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How to Be More Productive in Your Study Space

A laptop, textbook and two drinks resting on a makeshift outdoor desk.

If you’re finding it difficult to concentrate on your schoolwork, take a look around you. Where are you studying? How does the space look, sound and feel? When you’re earning your college degree online, creating an environment that helps you maintain your focus is important.

Some students, alumni and faculty have shared how they maximize productivity in their study spaces. 

Why Can’t I Be Productive?

It can be challenging to avoid distractions, especially when learning from home. You may have kids running around or a television tempting your attention. Perhaps a stack of dirty dishes or clothes is within sight, or your bed is calling to you after a long day at work. Maybe you feel you’ve lost your motivation or can’t figure out how to stop procrastinating

Jennifer Breshears with the text Jennifer BreshearsYou may start by making adjustments to your study space. According to Dr. Tom Anastasi, an adjunct instructor for social sciences programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), the environment you work in impacts your productivity quite a bit.

Setting up an environment conducive to learning and deep focus can help you achieve your goals. “Everyone should find their zen when creating their space as they will spend an enormous amount of time working, learning and planning their future (there),” said Jennifer Breshears, an SNHU bachelor’s in business administration student in Oklahoma.

While all this may be easier said than done, there are some ways you can try to help boost your productivity as you study at home and beyond.

How Do I Make Myself More Productive?

Amber Alaniz with the text Amber AlanizIn addition to adopting time management strategies to help you meet your deadlines, you can also be intentional about what goes into your study space – and what stays out of it.

Amber Alaniz, an SNHU student from Texas, likes to keep items that comfort and motivate her as she earns her online communication degree. For example, one of her home study spaces is decorated with photos of loved ones and a “you got this” sign to keep her determined.

Breshears likes to keep reminders of why she is going to school around her while she studies. “It’s also nice to have pictures or reminders of why you work hard, or maybe a goal you have set for yourself,” she said. Breshears displays her first SNHU diploma above her desk to remind her of her academic goals. She finished her online associate degree in accounting last spring and plans to finish her bachelor’s next year.

Three pencil holders with motivational messages, containing pens, markers and highlighters.Like Alaniz, Breshears also surrounds herself with motivational messages – a reminder to keep going. “For example, there is a pen holder that says, ‘Girl, you are powerful. Go prove it to the world,’” she said. “Next to my diploma, there is a large, framed print that says, ‘She believed she could, so she did.’” Photos of her family also remind her that she is loved – no matter what.

If you don’t have a dedicated office to study in, that’s okay. Alaniz feels most productive when she's at her kitchen table or on the couch. Sometimes the best way to stay productive is to look beyond your home for a study space, too. 

A laptop, textbook, pen, paper and drink resting on a makeshift outdoor desk.Aurora Colquette, who's earning an anthropology degree online, takes to a nearby forest to study. “It's 10 acres of untouched land, and when I started back in school, I made little nooks for myself throughout those 10 acres for me to be able to study,” they said. 

One of the nooks is close enough to home to keep an internet connection, which is essential for certain assignments such as research papers. “The sounds of the leaves rustling and birds singing help calm any anxiety I might feel and (allows) me to focus (on) what is right in front of me,” Colquette said. They constructed a makeshift desk out of three old tires topped with pieces of an unused fence (see photo at the beginning of the article).

Naeem Jaraysi with the text Naeem JaraysiYou can also take advantage of a public library or your college’s campus if you live nearby. Cafés with internet access also offer a cozy atmosphere to get work done – and the bonus of caffeine. When Naeem Jaraysi ’20G was earning his online master’s in marketing, he visited a coffee shop a few times each week to get some coursework done. “I would typically go to a coffee shop and just work there for a couple hours,” he said. “Get some coffee, get some energy and do some reading.”

What is the Best Environment for Studying?

The best environment for studying is a space in which you feel focused and motivated – and the logistics may differ from person to person, assignment to assignment and day to day. It may take a bit of testing to see what environment works best for you.

A laptop connected to a desktop on a desk with a laptop. An SNHU diploma and motivational sign hang on the wall.For Breshears having a study space where everything is in its place allows her to focus. “I like my space to be aesthetically pleasing and organized,” she said. Having room available to lay printed resources beside her computer is also important to her. Leaving room for materials such as textbooks can help you access what you need quickly and without feeling cluttered or disorganized.

Her advice to building the perfect study space? “Think about things that put your mind at ease,” Breshears said. “You want a space that keeps your mind calm and allows you to focus on your studying.”

The same holds true for faculty. For example, Anastasi needs to work somewhere quiet if he needs to concentrate. When he grades assignments for the social psychology and political science capstone courses he teaches, he opts for a recliner. If he is working at night, he avoids bright lights.

What is the Best Way to Stay Productive?

A laptop, headphones and mug of coffee on a kitchen table.Once you’ve found the study space that helps you focus, you’ll want to learn how to stay that way. 

Music is an important part of Alaniz’s routine, and it helps her stay focused when a lot is going on around her. “A nice cup of coffee and some soft music always helps me stay focused,” she said. “I like to use my headphones as well to drown out distractions around me.”

Dr. Tom Anastasi with the text Dr. Tom AnastasiAnastasi makes sure to give his eyes a rest here and there. "I live by the ocean and make sure every few minutes to turn my head to look outside," he said. "These little screen breaks mean a lot, especially when I’m on the computer for hours every day."

Breshears keeps sticky notes close by her as she tackles her assignments. “At any given time, you can also find Post-It notes with different ideas, lists or inspirational quotes on them that I can glance at while working on school things,” she said. 

While it’s important to make sure you don’t feel cluttered, having a notepad – whether physical or digital – near you can be used when inspiration hits. Whether your thought pertains to an upcoming assignment, or you remember you need to pick up milk at the store, jotting it down can help you refocus on the task at hand without losing the thought that popped into your head.

Hydration is essential to productivity, too. “I like to have a hot and cold drink with me when studying, no matter the time of year,” Colquette said.

A diploma coverwith the text Southern New Hampshire University and a sign with the text The tassel was worth the hassleIf you feel yourself losing productivity, Alaniz recommends trying something different. “If you get complacent in one setting, change things up or move around,” she said. “Our space can make (or) break our mood, and your mindset is everything when tackling coursework.”

Whether you prefer working at the kitchen table like Alaniz, outdoors like Colquette, a coffee shop like Jaraysi – or somewhere else, make sure your space boosts your mood and makes you feel ready to accomplish your goals.

“If you're in a dreary or unmotivating or boring space, you're going to feel dreary, unmotivated and get bored more easily,” Colquette said. “All in all, it's important to want to be where you're going to study. Having multiple study spots allows for you to not get bored or lose momentum in your studies.” 

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU online program that can best help you meet your goals.

Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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