NOTE: This blog post is a guest post from the folks at the Student Sharp website https://studentsharp.com/
Picking the right study environment can seem like a challenge. Or maybe, you’ve settled into one, but don’t realize the impact it’s having on you. Maybe you’re having a hard time comparing a busy coffee shop versus a quiet library versus your own home. In this post, we’ll break down 5 ways your study environment affects you to give you an idea of how to improve your productivity.
Probably the most important factor of picking a study environment is noise. Studies have shown that for some people, ambient noise increases cortisol levels, which causes stress levels to go down, and may impair learning and memory. On the other hand, a low level of background noise has been associated with creativity gains. Between 50 and 70 db helps creativity while 85 db and above hurt it. It seems that there’s a link between distraction and creativity: noise creates distraction, which stimulates abstract thought, giving rise to creativity. A coffee shop is a good candidate for this moderate noise level, while if you live in a place with a lot of construction or traffic noise above a certain level, it may be harmful for your productivity and your hearing health to remain there for too long. To create a creativity-inspiring white noise effect at home, you can use a White Noise Machine.
The verdict on whether music harms or helps productivity isn’t that definite. In one study involving software engineers, music was shown to improve state positive affect and quality-of-work. However, another study researching the ‘irrelevant sound effect’ found that serial recall suffered under music conditions compared to steady-state speech conditions. Music may be largely an individual preference, as some people find they are placed in a better mood with music which may increase dopamine and serotonin levels and efficiency, while others may simply find it distracting. For me, music with lyrics is too distracting, while instrumental music seems to neither harm nor help me.
Lighting is another critical factor in productivity and mood in humans. As reported in Scientific American, blue LEDs suppress melatonin, the chemical that makes you feel sleepy. During the day, this is a boon to productivity. Spaces that are lit with natural lighting from windows have lots of blue light as well as those with LEDs and specific bulbs. However, try to limit the blue light you see during the night because you may not be able to get to sleep. Sleep loss, in turn, can cause depression, anxiety, weight gain and other undesirable and unproductive side effects. During the day, any naturally-lit place will help you be productive, but during the night, use apps like Night Shift for iOS and F.lux for android and PC to tint your screens to a redder hue to give your brain a chance to sleep. If you need a boost in the mornings, you can also try using a therapeutic lightbox.
The temperature of a working space can affect productivity, too. One study found that work performance increases with temperature up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and decreases after 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers in another study also claimed that having too hot or too chilly a workplace made it difficult to concentrate. For me personally, I have a difficult time typing when the temperature dips below 60 degrees, like it did in the coffee shop I like one frigid winter day. I’ve also found myself more sleepy in a very warm study environment, so that balance has to be just right for me to be most productive.
Over time, we psychologically associate places with the activity that goes on in them to the point where they’re tightly linked. This is one reason sleep therapists recommend saving your room only for sleeping- because if you do other activity in your room, you will associate your room as a place for work, or browsing the internet, or watching TV, and find it harder to get the rest you need. It’s best to designate one area as your study environment so that when you arrive there, you know it’s time for studying and nothing else. This is one reason why university libraries are so effective- you (usually) don’t go there to socialize, or drink coffee, just to study. If you can be productive in your home, great, but for some people their home already has too many competing associations in it that it’s hard to get work done there.
Now you have some ways to change up your study environment to become more productive. Did you like the list? The noise aspect was especially illuminating to me because I often have a hard time focusing in coffee shops, even though I really like to hang out in them. Coffee shops and my house compete because of the noise and association factors, so I’ll try them both out over time and see which is better for what tasks. If you liked this article, there’s a good chance you’ll also like StudentSharp’s Ultimate SAT Prep Guide. Happy studying!