your creative abilities. If you’re working on an assignment that requires you to think outside the box, being out in the world will help you to hone in on your ideas.

The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.

               –Claude Monet

Study Space Checklist

Use this list to figure out what you need to make your perfect study space.

Happy decorating!

  • Comfortable chair
  • Windows
  • Calming colour, but not too calming – you don’t want to fall asleep!
  • Your favourite pens and pencils
  • Scrap paper
  • Fan
  • Sweater (climate control is key)
  • Water and snacks
  • Pictures
  • Calendar
  • Dry erase board
  • Drawers and/or filing cabinets
  • Knick knacks!
  • Stress ball
  • Motivational quotes