A student is studying in her room
August 19, 2020
4 mins read

Optimizing your at-home study area for online learning

Navigating Online Learning

Dorothy said it best: There’s certainly “no place like home.” It’s where we, nowadays, get most things done. Like studying.

This upcoming term will be online, so you’ll likely find yourself studying at home for longer stretches than ever before. I welcome you on the Yellow Brick Road to making your study space at home an even more productive and stimulating zone—so follow along for 6 Oz-some tips! 

1. Select your study area

Study spaces at home can come in all shapes and sizes. Whichever space you choose, try to use it for just studying, if possible. Doing so can help you enter study mode more easily when you need to buckle down and get work done.

However, I know that what’s available at home can be different for everyone, so it’s okay if your space (e.g. a dining room) is occasionally used for non-studying-related activities. (And definitely avoid studying in bed; this Forbes article reminds us that our brains don’t work productively when we’re in a sleep-dedicated spot.)

And of course: Study in areas with as much natural light as possible. According to this article, having lots of it in your study/work area can help to boost your mood and your productivity! But be sure to attend to your eyes; your study area should have sufficient lighting, minimized glare, and these additional eye care-maintaining qualities, too.

2. Minimize distractions in your physical space

Identify specific distractions you may encounter, and get the appropriate items to eliminate them. Consistently spot an annoying little flying beast in your room? Get yourself some bug spray or a Venus flytrap.

Also, clear your desk of anything that can visually divert your attention from studying. Try:

  • Shifting the orientation of your desk so it doesn’t face a distraction-filled window.
  • Getting a pair of noise-cancellation headphones. This can be a lifesaver—especially if you live in a shared space, in which case you can also consider setting up a “Do Not Disturb [insert upside-down smiley face emoji]” sign outside your door.
  • Allocating a spot out of reach to put your phone. This is where you can stash its hushed form while you’re studying, so you don’t lose focus whenever a spasming ping comes through. 
An organized study space

3. Make your space (even more) ergonomic

UBC HR has 2 guides to help make your study space more ergonomic:

Strive to make your space comfortable (e.g. turning on a fan/heater for optimal temperature), but not so comfortable that you fall unconscious (literally Dorothy in the tornado).

4. Prep what you need within reach


Make sure your study area has the essentials you need. Charger? Headphones/earbuds? Whiteboard with all your to-dos? You don’t have to put absolutely everything you need within reach, though, as it’s good to get up now and then to fetch something rather than sitting for hours on end.

Pro tip: Have a notepad and thinking aid nearby:

The notepad is for you to unload any random thing you’re thinking about or have remembered (like a task) that is unrelated to what you’re doing at the moment. Doing so helps you finish what you’re doing without forgetting what you just recalled. For example, if you’re studying and suddenly remember that you have an appointment tomorrow, jot down a reminder for yourself and continue studying. 

The thinking aid, as its name suggests, can help you collect your thoughts; it could be a stress ball or your dog (come here, Toto). However, if you actually find it distracting, maybe pass on this.


Consider keeping some healthy snacks in your study space so you can refuel! A coffee dispenser or a jug of water (a key substance that vanquishes evil on multiple accounts in the Oz series) may help.

5. Keep your study area quiet

If your study space is filled with an incessant Munchkin-like chatter, you may not focus very well. Or at all. In fact, according to 2 UBC Psyc profs, our study areas are more effective when they resemble a test environment. But if total silence while studying feels unnerving, just keep the noise level to a minimum, if you can.

Should you choose to listen to music, beware! Although exquisite melodies may brighten your mood and help you feel more energetic—music (especially tunes with lyrics) can actually lower your productivity, as it fills your mind’s processing space the way the Wizard fills the Scarecrow’s vacuous head with a (placebo of a) brain. So if you prefer to have music on, find songs that are free of lyrics—you can try lo-fi or classical music. 

6. And, of course, make the space super you-friendly!

How do you want your study area to appeal to your 5(+) senses? To help you want to stay in your study space, customize it by adding some plants—the Venus flytrap is delightful—or preparing a nice air-freshener!  

Feel free to hang up items to help you stay motivated, like an inspiring quote or a reminder to take breaks. However, make sure they don’t distract you, for that would contradict the crux of tip #2. I like to have a note that reminds me of why I’m studying what I’m studying...and studying in general! 

Maybe you’ve got a note from a great buddy? A stuffed animal (I have a stuffed dog and hedgehog) or some real/fake specimen from the plant kingdom that’s your muse? Or, a certificate that reminds you just how capable you are? For example, Dorothy might have a banner that lifts her mood while she’s studying—which I hope she does—that reads, “I slayed a Wicked Witch with my eyes closed #humbleandblessed.”

Always remember to take study breaks—get up and move! Head out for a quick walk or run, or try out some simple exercises from UBC Recreation's Get Active at Home page.

You’ve got the real heart, brain, and courage to study hard. Do what you can with the space and resources you have, and best of luck studying!