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COVID-19: Setting up your workstation for home study

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced universities to close campuses and shift to remote working and study. This has left many students wondering how to study effectively at home.

Your home workspace can have a huge impact on productivity and success when studying so it’s important to make sure it’s set up properly. If you’re struggling to study from home effectively, here are a few working from home tips to help you.

Dedicated study space

Dedicated study space

Before starting to study, it’s important to set up your workstation away from any distractions. It should also be comfortable enough for you to sit in for prolonged periods of time.

Whether it’s a section of the kitchen table or a desk in your bedroom, it’s important to keep your study space separate from your living space. Having a dedicated study space will help to keep your mind focused and ready for work when you enter it.

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to sit in a separate room. Make sure wherever you choose has a flat surface for your laptop and notes and is somewhere you’ll be able concentrate.

If you live in a shared house and your study space is in a communal area, speak to your housemates to let them know when you need to focus. Studying together can help to provide motivation for all of you and help you stick to a schedule.


Ergonomic workspace

Ergonomic workspace

Healthy workstations are comfortable and safe for your body. However, you should avoid sitting on the sofa or your bed to help with productivity and posture. It will also help you to feel more relaxed when you’re not working at your desk.

A poorly set-up workstation means you may sit in an awkward position while you’re studying. Poor posture can cause a number of musculoskeletal injuries, including:

  • Swollen or stiff joints
  • Muscle cramps or tightness
  • Pain or discomfort in your:
    • Back
    • Hands, fingers or wrists,
    • Shoulders
    • Neck

These symptoms can develop over time and are usually a result of:

  • Working in a static position
  • Doing repetitive movements for a long time
  • Putting strain on one specific area of your body
  • Working at a speed that prevents sufficient recovery between movements

As a result, there are a number of elements to think about when setting up an ergonomic workstation:

Comfortable desk and chair

Sitting at a comfortable workstation desk and chair will make sure your posture is supported and will prevent neck and backaches. This will help you to stay focused and productive.

An ergonomic chair should help you to stay sitting upright instead of slouching and will support your lower back, neck, shoulders, hips, and thighs. Sitting properly allows the oxygen to enter your muscles and increases blood flow to your brain. This will help you to stay energized throughout your study session and help you to focus.

If you’re not sure whether you have an ergonomic workstation or not, you can download a workstation assessment online to help you get set up properly. This will help you think about how you can make your desk more ergonomic and work with the furniture you’ve already got.

Good lighting

Where possible, choose a home workspace with plenty of natural light as this will help you to feel more alert and awake during your study session. The amount of light in your home workspace can have an impact on your productivity and wellbeing so it’s an important factor to consider.

Poor lighting can cause eye-strain, headaches, and fatigue but it can also have an impact on your stress and anxiety levels. This is particularly true if you’re under a lot of pressure to meet deadlines.

Research shows that working in a space with optimized natural light resulted in a 56% decrease in drowsiness.  Being exposed to natural light at the correct times of the day will help to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm and make you feel alert throughout your study sessions. In addition, it will help you to sleep better at night, helping you to feel prepared for the next day.

Make sure you also have adequate artificial lighting for dull days or if you’re studying later in the evening.

Screen brightness

Check your screen brightness and make sure it’s adjusted properly to avoid eyestrain and headaches. If your eyes are tired from looking at the screen, you’re unlikely to be as productive and it will be detrimental to your studies.

Prolonged computer use and not having the screen brightness at the right settings can cause computer vision syndrome. If you experience the following symptoms, it’s a good idea to check your screen:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Sore or tired eyes
  • Watery or dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Neck pain

University resources

University resources

To study effectively, be aware of the tools, resources, and policies your university has in place for home study. Without access to this, your study sessions may not be as successful and this can be demotivating.

It’s likely that you’ll be able to access library resources, university software and apps, and online lectures using your own laptop or device.

BYOD

Many universities now have BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies in place during regular term time which makes being able to study remotely much easier. It’s likely that you already use your own laptop or devices when on-campus to access lecture materials and other resources.

