Study at Home: The Ultimate Guide to Optimize your Home to Study Better
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It is easier than ever to learn from home. You can attend some of the best universities for way cheaper (or even for free) all from your home. However, you could easily be overwhelmed by all the distractions around you which could demotivate you. There are some things that you can do in order to create a space that works for you and improves your focus while studying. Taking breaks is an important part of studying effectively but procrastination and distraction can come relatively easily when you study at home. Let’s look at some of the things you could do to optimize your home to study better.
Study at Home: Quick Look
Have a Designated Study Space
One of the biggest hurdles, when you study at home, is your familiarity with the whole place. Consciously or subconsciously you have designed your home to serve as a place to relax. Your couch and chairs point to your TV, your kitchen has things that could feed you when you want. This requires you to be even more alert than usual to not fall prey to the familiarity and feel extra relaxed.
Designating a small corner of your home or room just for studying helps you mentally separate other daily activities from this one space. This study space would be only for studying which could be as simple as a desk and chair. This means it cannot become the place to watch your favorite Netflix show during your break. Initially, you will be training your mind to recognize this space just for studying. Anything else needs to be done elsewhere. You could tweak your setup with time to make it more comfortable and efficient. The right environment is essential to study efficiently. In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about creating a conducive environment that would encourage good habits and discourage bad ones.
“Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.”
I lived in a small room in college where I did not have too much room, to begin with. Once you have trained your mind to recognize this space for its purpose, even a small space would work really well. I created a really small corner using a small desk and chair. The only other thing you need to ensure is accessibility to a socket or a power strip to charge your laptop. You will be better off keeping your phone away to avoid distractions anyway.
Create Hurdles to Getting Distracted
Borrowing from Atomic Habits, you can also set up your environment to not get distracted. This can be achieved by adding hurdles between you and distractions.
For example, if your phone is a source of distraction, turn it off, keep it in your backpack, and keep your backpack in a different room (or give it to your neighbor!). You can get creative here to make it more and more difficult for you the more something tends to distract you. The end goal is to make it tough for you to get to your phone (or any other source of distraction) and lose track of time.
Another major source of distractions would be right on your laptop: games, social media websites, YouTube, Netflix, etc. You can start by deleting apps like Netflix or games on your laptop. To block out distracting websites you can use Freedom. Freedom is great because it works across devices and you can also choose to block out the internet altogether on your device.
Create a 5-minute Daily Plan
To not lose track of time and have a structure to your day, it is helpful to have a daily plan. For this, I like the approach by Cal Newport in his book How to Become a Straight-A Student. You can read a summary of the book here.
There are two components to this system. The first component is your calendar (Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, etc.), the second is a piece of paper or a note-taking app. I personally find a note-taking app like Notion to be more convenient than a piece of paper. Cal Newport recommends using only 5 minutes in the morning to schedule your plan for that day. After those 5 minutes, you will not be changing your schedule much, if nothing urgent comes up. By being realistic (and even a little pessimistic) about how long something would take you, schedule tasks in your calendar with set start and end times. If anything new comes up during the day, note it down on your paper or app. You would consider the tasks you noted down when scheduling tasks for the next day.
Multitasking is seen as a virtue in most settings but the outcome of multitasking is mostly contrary to popular belief. Tim Ferriss talks about the loss of efficiency and poor results due to multitasking in his book The 4-Hour Work Week.
“If you prioritize properly, there is no need to multitask. It is a symptom of task creep – doing more to feel productive while actually accomplishing less…Divided attention will resilt in more frequent interruptions, lapses in concetration, poorer net results, and less gratification”
You can read a summary of The 4-Hour Work Week here.
When you are studying from home, you would have days where you feel overwhelmed with assignments, tests, and your daily chores at home. These are the times when multitasking does seem like the ideal solution but it does not produce the desired results if you are seeking to give everything you do your best.
Use Time Management Techniques
It should not come as a surprise to find out that you need to manage your time well, especially when you study at home. In addition to not getting distracted, as mentioned above, you also need to ensure you are studying efficiently. Once you create your 5-minute Daily Plan from above, it is important to manage your time well to accomplish your goals for the day.
The Pomodoro Technique
A lot of the time we tend to struggle with just starting something. Things seem easier to do once you have started. The Pomodoro Technique can help counter this inertia. The technique involves breaking a 30-minute study session into two components: 25 minutes for studying followed by a 5-minute break. You can experiment with the times to find out what works best for you.
You can read more about The Pomodoro Technique here.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed when you study at home, you can use the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize your tasks. Using the Matrix, you separate your tasks into four categories or quadrants: Do, Decide, Delegate, Delete. The tasks are added to these quadrants based on their importance and urgency as shown in the image above.
Read more about the Eisenhower Matrix and learn how to implement it for your daily workflow here.
Connect with other Students and Professors
A huge component of college or studying, in general, is socializing with your peers around you and your professors.
With other students, you can discuss your study approach, your approach to assignment questions, or even which movie you watched the night before. This social aspect does help you relax and share solutions that work to collectively succeed. The main motive in connecting with other students is to learn better and share knowledge to grow together. You can hit up other students on any social media or even meet at a set time in the week to go over what and how you studied.
It is just as important to connect with your professors when you study at home. Not only can they help you with parts of the study material you haven’t understood well, but they can also help you introduce you to relevant activities/events to apply your newly gained knowledge. If you are involved in research, your professor can introduce you to the people that can assist you with various aspects of your research.
Practicing Active Reading or Active Studying can help you stay engaged with what you are studying. The main focus of active reading is to understand what you are reading better and put it in terms of what you have learned or want to learn. Using something like the Feynman Technique while active reading can also help you identify what you have not fully understood.
The main goals with Active Reading are to capture all the big and relevant ideas, simplify and explain the ideas you learn, build on what you already know, and keep asking questions to know the content better. This can be achieved using Pseudo Skimming, grouping ideas together, or even taking notes.
Read the post on Active Reading here to know how you can implement it to work for you and learn more about techniques like Pseudo Skimming that can help you become a better active reader.
Different people have varying study break ideas. Taking study breaks can increase productivity but when taken too far can make the whole study session redundant. In a world where people’s worth is quantified by their work and efficiency, the thought of taking a break might seem redundant sometimes.
According to a study by the University of Urbana-Champaign, taking brief study breaks increases productivity. Alejandro Lleras, the professor conducting the research concluded:
“We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused…From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”
Some activities you could do to relax and take a break are going for a walk, meditation, exercise, cooking, listening to music, etc. Read this post to learn more about study breaks, study to break ratios, and study break ideas.
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