When I was in university, you could always tell when I had an upcoming deadline because that’s when the house would be spic-and-span and smell like freshly baked cakes or cookies. My younger brother loved final exam time. Needless to say I was the queen of procrastination.
It isn’t until my senior year that I actually figured out how to study effectively without getting distracted. That’s a tall order. We’ve become a society of serial multitaskers! A lot of it has to do with your habits, yes, but it’s also about not fighting it too much. Just give yourself a fighting chance by creating a study situation that works for you.
I love libraries. They have an atmosphere that make you feel like you *should* be studying and that’s half the battle. If it’s nice out, a quiet local park or coffee shop can also work. If you have a chance to explore study spaces that aren’t in your own home, give them a try. It’s also a great way of separating your studies from your home life, which can help in reducing stress.
Wherever you decide to study, make sure it’s in an area where you’ll be able to concentrate. Avoid your bedroom if you can. The bedroom should be a place to relax, not to work. If you can’t do this, you should have a separate desk or table where you can set yourself up for success.
Try to set up your study space where distractions will be limited. Now, here’s the trick: “distractions” are different for everyone. Some people work at their best in a closed-in room, while for others this is the worst thing in the world. Experiment and find a spot that works for you.
Your best bet is likely to set yourself up in an area where you’ll be left alone.
That doesn’t necessarily mean to lock yourself away from the world, but simply somewhere others will respect your space. If your study space is at home, make sure everyone in the house knows that when you are in that area you are not to be disturbed.
If your family or roommates have trouble with this, you can print out a fun & quirky sign that gets the message across. Hang this sign on the door or, if you’re studying in a more public place, just hang it on your back. People will have a chuckle but they’ll also be more likely to respect your needs.
That goes for your phone, too. Put it on silent mode and ideally leave it at least a good 10 paces away from you. If you have to physically stand up and walk a few steps every time you want to check your emails or text messages, you’ll do so far less often than if it’s in your pocket.
If you’re using your computer for your studies, close that email window during study time. I know you’re an important person, but whatever email you receive, it can wait a few hours for a reply.
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
There’s likely a period of time in the day where you’re at your most productive. It can be first-thing in the morning, right after lunch, or at midnight. It all depends on your internal clock and the habits you formed at a young age.
While you *can* train yourself to be productive at any time, my advice is not to fight it. Instead just try and figure out your daily “peek times” and try to schedule your studies around those times.
I know you may not have the luxury of studying on your peek times. Especially if you have a family, and a full time job to boot. If that’s the case, then my best advice is to at least try not to schedule your studies when you know you’ll be exhausted. If you have a Monday-to-Friday job, for instance, maybe save your studies for the weekend, or at least on weeknights closer to the start of the week when you’ll be more refreshed.
A few simple tools will help you make the most out of any study space:
A comfy chair is a must
Forget the couch, and don’t even think about the bed. Set yourself up on a chair that is comfortable and encourages you to keep a good posture. It will help you keep your energy levels up and will also help your mind stay focused.
Daylight is key
That doesn’t mean you should only study during the day. Assuming you’re indoors, ensure the room is brightly lit. Try not to study by a desk lamp alone. If the room is somewhat dark your body will become tired much more quickly. Lights on, my friend. Your brain will thank you for it.
Background noise required… probably
Very few people do their best work in total silence. It might be good for meditation, but when it comes to working, it’s best to have some sort of background noise that will help you concentrate.
Music is usually the first thing that comes to mind, and it works well for most people. If lyrics are distracting, try something instrumental.
Another standard go-to is white noise. Something that literally just drowns out everything else. As I write this, I’m listening to a track of a thunderstorm I created on the site naturesoundsfor.me. There are many free websites like this one out there where you can create custom sound tracks. From sounds of storms to a horse-drawn carriage on a snowy night, to Darth Vader playing tribal drums… if the sound helps you concentrate, go for it!
Don’t be afraid to experiment with less-than-traditional forms of background noise, either. You may think I’m crazy but I do my best work while I’m listening to the Die Hard movies. A friend of mine writes more effectively while listening to old Abbott & Costello episodes. Embrace whatever works best for you.
Computers not allowed
Ok… that’s a bit harsh.
But using a computer for your studies can be your greatest mistake. Sure it’s needed in some cases, but your computer is likely the greatest source of distraction you will face. Not to mention, staring at a computer screen will tire you out much more quickly than a piece of paper will.
Try to avoid the computer if you can. Print out your study materials and read them on paper. Take notes with a good old fashioned pen and notebook. Write your first drafts of assignments by hand instead of typing them. You’d be surprised what a difference this can make.
We’ve already talked about how to set up, now it’s time to quickly cover good habits to develop:
- Study in short bursts. Give yourself a 5-minute break every 20-30 minutes or so to allow your brain to refocus.
- Keep well hydrated. Your brain is working hard! Drink a lot of water. Many people overlook this step.
- Get some fresh air. Step outside for a few minutes every now and then and take a breather. Not only will it calm you down but it’s also good for your health.
- Set goals. Keep yourself motivated by setting realistic goals. Reward yourself when you accomplish them.
- Be well rested. We mentioned this earlier. Don’t try to study when you’re exhausted. It doesn’t work.
- Find the right temperature. Some people work best when it’s nice and hot in the room, others like it a bit cooler.
- Stay clean & organized. Starting out with a neat & tidy workspace will help you study more effectively and will limit distractions.
Not surprisingly, a better study environment will lead to a better educational experience. While most people are able to muddle through in less-than-ideal conditions and scrape by with a passing grade… is that really what you went back to school for? Why not spend some time finding the perfect study situation and get the most out of your courses?
I hope the tips outlined above will help you study more effectively and, in turn, enjoy your school work even more!