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Six tips for helping students create a productive study space at home

  • Madison Schiefelbein
  • February 19, 2020

“When you go into a good studio, let me tell you what you’ll see,” the founder of a music arts academy recently told us. “You’ll see a clean and orderly space that has been designed, from the ground up, to eliminate noise from the outside world — because when you’re trying to make amazing music, anything other than the music is an interference.”

We don’t know a single parent, teacher or administrator who doesn’t agree that even their most studious students are often feeling very distracted from their studies. There’s so much out there to take our students’ attention away from their school work. But you can help your students create a productive study space at home, just by thinking about studying in the way that a music producer thinks about recording audio.

Here are six tips you can share with your students to eliminate distractions:

The less noise the better

Let’s start by talking about literal noise. Studies show that learning is often disrupted by what is called “task-irrelevant environmental noise.” One way to think of this is to remember that our brains are taking in information even when we are not consciously aware of it. Even if you’re good at “filtering out” distracting noise, your brain is still using some of its energy to not only process that noise but also to keep it from disrupting your primary train of thought. That’s energy that could be going to studying!

So the first step in creating a productive study space is to eliminate whatever noises you can. That starts with the things you can control. Turn your phone completely off. If you feel like you have to listen to music, make sure it’s music without words (lyrics take extra brain-processing power, even if you don’t think you’re specifically listening to them.)

What other noises can you cut out? Do you live near a busy street? Make your study space in an area of the house furthest from it. Do your siblings make a lot of noise? Stack cushions up against your door. Be creative. You don’t have to get rid of every noise, but every decibel counts. 

The less “noise” the better

Now let’s talk about figurative noise. Look around your study space. Is it cluttered and messy? Are there lots of colors and shapes and moving things? This is another kind of “noise” you can get rid of to make your study space more conducive to learning.

Everything you see in your peripheral vision when you are studying should be as clean and tidy as possible. But just as you can’t always make a space perfectly quiet, sometimes these things will be out of your control. Don’t worry. Take 60 seconds to clean at least one or two things that will be around you while you study. Every little bit helps.

Get comfortable

If you are sitting in an uncomfortable position, your brain will be spending some of its energy working to prevent you from thinking about the aches and pains that chair is creating. That’s energy that is not going toward your learning.

Researchers have demonstrated that the simple act of sitting upright in a comfortable chair can improve concentration and test results. That’s why, if there’s one really good investment to make in your study space, it’s a chair that helps you maintain good posture and feel comfortable.

This doesn’t have to be expensive. If you don’t already have a chair like this, visit a few second-hand stores with a book or laptop computer — and study there for a bit on each of the different chairs that are for sale. Which one feels best after five or 10 minutes? That might be the one for you! 

Don’t get too comfortable

Comfort is important, but when our bodies are too comfortable, it signals our brains to take a break. That’s why your bed, floor, or couch are not great places to study.

The two best positions for studying are sitting upright or standing upright. (And it’s important to note that standing is only good if your legs are not feeling tired and your back does not ache. Remember, the idea is comfort and good posture.)

Lots of light

Just like recumbent positions can signal our brains that it’s time to sleep, so can a lack of light. If you study space has dim lighting, it’s time to change the bulbs and get some extra light sources.

It’s probably true that a room could be “too bright,” at a level that makes your eyes strain. Don’t go that far. But replacing older-style bulbs with new LED bulbs that have a high “lumen” number will help give your brain a constant reminder that it needs to be up and alert.

Plenty of air flow

Getting fresh air can be tricky if your study space is in a noisy place, where doors and windows need to be closed to limit distractions. When possible, though, fresh air is another thing that helps signal our brains to be alert.

When it isn’t possible to have a window open, a fan can be the next best thing. Just the feeling of circulating air can help keep you feeling comfortable, cool and alert to what you need to be doing.

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