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Study buddy: 6 ways to create a focus-friendly space

If an outfit can make the man (or woman), can a study space make the grade?

Probably not. But having a well-designed, dedicated space for studying might help improve your focus. It doesn’t have to be fancy, expensive or even a room unto itself. It just needs a few key characteristics.

So, how do you create a perfect study space? First, get inspired. Then, read on.

Claim your space

Deciding where to plant yourself can be deceptively complicated. It should be someplace that’s off the beaten path (read: where your kids or pets won’t walk by you every two minutes) and that’s distraction-free, whether your distraction is the TV, your adorable cats or your waiting-to-be-unloaded dishwasher.

“Most people think, ‘Oh, I’ll go study in the dining room,’” observes interior designer Megan Murray. “Well, that’s often either close to or attached to the kitchen, which is one of the busiest rooms in the house.”

Murray, who earned her Master of Business Administration from University of Phoenix, is based in Michigan and has more than 15 years of experience in design, much of it for commercial spaces. She urges people to think creatively when deciding where to study.

Do you hit the books when your kids are at school? If so, a child’s bedroom might be a good, distraction-free zone. Do you have a basement, a nook under the stairs or even a spare bedroom? Any quiet, semi-private space can fit the bill.

And if you get antsy after spending too long in any one place, Murray recommends going where your tasks take you. If you need to read for an assignment, you might settle onto the couch. If you need to write a paper or work in a group, you might seek what

Murray describes as a “task posture” with a desk and chair.

After all, Virginia Woolf famously observed that a woman must have a room of her own in order to write fiction. Students may need several rooms in order to study. 

Pay attention to orientation

No matter where you end up, Murray points out that the space itself is only part of the equation. Equally important is how you use it.

This is actually good news for people who have to study in busy spaces. If the only place you can study is in the kitchen, for example, orient your workspace away from the hustle and bustle, even if that means you’re facing the corner. It may be a corner, but hey, it’s your corner.

Insist on form and function

Whether you work from home or study at home (or both), the undisputed MVP of a study space is the ergonomic chair.

“I wouldn’t say it’s 100% necessary, but I definitely think it improves people’s overall work or study experience at home,” Murray says.

Ergonomic chairs mean you can stay comfortable longer. And staying comfortable longer means you can focus longer.

If you want to invest in a good chair, look for these characteristics:

  • Adjustable chair height
  • Comfortable seat
  • Lower-back support
  • Enough room for your hips
  • Armrests (if you like!)
  • Comfortable even after one to two hours

Of course, you don’t have to shell out a thousand dollars for a new chair. You can also repurpose a comfortable chair with strategically placed cushions.

The jelly to the peanut butter of an ergonomic chair is the desk. As Murray points out, height-adjustable tables proliferated during the pandemic’s work-from-home revolution, and that’s good news for at-home studying.

“It’s more of a splurge than buying a typical desk,” Murray acknowledges, “but it really is worth it, because it’s going to make you want to stay in the space longer and make your focus last longer.” 

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Get lit (not like that)

Good lighting is like good makeup: It can mask or exacerbate all manner of sins. When it comes to a study space, however, lighting plays an important role in productivity.

Natural light, especially if it’s accompanied by a good view, can help keep you feel awake and inspired. For darker spaces, Murray recommends investing in a task light so that you can easily see (and stay focused on) the assignment in front of you.

Create ambience

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference. In the case of an at-home study space, those details might include:

  • Plants: “Plants bring warmth to any space,” Murray says. “There’s that connection to nature and the outdoors that just adds a nice feeling to the space.” Her go-to recommendation for low-maintenance greenery is the snake plant.
  • Fragrance: Whether you prefer diffusers or candles, employing certain scents like rosemary or peppermint can enhance your ability to pay attention. Not into fire or gear? Then keep a fragrant bar soap on your desk in a drawer instead.
  • Sound: Consider the background noise of your chosen space(s). Are there dogs barking or children playing? Are you sharing your study space? Is a television nearby? Any of these scenarios might call for a counterbalance of white noise, noise-canceling headphones or your own relaxing music. “If you do have to be in an open [or shared] space, and you can’t shut the door, headphones with your phone work wonders,” Murray points out.

Make your space multifunctional

Whether you’re already working from home or aspiring to after you complete your degree, it can make sense to take your relationship with your study space to the next level. That is, consider having your study space double as a home office.

Murray accordingly encourages the selection of smart storage options so that you can put away your work when you’re studying and vice versa. (This is also helpful if you’re just sharing your study space with kids or a partner.)

Practically speaking, storage could be anything from an official office system to strategically selected boxes or bookcases. (Or a bookcase with boxes!) The goal is to essentially have a place to put your papers, books, tablets and all the ephemera that inevitably accompanies schoolwork.

“Anything that has drawers and doors, even if it’s a mess behind there, makes the mess kind of disappear,” Murray explains. “When it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind, so again, it doesn’t become a distraction.”

In the end, a refreshed study space is all about minimized distractions and optimized organization — with a dash of inspiration for good measure. What you achieve with that is up to you.

Looking for a good success story? We’ve got plenty on the University of Phoenix blog!