In fifty years of solitary work—researching and writing—I’ve discovered that some environments put me in a more productive frame of mind than others. When the conditions aren’t “ideal” for me, I get distracted easily. Disarray puts me in a jumpy mood and I don’t stay on task very long. A review of the literature suggests that I’m not alone.
According to behavioral scientists, several conditions influence your motivation to study:
The demands of everyday life can be distracting, making it easy to get sidetracked into extraneous tasks. This is why it’s crucial to create a daily routine, with time clearly allocated to study.
Claiming set times in a routine is particularly helpful if you live with someone who needs to learn when to leave you to yourself. Your special time allocated to studying should be clear to everyone.
If you live someplace surrounded with noisy friends or family, you won’t be able to hear yourself think. You may find yourself getting irritated and distracted. If this happens, it’s wise to scout around for an alternative study space where you’ll get peace and quiet as you concentrate on your notes and books.
If worse comes to worst, get some earphones that block out environmental sounds. And disable your phone for a while.
Although some people can stay focused when surrounded by chaos, noise generally disrupts mental processes. Many students vow that soft music or a television set turned on low keeps them on task and in no way hampers their concentration. Researchers would challenge that claim. They have found that environmental noise—background music, city sounds, people’s conversations—leads to a decrease in performance for most people. While these things can improve positive emotions, increase performance in sports, and make people complete tasks a little faster, they have disruptive consequences for reading and studying—a chilling finding for students addicted to ambient noise.
Whether you are in your room in a dormitory or in a public place like a library or a coffee shop you need to create your own space. Set some boundaries between you and the outside world with familiar personal objects. If you’re in a coffee shop, find a table by yourself, discourage visitors by filling the table with coffee cups, napkins, notes, etc. This not only discourages intruders, but it creates peace of mind. “This space is mine alone.” Embellishments make the workplace inviting to you and discourage outsiders who might otherwise interrupt your work.
By returning to or recreating the same work environment over and over, you help safeguard yourself against blocks to studying.
Tidy Work Area
Many students pore over their books in a messy environment. It’s not what they prefer, but it’s what they do, mostly out of task avoidance or downright laziness. If you belong to this category of students, you’d best tidy up your study area before attempting to work. It’s surprising what a salutary effect this has on productivity. You don’t have to break your concentration looking for items you’ve misplaced. A tidy desktop clears the mind.
Your desk chair should be large enough to take your full weight and support your back. Backaches are not conducive to good study habits. You should have a desk that will give you plenty of clean space to work on. Your computer screen should be adjusted to the correct angle and distance for easy viewing. The room should be tidy and air-conditioned, or heated to a temperature that feels comfortable to you.
If you use the internet for research, you need a reliable and fast internet connection for easy access to information. Your laptop or desktop computer should have a keyboard that’s comfortable for typing. If you take notes while working, have a writing pad and pens or pencils handy. In other words, create an efficient and well-stocked study center,
Wearing pajamas may work for some people, but it makes many of us sleepy and tired, wanting only to retreat to our beds for a short restorative nap. Dressing to the nines has the opposite detrimental effect. We’ve prepared ourselves to go out on the town, not work at our keyboard. Wear garments that make you feel presentable, clean and alert, but not all dressed up with no place to go.
Shoes? By all means, go without. Based on observations of thousands of children from 25 countries over 10 years, academics concluded that children who slip off their shoes are more likely to arrive at school earlier, leave later and read more widely. Comprehensive new research suggests that “shoeless” kids are more engaged in lessons, leading to better concentration and test results.
There are times when attempting to study is just not a good idea. One thing is clear – if you are angry or upset, the last thing you should do is to try some serious studying. It requires a clear mind, unclouded by negative thoughts. Wait until your feathers are no longer ruffled. Then go for it.