Even after completing my A-Levels and receiving a university degree, there are still times in which I cannot seem to calm my mind enough to study. I personally find it super difficult to get stuck straight into studying and must ease myself into the right space to get a good session in for the day. Currently, I’m starting to prepare for my master’s degree and decided that after a long summer, it was time to remind myself of what helped me study best.
A Clear Desk Space
A tidy desk really does ensure a tidier mind. If everything is organised and in place, you’ll have no trouble accessing the books or notes you need, nor do you have to worry about knocking things over as you adjust your arm when taking notes. I’ve lost a few drinks to that. Nonetheless, I spend way too much time on Instagram and I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with ‘studygram’ with those amazingly aesthetic set ups that we wish we had the time and money to set up. I didn’t realise how much a nice set up would help me work better until I did it for myself. Though, my desk is only an amateur version, it’s amazing would a few pictures, lights and stationary holders can do. Everything just feels in place! I absolutely love my desk area and find it a lot easier to approach than I did before.
For me, working in silence is the just about the worse thing ever. It’s like my brain is running a million miles an hour just to try and fill that silence. A study playlist is always a good shout to keep your mind in one place. However, listening to my everyday playlist can sometimes put my brain entirely out of sync with my work. So, the first alteration to my music library was a classical music playlist. Don’t get me wrong, it can’t be just any classical piece and quiet a lot of my study playlist consists of piano renditions of my favourite songs. By doing a quick YouTube search, you’ll find that at least one amazingly talented individual who has done a piano cover of that song you love. Most of the time they’ll even have published their compilations on Spotify or Apple Music – my current favourite is Funguypiano who does the best BTS piano solos. Also, Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi is typically on every Spotify study playlist and one I would recommend adding to that new study playlist of yours. Although, if you find that classical music is not your thing either, try lo-fi! To everyone that wants to live like a main character, this musical style is perfect. “Low-fi” is literally short for “low-fedility” music and consists of complex and smooth rhythms that can set the tempo perfectly for your study session. It’s grown significantly popular in the past year and again, with our insane remix culture, you’ll find just about any of your favourite songs with a lo-fi version. To be honest, my playlist consists of both classical and lo-fi music which makes the perfect combination to clear your mind and make it much easier to concentrate.
Change of Scenery
I’m all for romantising every aspect of my life and studying in a coffee shop is the perfect way to do this. In fact, I sometimes have to listen to coffee shop ambience on YouTube to get me to concentrate properly because I seem to work better in a busier environment (with my headphones in of course). I still have no idea why but during my final years of studying in university, I rarely studied at home. Whether it be a coffee house, the library, the park or somewhere in university campus, those were the places I got the most work done. Albeit it’s not for everybody but my mind was most active in its most bored moments, and I was rarely bored once I had left the house. Once I had a whole other environment to work around, my mind calmed down immensely. Then, not only can you treat yourself to your favourite seasonal drink but at least you can say you’ve left the house for the day. So, I’d at least recommend you try this and see how it goes.
Highlighters and sticky notes
It can be super tempting to get ahead of yourself and spend hours trying to make your notes look pretty (I know I have), but it can be a huge time waster. If you’re someone who is naturally great at calligraphy, some of us spend way too much time making a flawless title. I say, give up. Sure, it’ll be nice to have aesthetically pleasing notes and if you have the time then ignore me entirely, but most of the time it’s unnecessary. Unless you have one of those amazing studygrams, then shout out to you guys and I’m forever jealous of your notes. All you really need is a couple of decent highlighters and a few sticky notes. As long as you can read your own notes, you’re good to go. Highlighters were a must-have in my stationary set as I personally remember things best with colour and that way, I still get to have nice titles since they are in some fancy luminescent purple or blue. Sticky notes are also essential for us who hate defacing books, even if they’re your own. When you’re looking for that one reference and for the life of you can’t find the page you’re looking for, that little square of paper will be a life saver.
Keep a Snack Nearby
The last thing you want to be concentrating on is your rumbling stomach and hunger is a massive distraction because then your mind wonders to exactly what you can eat. I often start studying right after I’ve eaten a full meal and made a coffee. Caffeine, although not for everyone, has become an essential in my routine, but I also keep a cereal bar, some fruit or any of my favourite snacks nearby just in case I get peckish during my reading – drink water too! It seems silly but preparation as simple as that can save you a lot of distraction in the long run.
Finally, one big factor in my studying is that everything is right where I need it. I often have notebooks or folders for each individual module I take. For my first year of university, loose sheets, and messy notes from both my English Literature and Journalism lectures were all in one tattered notebook. It was awful. I could never find the page I wanted, and it was almost as if I never wrote it down. While some people can get away with this, I certainly can’t and quickly decided to clean up my notes in second year. This was the best thing I did as a lot of my notes will still be relevant in taking my MA this year and now, I know where everything is and have easy access to them all. This also links with the whole clear workspace equals a clear mind. If the notes are all physically jumbled, how do you expect to mentally organise them coherently enough to remember? If you don’t like physical notes, digital notes are just as efficient. For that I recommend you check out Hope’s article on “How to Digitally Declutter”.
Overall, my study habits are still changing to this day and things that used to work no longer work so well. However, these habits are the most prominent that have got me through a lot of essays, lectures and presentations as well as my studying sessions and I hope that some of these work for you.