It's that dreaded time of year again. Finals are just around the corner and you are probably buried knee-deep in lecture notes, books and practice papers. The library reminds you more of a crowded panic room than a quiet place of relaxation. Hordes of students are crammed around desks that are too small and it reeks of desperation. How are you supposed to focus on studying with people talking, exchanging notes and going through exam questions?
Maybe it's time to study from home for a change. There are many great perks to studying at home; it's quiet, you can get a snack or drink anytime you want, and you can get cozy in your fluffy Onesie without being stared at.
However, before you get too excited, don't forget about all the distractions that await you at home. There's your cell phone, Facebook, the TV, Facebook, maybe even a roommate or two, or a pet, and, of course, Facebook.
It can be tricky to stay focused and productive when studying from home, but the good news is that, by setting certain rules and making use of some smart tools and apps, you can develop your productivity.
Here are our top five tips to help improve your productivity when studying from home. Not all of them will work for everybody, so pick your favorites and experiment a bit to find the perfect balance for you.
1. Get comfortable -- but not too much.
You might see yourself staying in your pajamas all day, studying in bed or on the couch. This might work for some -- it's well known that Winston Churchill worked in bed every morning -- but generally I'd suggest getting up and working at a desk or table.
A dedicated workspace will immediately get you into "study mode". This can be the kitchen counter, a desk or even the coffee table if that works for you. Just make sure you're comfortable (especially when working on a laptop or computer) and have good lighting, as this helps you focus.
2. Don't multitask.
You're probably reading this on your phone, while walking to class and drinking a latte, right? We are so used to multitasking in our every day life that it's hard to stop doing it when we should be focusing on studying. But did you know that multitasking isn't only bad for productivity (yes, bad!) but also bad for your brain?
One of the best ways to stop yourself attempting to do ten things at the same time is the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro (Italian for tomato), it is a simple but powerful way to stay on task for a certain amount of time. It was named after the tomato shaped kitchen timers that were popular in the 80s. The idea is to set a timer or alarm clock for 25 minutes and focus on just one task during that interval (called Pomodoro). After each Pomodoro take a five-minute break away from the screen. If any other thoughts pop into your head during an interval, write them on a piece of paper and immediately get back to your task.
3. Take sensible breaks.
Talking of breaks. It's too easy to get stuck in the house all day when you live, sleep and study there. Taking regular breaks from the screen or your books is important, not only for your health, but also for productivity. Be strict with yourself and make sure you actually take them.
Checking Facebook during your breaks doesn't count though; you should do something off-screen so your eyes get a chance to relax. Get up and walk around the house, catch some fresh air in the garden or walk around the block for 5 to 10 minutes. If you're not a walker, or it's horrible weather outside, you could also do a few simple yoga stretches and postures. Those of you that work at a computer or laptop can do special exercises for your shoulders, neck, back and wrists.
4. Switch it off -- but not all of it.
If your phone is your biggest distraction, you should consider using an app that can block you from using it for certain periods of time. One option is called Moment, which will send incredibly annoying, vibrating push notifications every few seconds if you try to use the phone during your banned times. The experience is incredibly off-putting and really effective.
Luckily there are also hundreds of phone and desktop apps and tools that actually help you stay on task.
Project management tools like Asana and Trello are a lifesaver if you're juggling multiple projects, papers, and exams, and can also help coordinate your social life and studies. Both tools let you create different projects, set tasks with deadlines and help you communicate with fellow students: a really great option for study groups.
Momentum is a Chrome Extension that provides you with a personal dashboard. Every time you open a new tab or window in your browser you will see a beautiful inspirational background, a to-do-list and a single focus item for the day.
Environments that are too quiet or loud can make it harder to focus, and many people find it helpful to have quiet music or white noise playing in the background. Noisli is an ingenious (and fun!) browser app that lets you create customized white noise. It also saves your favorite combos and has an in-built Pomodoro timer. For those who are very sensitive to noise around them, noise-canceling headphones could be the solution.
5. Tell people to leave you alone.
Ok, so this might sound harsh, but it is essential for your productivity. Most people probably wouldn't try to contact or distract you when you're at the library or at work. However, studying from home could give them the impression that you're free anytime to chat or go out. The problem is that it's really hard to fight the temptation when your friends invite you to see a movie or go for a drink. Therefore, it's best to set clear boundaries and ask them not to contact you during certain times.
There are so many ways to help you stay productive when studying from home. It just comes down to finding the routine that works best for you. Do you have any productivity best practices? Please share them in the comments!