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How to Create a Productive Study Space

Creating an ideal study environment can help you focus, remove distractions and retain study material.

Think about it. Do you find yourself channel surfing on the living room couch, dozing off when reading in bed or checking emails at the dining room table?

If you’re earning a degree online, you have more control over where you study – home, a coffee shop or public library – but it can be difficult to find what works for you. Consider these tips to creating a place that fits your needs and promotes good study habits.

Personalize Your Comfort Level

Creating an ideal space can help signal your brain it’s time to study. You may want to consider setting aside a particular area for school work. Create an environment that won’t tempt you to take a nap or give into other distractions. For example, if reclining in a comfy sofa will make you tired, use a desk and chair instead.

Think about how you sit and move when studying. If you can’t concentrate while sitting still, get a chair with a rocking motion. Ideally, you should look for a chair with good back support that allows you to sit with your feet flat on the ground with your arms at the same level as your desk.

Studying can be stressful, so feel free to personalize your space by adding colors that appeal to the senses. Colors such as blue, purple and green help bring out feelings of peace and balance. Warmer colors like red, orange and yellow tend to inspire activity and even restlessness.

Eliminate Distractions

It can be tempting to check your phone for Facebook updates, new Twitter hashtags and emails filled with coupons to your favorite stores. But, if having your phone within reach causes your mind to wander, turn off the notifications and set it aside. You may be able to set up an auto-reply for incoming text messages, or let friends and family know you’re studying and will talk to them later.

It’s probably best to stay off social media as well. A five-minute “break” can turn into an hour of catching up on what your friends and family are posting online. Pulling up a social media account on your laptop can easily steal your attention, even if it’s on a window in the background.

Keeping distractions under control can help you concentrate and retain study information.

Create a Clutter-Free Zone

It’s possible the level of cleanliness within your space may just depend on the goal you are trying to accomplish.

When it comes to encouraging creativity and generating new ideas, a messy room may increase the likelihood of “out of the box” results, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. During several experiments, researchers found that a cluttered space was more likely to stimulate new ideas.

On the other hand, some people may find a messy study space ineffective and distracting. Although it can be challenging to keep your desk clean, working in a cluttered environment can affect your ability to finish a task, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. Researchers gave 100 college students a tough task and found that those working in a clean space showed more persistence, while those in a messy space gave up solving the problem much sooner.

Having a clean, well-organized space will help your mind focus when you sit down to study and may motivate you to finish a difficult assignment. By cleaning out unnecessary paperwork, trash and used pens, you’ll free up space that can be tailored to your learning style. Consider transforming a wall into a whiteboard to create a reusable area for note-taking. If you feel like paperwork piles up fast, create a file system that organizes as you study. Divide your files into the following categories:

File 1: Things needing completion

File 2: Items to save

File 3: Trash

After you complete your study session, throw out the scattered papers in your trash file, rearrange what’s left to be done and store items that need to be saved. Your end goal is to remove clutter in your study space and set up visual elements that improve creativity and information retention. If taking notes in different colors helps you remember the assignment, keep a jar of markers or colored pencils within reach, as long as you remember to put them back when you’re done.

Let Natural Light In

The right kind of lightning can make or break a study space. Light shining directly in your eyes, not enough light or too much light can distract you, cause eye strain and headaches.

Natural light is typically the best option for your eyes. According to one study from the Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, daylight can help you feel more alert, while artificial light can make you drowsy. However, if you must study indoors, the brighter, the better, according to another study. Researchers found that students in classrooms with brighter lighting (500 lux) performed better than those in lower-lit rooms (300 lux) based on the number of lux, which measure the intensity of light to the human eye.

If you’re able to study in natural light, pay close attention to light levels compared to the position of your desk and chair. For example, it may be effective to have natural light behind you when reading.

Music vs. Background Noise

Listening to music can excite you or calm you down. But, can it help you retain information when studying? Research studies vary.

According to a Johns Hopkins University study, listening to music can improve your mood and enhance work performance. Research conducted by the University of Wales revealed listening to music before you study increased cognitive performance; listening to music during study time decreased performance.

If you haven’t tried listening to music while studying, it may be worth a try. When it comes to your music selection, be honest with what works for you. If classical music helps you focus, play that. For others, country, jazz or classical music, or white noise may help with concentration.

If music doesn’t help set the mood, maybe background noise is enough to keep you on task. It comes down to what’s best for you. If you don’t know yet, try switching up songs, genres and even studying in silence to find out what works best.

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