Since most people have been spending a lot of extra time at home for the past year, whether to study at home has become a non-issue. With most libraries and coffee shops shut down (at least for those seeking leisurely study hours), home is pretty much the only option. Even before the days of shutdowns and quarantines, studying from home offered quite a few perks—it's convenient, it’s free, you can squeeze in a few minutes here and there...but at some point, nearly everyone starts to go a little crazy from distractions, stress, procrastination, unhelpful habits, or just sheer boredom with the never-changing scenery, especially if going out is just not a practical option. Thankfully, there are many strategies to minimize the negative effects of staying in. Here are 13 ways to keep your sanity while studying at home:
1. Cancel the noise
If you’re at home with other people, noise is inevitable. Trying to study with your kids running around the house or your spouse jumping into conference calls every half-hour can feel like swimming upstream. If you’re having trouble focusing due to the constant noise level around you, invest in a quality pair of noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to tune out any distracting sounds.
2. Ban the stress
Even homebodies can start to go a little stir-crazy when staying at home is the only option. If stress is crippling your study time, take a step back and find an activity that helps you relax. Whether it’s a power nap, stepping outside for a walk around the yard, or putting on some music and dancing it out in the kitchen, time spent preparing your mind for learning will never be wasted.
3. Turn on music
For many people, music can be a grounding, relaxing, and focusing force. If you’re having trouble getting motivated or paying attention, try an inspiring movie or video game soundtrack, both of which are designed to capture your focus without distracting you. If you’re stressed, try nature sounds or soft instrumental music. Everyone is different, so experiment to see what kind of music helps you. I personally can listen to any music that I know well, because my brain doesn’t have to pay attention to lyrics or new sounds and is soothed by the familiarity. Some people can only tolerate instrumental tracks or white noise, while others cannot focus while listening to anything. Classical music is also a popular choice, since besides being instrumental, it is also thought to boost dopamine levels, diminish stress, and improve memory!
4. Carve out a study space
When studying at home, it’s tempting to settle in with your books and laptop anywhere you can find a comfortable seat, but consider setting aside a special study area to help yourself get in the learning zone. Create a study space or furniture arrangement that you only use for studying. Whenever you sit at that desk or pull up a certain chair to the kitchen counter, tell yourself “This is where I study.” By creating a connection between this spot and productivity, you can train your brain to be more focused the moment you sit down in your designated productivity area. Do not let yourself sit there for any other reason. (For the same reason, don’t go to your favorite easy chair or your bed to study! Those locations are full of tempting distractions waiting to steal your attention, such as browsing Netflix or taking a nap.) Learn more: How to Create the Perfect Study Room
5. Enforce your boundaries
Studying at home provides plenty of opportunities for interruption. You may need to strictly enforce your study time as “sacred time” to your family or roommates, particularly if they are prone to popping in and distracting you every few minutes. While being respectful of others’ needs to move around and take care of their own priorities, let them know that you need to set aside a certain amount of time to study each day. If appropriate, ask them when this would best work with their schedule. Once you agree on a workable schedule, set a timer and let them know that, apart from emergencies, you will not be available until the timer goes off. If you have small children who struggle with this rule, perhaps another adult in the household could watch them for a short period of time to give you an uninterrupted segment of studying. If another adult is unavailable, supervising creative play or screen time from across the room might give you a few extra minutes of focus.
6. Cut the clutter
Studies show that a messy space can literally mess with your mind by increasing your cortisol level (indicating stress) and deteriorating your ability to focus. Cleaning up around your study area will help keep you distraction-free and attuned to your task rather than thinking about that pile of laundry that needs to be folded.
7. Leave your phone behind
If you find yourself checking your phone every time you get a notification, consider leaving it in the other room. If you absolutely must have it with you for work or emergency purposes, consider turning off social media notifications, uninstalling your go-to social media apps during your study times, or installing one of these browser add-ons or apps to keep you on the right track. Learn more: Check out 11 other time-management and productivity apps for students!
8. Mark the time
Are your days going by in a blur? Decide which days are special to you and make them distinct from the others in some way. You could mark the passing of time in many ways, like not studying on certain days, creating a special weekly meal or activity, or declaring every Saturday a movie-marathon extravaganza! Whether you choose to emphasize the weekend or a random day or two in the middle of the week, creating contrast in your days will help you to maintain a sense of rhythm and break up lockdown boredom.
9. Create a habit
Your unique at-home situation probably presents some unique distractions, opportunities to procrastinate, or unhelpful habits that could easily trip you up. If you’re looking to start a new habit, you'll need a cue, routine, and reward. Basically, you turn yourself into the dog in Pavlov’s famous behavioral experiment! This article helps you understand the basic principles of habit formation, identify the habit you want to change, and navigate around common pitfalls so you can transform your habits into exactly what you want them to be.
10. Take mandatory breaks
Anything gets old if you do it long enough. No matter how important your studies are to you, you still need a break every now and again to keep your brain sharp and motivated. Experts disagree about the exact ratio of work to break time needed to create optimal performance, but they do agree that stepping away from your task helps you do better in the long run.
11. Institute rewards and celebrations
This idea goes along with habit formation and taking breaks, but it encompasses so much more. If studying from home is getting old, you might need to add more incentives to your arsenal. Instead procrastinating with your latest Netflix show before your study session, bargain with yourself that you can watch a new episode for every two or three hours you study. For every course that you pass, you could give yourself a day off to do whatever you want or celebrate with a special takeout feast if you pass a big exam. Find rewards you’d really enjoy that you can experience from home, and don’t be shy in applying them to your studies! If you are getting in adequate study time and not breaking the bank by treating yourself, the more positive associations the better! If you need more parameters, set yourself a monthly celebratory budget.
12. Set reachable daily goals
When you do sit down to study, write down what you want to accomplish in that time. Create between one and three goals to focus on during that study session. Don’t write down more than three. Focus on what is doable and most important that day. Having specific and quantifiable goals for each study session can help you dig into your educational priorities and acknowledge that it’s okay to not get everything done in one day. Here are a few more goal-setting hacks that you should try if traditional resolutions aren’t doing the trick.
13. Care for yourself
Finally, as you fight for your sanity while studying at home, don’t forget to take care of yourself! Doing your best to eat a colorful and balanced diet, moving around during the day, getting enough sleep, and reaching out to friends and family for socialization (even if it’s virtual for now) cannot be underestimated in reducing stress and helping your brain rest and recover between study times. There are so many ways to make college studies at home more engaging and less mind-numbing, like having someone to cheer you on! If you need more support and motivation in pursuing your degree, you might benefit from working with one of our success coaches here at Accelerated Pathways. If more support, efficiency, and flexibility from home sounds like something you’d enjoy, schedule a free conversation with one of our advisors today to see how we can make your home-based studies work better for you.