Under normal circumstances, a BYOD policy provides you with the flexibility to work anytime and anywhere you want, including:

  • with friends
  • at home
  • in a coffee shop
  • in the middle of the night
  • while away from campus

However, during the current lockdown, it means you can study from home just as effectively as you’d be able to if you were on campus.

Firstly, you’ll need to ensure you have access to the relevant technology to access these resources. If you don’t have the correct technology, speak to your university’s IT support team to see if you can use university-owned devices.

Familiarise yourself with the programs, software, and resources your university uses. Not being able to log in or use the required platforms can be demotivating and will make your study sessions much less productive.

Application virtualization

Application virtualization will allow you to access your university’s apps and software without having to download them onto your own device. This is especially useful if you need specialist apps or software to complete coursework that you can only usually use when on-campus.

Knowing how to access this resource will help you to complete your studies effectively. If you’re not sure about how or where to access it, contact your university’s tech support team.

VDI

Alongside BYOD, if your university has Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) in place, you’ll be able to access campus computers through your own device to access any apps, the local network or other resources you need.

This is perfect when you’re studying remotely and will make it as easy as possible for you to access anything you would ordinarily need to complete assignments.

Online lectures

It’s likely that your university will be continuing courses online so make sure you know how to access any live or recorded lectures. Being able to watch lectures will be essential to finishing your course properly and having the information you need to complete assignments. It will also help to maintain human contact that you would usually experience from university life and will help with peer-to-peer support.

Your university or faculty staff should let you know how, when, and where you’ll be able to access these lectures. Sticking to the set times will also help with your routine and add structure to each day.


Equipment and study notes

Equipment and study notes

Before you start studying at the beginning of every day, make sure you have everything you need around you and set objectives for the day. Have lecture notes, pens, note cards, and the technology you need close by so you don’t have to interrupt your study time to keep getting up.

This will help to make your dedicated study time more productive and allow you to focus for a set period of time before taking a break.


Clean workspace

Clean workspace

Having a messy workstation can make it much more difficult to concentrate and can create extra stress. Set time aside either every day or every week to clear your home study or the house so you’re not thinking about the mess that’s piling up instead of your university work.

A study by Harvard University showed that a messy or untidy workspace can have a huge impact on persistence in completing tasks, which affects productivity.

In the study, over 100 undergraduate students were exposed to either a tidy workspace or a cluttered workspace. Participants were then moved to another room where they were asked to solve an impossible puzzle.

Students who started in a tidy workspace spent an average of 18.5 minutes on the puzzle before giving up. On the other hand, those students who began in a cluttered workspace spend just 11 minutes on the puzzle before giving up.

A messy workspace can affect your sense of personal control which has an impact on your mental resources and means you’re unable to concentrate for extended periods of time.


Set study times

Set study times

Having set study times every day will help you to focus your mind during these periods. Some people work best in the morning but others work better in the afternoons or evenings.

Try and find the best time for you and choose the times of day when you feel most productive so you’re not forcing yourself to study when your brainpower’s not at its peak. Studying when you’re most alert is the best way to retain information.

Setting a schedule will help you to organize your time and schedule breaks. Always set reasonable limits for how much you will study during each time period and break it into manageable chunks of time. Trying to do too much at a time will lead to you feeling overwhelmed and much less productive.

If your university is delivering live lectures and seminars, try and stick to the course schedule as much as you can. Having a structure to the day and goals to meet can help you to stay motivated.


Regular breaks

Regular breaks

When you’re studying from home and have a huge amount of work to do, it can be tempting to sit at your desk without moving all day. Taking regular breaks is important for keeping your mind clear and to prevent burn out.

Stepping away from your desk at least every hour to do something different will help you to stay focused and will prevent eyestrain too.

If you’re focusing on the same thing for hours at a time, it can be difficult to maintain your attention span. A study by the University of Illinois found that students who take up to two breaks are much more productive and were able to focus for longer periods of time.

When you’re struggling to complete a task or focus, simply moving away from your desk for a break might be key to helping you to refocus when you come back.