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When you live with others, carving out some personal space in your home is essential—it maximizes your ability to concentrate, express yourself, and decompress from the stresses of high school life. Whether you live at home with family or in a boarding school environment, making a shared living space your own is key to succeeding academically (and mentally) this semester. Here’s how.

1. Create a designated study space in your home

Find a nook in your bedroom, living room, or kitchen—preferably at a desk or table. If your chosen study space is in a common area, be sure to talk with your family or roommate(s) ahead of time to determine which area will be needed for studying and at what times. That way, you won’t have to worry about getting set up with your favorite cup of tea, lucky sweat pants, and perfectly organized notes—only to have your sister’s friends show up as soon as you’re in the zone.

“Communication is key. If you don’t say anything, tensions build up,” says Keji, a sophomore in Austin, Texas.

Pro tip: Study at a desk or table; avoid studying in bed.

Studying in bed may cause our brain to associate the bed with stimulating or stressful activities, rather than sleep. Using your bed only for sleep helps strengthen the mental connection that associates your bed with sleep, so your brain knows not to rev up when you’re trying to wind down.   In fact, strengthening our brain’s association between our bed and sleep and weakening its association with stimulating activities is a common treatment for insomnia, called stimulus control therapy (Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 2012).

Use these small space study hacks

If you live with a lot of other people, you may be pretty cramped. You can use the following pointers to make your study space more inviting:

  • Decorate your workspace with inspirational pictures and quotes to stay motivated.
  • Buy a comfortable chair or chair pad, and have a good lamp to study by.
  • Keep things organized using wall-mounted file holders or a bulletin board above your desk for notes, a calendar, or a to-do list.
  • Place a soothing tabletop fountain or small plant on or near your desk for a little mental tranquility.

2. Use ergonomics for pain-free studying

Where you study is only part of the equation; how you study is just as important. “A lot of the time people don’t think about the way that they are working until they start to hurt,” says Dr. Alan Hedge, a professor at Cornell University who specializes in ergonomics, the science of designing and arranging equipment to maximize efficiency and minimize injury. While sitting at a desk, proper ergonomics can help you stay comfortable and avoid pain during lengthy cram sessions. “If you can find a neutral [body] position, you are going to be more healthy, you are going to be more alert, you are going to perform better,” says Dr. Hedge.

  • Keep your monitor at arm’s length, at eye level or slightly below
  • Keep hands at or slightly below elbow level; support wrists so they are level
  • Adjust your chair height so your knees are roughly level with hips
  • Take frequent breaks to stand, stretch, and walk around
  • Consider investing in an ergonomic chair or standing desk

3. Manage distractions

It’s inevitable that other people will be around when you’re studying, at least some of the time. Nearly 18 percent of respondents to a recent student survey say their most pressing distraction when studying is other people.

“I’m okay with noise and can tune it out, but I need to feel a certain sense of personal space and privacy,” says Jess, a junior in Bothell, Washington.

  • Let the people you live with know that when they see you in your chosen study spot, you are effectively hanging up a “do not disturb” sign.
  • Wear headphones—this can work as a visual cue to others to give you some space, while simultaneously drowning out ambient noise.
  • Talk with your family members about designating set quiet times for homework and studying during the week.
  • If a noisy home is inevitable, play white noise or soft music (preferably without lyrics).

4. Make the space feel like your own

“It is really important for me to personalize my space,” says Katie, a student in Palo Alto, California. “I put up posters of things I like and I keep sticky notes around to remind myself of positive affirmations and to connect with my values and personal goals. I’ve learned it is important to make sure my environment fosters a robust connection to my internal self.”

  • Hang your favorite poster, tapestry, or artwork.
  • Decorate the walls or your workspace with pictures of your friends, family, or pets.
  • If away from home, bring a meaningful item from your childhood such as a crocheted blanket your grandmother made or a souvenir from a family trip.

“I often decorate my room with colors I like [and] things that make the space feel comfortable and more ‘me’,” says Sarah, a recent graduate from Round Rock, Texas.

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Article sources

Alan Hedge, PhD, professor of design and environmental analysis, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

Judy Morris, master of Feng Shui, Feng Shui Research Center, Austin, Texas.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. (2010, November 1).

Working in a sitting position: Good body position. Retrieved from https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/sitting/sitting_position.html

Sharma, M. P., & Andrade, C. (2012). Behavioral interventions for insomnia: Theory and practice. Indian Journal of Psychiatry54(4), 359. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3554970/

Student Health 101 surveys, June 2012 and May 2019